In the Trenches: Outland Trophy Matchups Week 3 Reply

Our weekly installment of In The Trenches takes a look at the much-anticipated matchup of college football bluebloods, USC vs. Texas in Austin. Staying in Big 12 country, Iowa State and Oklahoma open up conference play, as the Sooners and their three watch listers look to avenge an upset loss a year ago in Ames.

http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/outland/inthetrenches180915.pdf

While you’re at it, we ask that you follow all of the FWAA’s endeavors online:

@TheFWAA

@OutlandTrophy

We have partnered with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and their #FightFlu campaign this season, so we ask that you join spokesman Joe Thomas, a 2006 FWAA All-American and the Outland Trophy winner, in supporting the cause.

Steve Richardson

Executive Director

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Members: Nominate your daughter or son for the Volney Meece Scholarship Reply

The FWAA is now accepting applications for the 22nd annual Volney Meece Scholarship.

For an application please contact Dave Sittler, 8314 S. Jamestown Ave, Tulsa, OK 74137. His email is davesitt@aol.com and his cell phone is 918-629-3851 (text).

Applications must be received by Dec. 15, 2018.

The scholarship is awarded annually by the FWAA and named for the late Volney Meece, who served 22 years as the FWAA’s Executive Director and was the organization’s President in 1971.

The $1,000 annual grant for four years is awarded to a deserving son or daughter of an FWAA member. Since the program started in 1997, the FWAA has distributed $83,000 in scholarship money to deserving children of FWAA members.

The winner will be announced at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast at the media hotel in conjunction with the College Football Playoff  National Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2019, in San Jose.

Past winners of the Volney Meece Scholarship
1997  Brett Goering  Topeka, Kan.
1998  Kelly Brooks  Denver, Colo.
1999  James Butz  Schaumberg, Ill.
2000  Sara Barnhart  Atlanta, Ga.
2001  Patrick Davis  Coventry, Conn.
2002  Jacqueline O’Toole  Gaithersburg, Md.
2003  Garrett Holtz  Denver, Colo.
2004  Katie Hersom  Oklahoma City, Okla.
2005  Katie Wieberg  Lawson, Mo.
2006  Kaylynn Monroe  Winter Park, Fla.
2007  Nate Kerkhoff  Overland Park, Kan.
2008  Jack Caywood  Lawrence, Kan.
2009  Haley Dodd  Overland Park, Kan.
2010  Donald Hunt  Philadelphia, Pa.
2011  Alaina Martens  Papillion, Neb.
2012  Emily Alford  Tupelo, Miss.
2013  Sarah Helsley  Edmond, Okla.
2014 Robert Abramson Palos Verde, Calif.
2015 Danielle Hoover Tulsa, Okla.
2016 Dolen Helwagen Pataskala, Ohio
2017 Elizabeth Schroeder Norman, Okla.

In the Trenches: Outland Trophy Matchups Week 2 Reply

Our second installment of In The Trenches takes a look at key Outland Trophy matchups in college football this weekend. The spotlight is on Mississippi State at Kansas State and Wyoming at Missouri, a pair of under-the-radar games that pit Outland Trophy candidates against each other.

http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/outland/inthetrenches180908.pdf

Please follow our Outland Trophy endeavors on Twitter:
@TheFWAA
@OutlandTrophy

We have partnered with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and their #FightFlu campaign this season, so we ask that you join spokesman Joe Thomas, a 2006 FWAA All-American and the Outland Trophy winner, in supporting the cause.

Steve Richardson
Executive Director

 

Reveal Suits to present national team of the week

DALLAS – The Football Writers Association of America is proud to announce a new presenting sponsor for its National Team of the Week. Reveal Suits, a Texas-based custom clothier, will present the weekly award, which will continue for its 17th season.

Each Monday during the 2018 season, the Reveal Suits National Team of the Week will be announced exclusively between 4-7 p.m. ET on ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM during “Off Campus with Mark Packer,” The initial winner will be announced next Tuesday, after the completion of the season’s first full weekend of games. The FWAA’s All-America Committee selects the weekly winner and all Division I FBS and FCS schools are eligible to be selected as the Reveal Suits National Team of the Week.

“Reveal Suits is thrilled to be part of a prestigious tradition by joining the Football Writers Association of America as the presenting sponsor for the National Team of the Week,” said Reveal Suits Owner and CEO Carlton Dixon. “We look forward to an exciting season and inviting the best in collegiate football and their universities into our Reveal Suits family. Our brand carries a winning tradition just like what these teams exemplify on and off the field each week, and we couldn’t be more proud to honor these fine squads.”

In all, 88 different schools have earned National Team of the Week honors with 56 earning the honor multiple times. Michigan State has been the FWAA’s National Team of the Week seven times to lead the nation. Oklahoma, Stanford and TCU have each been so honored six times.

“From the beginning in 2002, the FWAA National Team of the Week has been a great addition to our awards inventory,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “Each year, we enjoy sharing in the joys of some of the season’s best wins by rewarding those deserving schools, while also engaging our prestigious All-America committee.”

Reveal Suits’ reputation and image has been established by the specialization of customized suits to show the pride of each organization and personal brand it represents. Located in Grand Prairie, Texas, Reveal was formed on June 1, 2018, by Owner/CEO Carlton Dixon, a former men’s basketball player of the University of Texas. For more information, visit revealsuits.com.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,400 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at tiger@fwaa.com.

Related links:
All-time FWAA National Teams of the Week

In The Trenches: Outland Trophy Matchups Week 1

Our first installment of In The Trenches debuts with a look at key Outland Trophy matchups in college football each week. We start with Michigan at Notre Dame and Washington vs. Auburn in Atlanta. Both games feature four players on the preseason watch list and should be a great way to start the season for award watchers.

http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/outland/inthetrenches180831.pdf

While you’re at it, we ask that you follow all of the FWAA’s endeavors online:
@TheFWAA
@OutlandTrophy

We have partnered with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and their #FightFlu campaign this season, so we ask that you join spokesman Joe Thomas, a 2006 FWAA All-American and the Outland Trophy winner, in supporting the cause.

Steve Richardson
Executive Director

Houston’s Ed Oliver will try to double-down on the 2018 Outland Trophy

By Gene Duffey

Special to the FWAA  

The University of Houston’s Ed Oliver grew up wanting to be first. So far, so good. He wasn’t the first born in his family, having to settle for being the third of four boys, but he couldn’t help that.

He wanted to be the first one remembered among the string of outstanding defensive linemen to come out of Westfield High School in Houston. Check. He wanted to be the first five-star recruit to play at the University of Houston. Check. He wanted to become the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy. Check.

“I was the first to do a lot of things,” he said. “I was the first recruit this high to come to Houston. I take pride in being the first sophomore to win the Outland. That’s an amazing accomplishment. I could have done it as a freshman. See, I’m kind of hard on myself.”

Ed Oliver’s value system is different from most. Good is never good enough. The best can still be better.

That is why he wants to be the best interior lineman in college football once again this fall. If he claims the 2018 Outland Trophy presented by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, Oliver will be only the second player to receive the award twice. Nebraska center Dave Rimington achieved the first double Outland Trophy haul in 1981 and 1982.

“I do things differently,” he said. “I have a different mindset. Sometimes I get down on myself. I just want to work out and get better. The more people tell me I’m good, the more I come down on myself. Nobody could be harder on myself than me.

Ed Oliver of the University of Houston is interviewed by ESPN’s Chris Fowler after receiving the 2017 Outland Trophy at the College Football Awards Show. Photo by Andy Crawford.

“Even though I might sugar coat it in front of people, it’s always in the back of my head what I did wrong. I could have done better on this play. When I watch film, I (look for) what I could have done better, not how good I am.”

Oliver began receiving extra attention from opposing offensive lines when he started on the varsity as a sophomore in high school. Double teams became a way of life.

He continued to prove himself worthy of the extra attention right away as a freshman in college. Oliver started the opening game of the 2016 season against No. 3 Oklahoma, made seven tackles, including two sacks, and helped the Cougars spring a 33-23 upset.

“The biggest thing that surprised me was how fast it happened,” said A.J. Blum, Houston’s defensive line coach who also coached Oliver in high school. “I knew he was capable.”

There was no need to redshirt Oliver. He began dominating from day one. The double teams returned early in the season. They didn’t bother Oliver, or stop him.

“If you keep your pad level low, you can beat them,” he said. “What makes it even sweeter is when you make a tackle out of a double team. It’s so much better. If you put one guy on me, that’s not fair. I’m ready to make a play look too easy.”

Blum, the defensive line coach at Houston, previously worked as Westfield’s defensive coordinator. “(Being double teamed) was inevitable for Ed,” Blum said of Oliver’s days in high school. “It’s just part of playing inside.”

Westfield played a 4-3 defense and the offense focused on Oliver no matter where he lined up. By his senior year he was ranked the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 2 player in the state of Texas.

The double teams followed him to college. “The bodies just get bigger,” he said.

He declared after his sophomore season at Houston, after winning the Outland Trophy, that he would be leaving college following his junior year to play in the NFL. The Cougars were grateful that the NFL doesn’t allow any “one and dones.”

“They’ll probably one-on-one block me in the NFL, because they’re professionals, mano-on-mano,” Oliver said with a smile. The prospect excited him.

Oliver’s exploits in high school received national attention. But he didn’t get carried away with all the attention in recruiting. He took only two official visits, to Houston and Oklahoma.

Naturally, Texas A&M and Texas wanted him. Baylor, too. So did Alabama and Notre Dame. And LSU and Mississippi.

“If I had gone (to visit) some place like LSU or Ole Miss, I would have been more tempted to go there,” said Oliver. “Once I made my decision, I wanted to be true to myself, so I decided to stay home.”

“Ed’s a different guy,” said Blum. “He didn’t want to do the whole (recruiting) process. He always had a cellphone, but it was broken.”

Oklahoma was the first college to offer Oliver a scholarship. Jerry Montgomery, the Sooners’ defensive line coach who went on to join the Green Bay Packers staff, saw Oliver in the spring of Oliver’s freshman year, before he had played a game of varsity football.

“It was something you couldn’t hide,” Blum said of Oliver’s talent. “He’s like a skilled player in a defensive lineman’s body.”

Oliver knew little of the Oklahoma tradition. Or Houston’s. He didn’t pay attention to college football. He liked to play football, not watch it on television.

Blum first spotted Oliver as a seventh grader, running around the gym, hanging on the basketball rim. Oliver played a little basketball and baseball outside of school, but football was always his game.

His father, Ed Sr., who went on to be a construction worker, had played running back at Northwestern State, a I-AA (now FCS) school in Natchitoches, La. His older brother Marcus also played football and Ed just followed along.

“I started because of my brother and I grew to love it,” he said. “Everybody wants to be like your brother. Marcus and me are almost like twins. I ended up playing with his friends, who were two years older than me. That may be why I’m so good now, playing against guys older than me. I was a big kid.”

Houston held a relative edge in recruiting Ed Oliver. Marcus was already at UH. Marcus played in every game on the offensive line as a true freshman and started seven games at offensive tackle as a sophomore. “You can be a big guy here,” Marcus told Ed.

Marcus was not the same caliber player as his younger brother coming out of Westfield. When Houston offered him a scholarship, it was a big deal. Two years later it made Ed’s decision easy.

“Probably the biggest factor was Marcus being here,” Oliver said of choosing Houston. “I trusted my brother. I figured I’d get my two years in here (while Marcus was still on the team), and if I don’t like it, leave. But I like it here.”

Ed and Marcus roomed together for one year in college. But Ed didn’t like the idea of going one-on-one against his older brother in practice. They had faced each other only once in practice in high school.

Marcus moved to guard for his junior year at Houston, which could have lined him up against Ed in practice.

“Marcus is pretty good,” said Ed. “I only beat him a couple of times. He beat me a handful of times. That’s a lot to say right there. He’s got really fast feet. I went to finesse him. He’s (our) most athletic guard.”

Tom Herman, the offensive coordinator of Ohio State’s 2014 national champions, parlayed that into becoming coach at Houston for the 2015 season. He led the Cougars to a 13-1 record in his first season, even without Ed Oliver, climaxed by beating Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl.

Herman continued his success in the offseason by signing Oliver. Houston had built its football reputation by recruiting players that Texas, A&M and other Big 12 schools didn’t want. Texas tried to recruit quarterback Andre Ware, who won the 1989 Heisman Trophy at Houston, as a defensive back. Getting Ed Oliver was a big deal.

“When I got here coach Herman told me, ‘We’re going to put you and your brother together,’ ” Ed Oliver said of the practice schedule. “I said I would not do that. That’s my brother. I don’t want to go against my brother for your pleasure or the coaches’ pleasure. I felt like that was messed up. We did end up going against each other some. And I won. I don’t feel as strongly about it now, but it really upset me then.”

After a 9-4 record in Oliver’s freshman year, Herman bolted for Texas. Oliver felt a little betrayed. But the offer was too good for Herman to turn down.

“It did bother me, but my Dad talked to me,” said Oliver. “If a guy is making $30 on a job and someone offers him another job for $60, you would be a fool to stay. I understood what he said 100 percent. You can’t fault anyone for trying to better themselves. If I could stay at UH four years and leave after three, people will be mad at me, but they shouldn’t be.”

Houston didn’t hire A.J. Blum in an attempt to sign Ed Oliver. Blum joined Major Applewhite, Herman’s successor, a year after Ed Oliver arrived. The two had built chemistry during their days at Westfield.

“He’s shown me the ropes,” Oliver credited Blum. “Shown me what to do. I wouldn’t say he’s like a brother, or like a father, but like an uncle.”

Playing for Blum as a sophomore, Oliver only got better.

He made 69 tackles in 2017, including 14 ½ sacks, earning defensive player of the year honors in the American Athletic Conference, chosen by the league coaches. Winning the Outland was next in line.

Oklahoma junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown and Notre Dame senior guard Quenton Nelson were other finalists for the award.

“That was surprising, to be honest,” admitted Blum, not expecting a sophomore to win the Outland. “Those were his goals, to be nationally recognized. We have always talked (about him winning the Outland.) That’s the big dog for defensive linemen.”

At 6-2 and 290 pounds, he is not exceptionally large by today’s defensive line standards. What separates him?

“It’s his quickness and ability to react,” said Blum. “He’s like a wrecking ball out there that turns into a pinball. He can bounce off people and keep his feet.”

Oliver knew he might be special when people mistook him for a senior his freshman year of high school. Wearing a beard his sophomore year in college and with a baritone voice, he could easily pass for 25.

His easy going personality belies the intensity he displays on the field. “He’s a goofball,” said Blum, who gives no special treatment to his best player in practice.

Oliver requested to wear No. 94 at Westfield. But the coaches had something else in mind. They knew Oliver was special. They unretired No. 11 and presented it to Oliver.

A former linebacker named Herman Mitchell had worn No. 11 at Westfield. His junior year Mitchell helped Westfield to a 13-1 record and the regional semifinals. He committed to Oklahoma before his senior season. Then, Aug. 23, 2007, the day of a scrimmage, Mitchell was shot and killed at an apartment complex by a one-time friend.

Ed Oliver learned the legend of Herman Mitchell.

“I guess they felt I could fill the shoes,” said Oliver. “It was an honor. It’s ironic that I took a visit to Oklahoma. When they gave me 11, it gave me a purpose bigger than myself. Every day I competed like I wanted to be the best in the nation.”

Wearing No. 11 proved ideal for Oliver because he occasionally lined up as a fullback in Westfield’s goal line offense. He enjoyed that. No need to change jerseys for offense.

The Ed Oliver bobble-head created by UH to promote his candidacy for 2018 awards.

Wearing No. 10 at Houston made sense. But he didn’t carry the ball until the final game of his sophomore year. Oliver scored the first touchdown in Houston’s bowl game, a one-yard plunge in a 33-27 loss to Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Ed Oliver is kind of a Cougar cowboy. He loves to ride, go-karts, motorcycles, horses. He has three horses on his Dad’s farm in Marksville, La.

Before the 2018 season, Houston created a bobble-head as a promotion for Oliver. This one is rather unique: Ed is riding a horse named Oreo, who in real life was maybe the most stubborn horse that Ed had ever ridden since he was 8 years old. Oliver credits riding Oreo for one of the reasons he is the player he is today.

Oliver has promised not to go through the motions his junior year at Houston, even with the NFL awaiting. He played through five games in 2017 with a nagging knee injury, but still impressed enough to claim the Outland Trophy.

“There’s a lot to be accomplished, so you’ve got to watch me,” he said, speaking more like a guy trying to sell tickets than inflate his ego.

“I want to do everything I did, and be healthy the whole year. I want to show people what they missed last year if I hadn’t gotten hurt. They saw a glimpse of Ed Oliver, a sneak peek. I could go forward pretty fast, but couldn’t move side-to-side. That’s what took away from my game.

“I’m not on cruise control, but I am going to enjoy my time. Once I leave, I can’t come back. I can’t put on that red and white and step on that field. The first couple of months I’ll probably miss it and coach Blum’s voice.”

The Cougars will miss him more.

Charlotte Touchdown Club announces new partnership for Bronko Nagurski Legends Award

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Touchdown Club is excited to announce a new partnership with Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery to present the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award.  In conjunction with the Football Writers Association of America, the Charlotte Touchdown Club presents the award each December at the annual Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet to an outstanding collegiate defensive football player from the past 40 years.

“On behalf of the Football Writers Association of America, the Charlotte Touchdown Club is delighted to announce Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery as the new Presenting Sponsor of the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award,” said John Rocco Executive Director of the Charlotte Touchdown Club.  “Dr. Richard Rolle Jr.’s enthusiasm and passion for the great game of college football will prove to be the perfect partnership honoring legends of the game.”

This year’s legends award recipient is Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau from the class of 1977.  Past legends award winners include:  2007-Alan Page & Bubba Smith, 2008-Ted Hendricks, 2009-Roger Wehrli, 2010-Mike McCoy, 2011-Jack Youngblood, 2012-Larry Jacobson, 2013-Randy Rhino, 2014-Randy White, 2015-Randy Gradishar, 2016-Chet Moeller, and 2017-Ross Browner.

“Having the privilege to play at the University of Notre Dame under legendary coach Lou Holtz, I’m honored, elated and count this as a true blessing to be the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award Presenting Sponsor,” said Dr. Richard R. Rolle Jr.  “I take great pride in this tremendous opportunity now and for years to come.”

This year’s Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet will be held Monday, December 3rd at the Charlotte Convention Center.  University of Michigan head coach, Jim Harbaugh, is slated as the keynote speaker.

About Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery
Dr. Richard R. Rolle Jr. is a leading oral & maxillofacial surgeon, with strong ties to athletics and delivering excellence www.rolleoralfacialsurgery.com.  Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery offers expertise in: dental implants, wisdom tooth extraction, youth-capturing, cosmetic injectables, oral surgery and cleft lip reconstruction in his Lake Norman, North Carolina practice.  Dr. Rolle holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame where he played varsity football under legendary Coach Lou Holtz.  He completed his oral surgery internship at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital and holds a Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry Medical College.  Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery is the official surgeon for the Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte Checkers and Charlotte 49ers.

The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, North Carolina region.  Since its inception, the club has grown as well as diversified boasting a sponsor team of more than (80) companies.  The Club’s activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding Citizenship, Scholarship, Sportsmanship, and Leadership of area athletes and coaches.  Through individual and corporate support, more than $2,000,000 has been raised to benefit the Touchdown Club’s scholarship efforts.  For more information, contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or jrocco@touchdownclub.com). The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is www.touchdownclub.com.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of the men and women across North America who cover college football for a living.  The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game day operations, major awards and an All-America team.  Through its website, the FWAA works to improve communication among all those who work within the game. The FWAA also sponsors scholarships for aspiring writers and an annual writing contest.  Behind the leadership of President Stefanie Loh and Executive Director Steve Richardson and a board of veteran journalists, the FWAA continues grow and work to help college football prosper at all levels. There are now over 1,000 members.

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 10 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Last of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In this case, the one called Angel doesn’t want to think about it.

In December 2016, Angel Taylor and her husband Anthony were the 16th recipients of a house built by Habitat for Humanity in partnership with the Nick’s Kids Foundation. While the organization named in honor of Nick Saban’s father was originally created to help children in need, it expanded its directive following the devastating tornado that hit in 2011, including the building of a home for every Alabama football national championship.

It changed her family’s life “dramatically.” While Angel was still feeling the effects of heart surgery, and Anthony was trying to earn a master’s degree in religious studies while also working as a shuttle driver, they were living in a dilapidated house handed down from her grandmother. It was deemed unsalvageable from storm damage.

“My kids can live in a house in which the structure is sound and the air is good,” she said. “Big change.

“We’re definitely big Alabama fans.”

What Angel doesn’t want to think about is where her family might be had Saban not agreed to leave the Miami Dolphins to take over the Crimson Tide in 2007. Without him there’s probably no national championships over the last decade, no statue in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium and no “16 for 16” effort.

There’s also no Rocky Block, dismantling of Notre Dame or onside kick against Clemson.

But that’s only the beginning.

“I think his going to Alabama has been incredible for college football,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “Having Alabama on its 10th year of the dynasty has been outstanding for college football. Maybe not if you’re at Auburn or LSU, or are an SEC fan competing against Alabama, but any time you have a program that’s raising the bar and forcing other coaches and other programs to try and compete with them, I think it’s awesome.”

Now imagine it didn’t happen. The entire landscape of college football would be altered, from the rulebook to TV ratings.

Similar to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character is shown by an angel what would have happened had he never been born, the repercussions would have been extensive and wide-ranging.

“I believe there would be success, but certainly not at the level we’ve seen,” Tuscaloosa mayor Walter Maddox summarized. “Saban is a once-in-a-generation coach who’s not only been able to sustain success, but sustain excellence in a system that doesn’t promote it.”

It’s more remarkable when considering the things that had to fall into place for former athletic director Mal Moore to hire Saban. They include Dennis Franchione sneaking out of town, Mike Price blowing his opportunity, Tim Tebow opting for Florida over Alabama, Mike Shula losing to Mississippi State and Rich Rodriguez turning down an offer to stay at West Virginia.

What if Miss Terry had never let Moore in the front door before Nick called to say he’d decided not to meet with him? Or Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga had persuaded Saban to stay and fulfill his contract?

“I think it would have been a tremendous letdown if he hadn’t gotten Saban, there’s no question about that,” said Steve Townsend, Moore’s former special assistant and author of the 2014 book Crimson Heart: Let Me Tell You My Story. “As for Plan B, there were some people who probably would have been considered and done a good job, but I don’t think there was any doubt that Saban was his guy.”

The most popular alternate-reality theories center around the Sabans sticking with the NFL for at least another season. Had Miami signed free agent Drew Brees, whom Saban wanted to add only to be overruled by the team’s medical staff due to the quarterback coming off reconstructive shoulder surgery, he might not have been coming off his only losing season as a head coach.

Instead, Saban’s departure set off a chain reaction that changed football forever.

“It’s widely believed among Louisiana football fans that had the Dolphins signed Brees then Saban would have had a better 2006 season, making him more likely to stay in Miami, Bama hires someone else and of course the Saints might not ever have won the Super Bowl,” said Scott Rabalais, columnist for the Advocate in Baton Rouge.

But that’s well into the ramifications.

First, consider the epicenter, Alabama, and the most important people in all of this, the players. Saban’s first full recruiting class in 2008, which turned the Crimson Tide into instant contenders, doesn’t happen.

Running back Mark Ingram Jr. is the first person you could scratch off the Crimson Tide roster. He came to Alabama because of the relationship his parents had developed with Saban at Michigan State. Ingram lived in Flint, Mich., and wasn’t considered an elite prospect, with some services rating him only a 3-star talent.

If the program’s first Heisman Trophy winner didn’t attend Alabama, one must wonder about the other as well, especially since Derrick Henry also was from out of state. “Without you,” Henry said in reference to Saban during his Heisman acceptance speech, “I wouldn’t be here.”

The Crimson Tide might not have signed any of the running backs who wore crimson and white over the last 10 years, along with most of the top prospects at every other position.

“I probably wouldn’t have,” said B.J. Scott, Saban’s first consensus 5-star signee with the Crimson Tide.

Although he ended up transferring to South Alabama in 2011 for more playing time, Scott was considered the catalyst for the initial class. He helped influence other players to join him, and the coaches establish a strong foothold in the talent-rich Mobile area.

It paid off immediately with prize additions like wide receiver Julio Jones, who at one point appeared destined for Oklahoma, and safety Mark Barron.

“Once I was committed, I was committed all the way,” Scott said. “I don’t know who else would have.”

Alabama also plucked linebacker Dont’a Hightower out of Lewisburg, Tenn., two-time All-American defensive tackle Terrence Cody from the junior college ranks and linebacker Courtney Upshaw out of Eufala, Ala., a part of the state long established as Auburn territory.

Without Saban and running backs coach Burton Burns, who got an offer he couldn’t turn down to leave Clemson, Alabama would have had a much tougher time drawing top players out of Louisiana.

Players like Landon Collins, Eddie Lacy and Cam Robinson might have stayed in the Bayou along with strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, who was with the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (now called the Pelicans). Similarly, Alabama probably wouldn’t have hired head trainer Jeff Allen from Central Florida or director of performance nutrition Amy Bragg from Texas A&M.

If Kirby Smart didn’t follow Saban to Alabama and become his defensive coordinator, he wouldn’t be the head coach at Georgia. Jim McElwain wouldn’t be the head coach at Florida. Jeremy Pruitt might still be at the high school level. The coaches Saban threw a lifeline to, including Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Tosh Lupoi, could be in very different places.

Flip it around, and consider who could be coaching some of Alabama’s rivals.

Where would Tommy Tuberville be today? In 2007, Auburn was in full control of the Iron Bowl rivalry and won its sixth straight in the series that season. The following year, though, Alabama won in crushing fashion, 36-0.

Having lost six of the last seven games in 2008 and missing out on a bowl while Alabama played in the SEC Championship, Tuberville was the third in the league to commit coaching suicide that season. Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer had already stepped down.

Alabama hasn’t lost to either program since, and the man who accepted Croom’s resignation — Greg Byrne — is now the Crimson Tide’s athletic director.

“There might have been a little more success that Auburn might have enjoyed,” speculated Tommy Hicks, former Football Writers Association of America president. “The presence of Saban, what it has become in college football, there’s always going to be a natural comparison.

“That’s not to say Auburn hasn’t done well. It has. Like most programs, though, it’s had its ups and downs, but its biggest issue is that shadow of the No. 1 coach in the country.”

If Alabama hadn’t been in Florida’s way in 2009, the Gators might have won back-to-back titles and Tebow his second Heisman instead of finishing a distant fifth in the voting. There would have been a strong argument about whether he’s the best player in college football history.

Instead, that was the night Urban Meyer went to the hospital with chest pains, starting his path out of Gainesville. He had lost nearly 40 pounds by doing things like chasing Ambien with beer to fall asleep, and later told HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel he was depressed and mentally “broke.”

“Preparing for the 2009 game is what set him off the deep end,” said Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun. “It’s an easy scenario to say that Nick Saban at Alabama led to Urban leaving Florida. It’s probably a factor. Was it everything? No.”

There’s a much stronger correlation with LSU, where Les Miles won the 2007 national championship. But he was eclipsed by Saban, especially after the Crimson Tide won their famous rematch for the 2011 national title.

How many other conference and national titles would the Tigers have won had Saban not gotten in the way of the program he initially took to national prominence? Instead, Miles was forced out last season before Alabama notched its sixth straight win in the rivalry.

“Even conservatively, I think LSU at least wins the 2011 title,” Rabalais said. “Assuming Les beats Bama even one more time in that subsequent span, yes, I think he still has more than enough political capital to be LSU’s coach.”

Another possible consequence of the 2011 national title game was the demise of the Bowl Championship Series. After an all-SEC matchup, it was abandoned in favor of the College Football Playoff. The BCS had achieved its goal of pairing the consensus No. 1 vs. No. 2 teams, but even President Barack Obama said after seeing Alabama beat LSU 21-0 that the game was ready for the next step.

“I believe the playoff would have happened regardless,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “It was time to discuss whether to extend the BCS for a fifth four-year cycle, or try something different. We knew fans were hoping to see a new model and we were open to considering innovative options even before Alabama-LSU happened.”

A similar parallel can be drawn on campus.

Enrollment still would have gone up, but possibly not at the same rate. The southern end zone expansion that filled in the last upper-deck gap of Bryant-Denny Stadium probably would have happened, but not as quickly. The school had been considering a new weight room for years, but it took Saban for the 37,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility to become a reality.

As for Tuscaloosa, one can guess how the tornado recovery would have gone without Saban’s presence and having won the 2009 national championship. But there’s no doubt it sped it up.

“A lot of us were living in the past and thinking about how things used to be,” said Mike Reilly, CEO of Randall-Reilly business publishing, which is headquartered in Tuscaloosa. “He sort of smacked us in the face when he got here and said, ‘It’s time to stop talking about the way things used to be, and make them the way things should be.’ I think he got the attitude of the town back right.”

The list goes on and on, and yes in some ways it does compare to Bedford Falls sans George Bailey (Pottersville). For example, this past week there was a significant spike in the number of babies born in Tuscaloosa. What happened nine months ago? The Iron Bowl.

So one doesn’t need an appearance from Clarence the Angel to know that Alabama wouldn’t have been the same without Saban.

“It’s a totally different world,” said Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum, who used a football analogy to express what it would have been like with nearly any other coach.

“Everyone would have thought 8-4, 9-3 was a great year.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 9 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Ninth of 10 Parts

As far as Gary Danielson is concerned, Nick Saban’s consistency is unlike anything college football has seen.

He should know. Although Danielson has been an analyst for CBS since 2006, primarily on the broadcast team for the SEC’s weekly showcase game, he previously was with ESPN/ABC covering the sport on a national scale.

From Michigan to Texas, he’s been around all the major programs and feels that the pressure to win has never been greater, especially in the Southeastern Conference. Whereas most other conferences have a couple programs that are regularly in the running for the national title, it’s been half of the SEC since Saban landed in Alabama in 2007.

“If you couple that with a predominance of great players who reside in this area, where maybe in the 1970s and the ’80s of college football it was mostly a Midwest dominance of star football players in the Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania area, I just think that the competitiveness, you’re fighting to stay [on top] there makes it a pretty amazing feat of what Nick has done,” Danielson said.

Factor in how the game has changed over the past 50 years — scholarship limits, most games are now televised, no more split national titles, the longer season, recruiting becoming front and center — and Danielson is even more impressed with Alabama’s recent stretch than anything in the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s.

“The only two teams, maybe two-and-a-half, three teams, that compare are Florida State, Miami and USC,” he said. “They’re the only teams that come close. The closest in my mind is Miami because of the ability to turn out professional football players.

“I know that there have been runs at Notre Dame and Oklahoma, Ohio State, Army, but I think these four teams are the cream of the crop not only because of the pressure that they played under, but with the elite athletes they also turned out.”

Nowadays a coach being with a school for a decade can seem like an eternity, as evidenced by Saban already being the dean of the SEC. Led by Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (1999), only seven coaches have longer tenures at the FBS level.

“He’s been obviously the most consistent coach that we’ve had in our profession in a lot of years,” said Grant Teaff, College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “Year after year, after year, after year, he’s there.”

Saban’s time at Alabama actually has been unlike any 10-year stretch in college football history.

When the NCAA lists best records by decade it does so like an odometer. After the nine turns into a zero it automatically starts over again. Based on that, here are the top 10 decades:

 SCHOOL DECADE RECORD PCT.
Oklahoma 1950-59 93-10-2  .895
Florida State 1990-99  109-13-1 .890
Oklahoma 1970-79 102-13-3 .877
Boise State  2000-09   112-17-0 .868
Nebraska 1990-99 108-16-1 .868
Alabama 1960-69 85-12-3 .865
Alabama  1970-79 103-16-1 .863
 Texas 2000-09 110-19-0 .853
 Michigan 1970-79 96-16-3 .848
 Nebraska 1980-89 103-20-0 .837

Saban’s winning percentage since 2010 is .886, but a decade can be any 10-year period, regardless of when it starts.

Thus, here’s how Saban’s first 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide stack up against the most dominating decades during the poll era of college football. The Ivy League dynasties before the advent of World War I are not included. The key word is dominating, so it’s not just about national titles claimed.

Please keep in mind the following when looking over the numbers:

  •  While the Associated Press Poll currently lists the Top 25 teams in the nation, from 1936-61 the wire service ranked only 20 teams. From 1962-67 only 10 teams were recognized. From 1968-88, the AP again resumed its Top 20 before expanding to the current 25 teams in 1989.
  • The first NFL draft was held in 1936 and for years the number of rounds fluctuated, with as many as 32 in the 1940s, and 30 rounds in the 1950s. The first combined (AFL-NFL) draft in 1967 consisted of 17 rounds. The draft was reduced to 12 rounds in 1977, eight rounds in 1993, and has been set at seven rounds since 1994.
  • The entire 10-year period counts, even if the coach departed.

Five worth noting

» Penn State 1977-86: Joe Paterno’s best stretch led to national championships in 1982 and 1986, and a 98-21-1 record (.817). There were 77 players selected in the draft, with 10 in the first round, and seven consensus All-Americans. However, the Nittany Lions played just seven games ranked No. 1 over the 10-year span.

» Nebraska 1963-72: Bob Devaney won back-to-back national titles in 1970-71, and went 92-18-2 overall (.821). The Cornhuskers were 12-10-2 against ranked opponents, and only 6-9-1 versus top-10 foes.

» Southern California 2002-11: Pete Carroll was well on his way to establishing a dynasty at USC, but the 2004 title has been vacated due to NCAA penalties, along with 14 wins. That leaves the 2003 split title as its lone national championship claim and dropped the program’s record to 95-20 (.826) over the 10-year stretch. The Trojans played 33 games ranked No. 1, to go with 17 consensus All-Americans and 17 first-round picks.

» Minnesota 1932-41: The Gophers’ dynasty peaked during the years both the Associated Press Poll and NFL draft were being conceived. It won national titles in 1936, 1940 and 1941, and can also claim 1934 and 1935, when the poll was determined by one person. Overall, Bernie Bieman’s program went 63-12-5 (.819) during the stretch and had nine consensus All-Americans.

» Notre Dame 1921-1930: Knute Rockne’s dynasty was just before the poll era, but deserves a mention. The Fighting Irish went 84-11-3 (.857) and claimed the 1924, 1929 and 1930 national titles.

Five that just missed

» Texas 1961-70: The Longhorns went 89-17-2 (.824) and won national titles in 1963, 1969 and 1970. They only had 21 games against ranked opponents (14-6- 1), but played 25 games as No. 1. Darrell Royal had nine consensus All-Americans and four first-round draft picks.

» Army 1941-50: Red Blaik built a short-term juggernaut during World War II, when scores of college football players enlisted and some continued to play for military installations and schools. Army won the 1944 national championship and finished atop the AP poll in 1945. It played 20 games ranked No. 1 and went 75-11-6 (.848) overall.

» Alabama 1959-68: Although Crimson Tide’s stretch was extremely impressive, it wasn’t the most dominating. The 1961 and 1965 national champions both played only one ranked opponent, and the 1964 title team lost a controversial bowl game after having already been named No. 1. However, the 1966 team went undefeated to finish just third in the final AP poll. Alabama went an incredible 91-13-6 (.854) overall, but played only six games when ranked No. 1, and faced just 21 ranked opponents, going 14-6-1 (.690).

» LSU 2003-12: Nick Saban and successor Les Miles both won a national title as the Tigers went 107-25 (.811) over 10 years. Ironically, it was Saban at Alabama that prevented what many feel was the best team in LSU history from winning the 2011 championship, as the Crimson Tide won the “Game of the Century” rematch in New Orleans, 21-0. LSU had a 61 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 14 in the first round.

» Notre Dame 1964-73: Ara Parseghian won national crowns in 1966 and 1973 as the Fighting Irish went 85-15-4 (.817). Notre Dame only played 14 games when ranked No. 1, but had 75 draft picks (11 in the first round) and 19 consensus All-Americans. Parseghian also went 10-2 during his final season at Notre Dame in 1974, reaching No. 1 in the AP poll, but finished sixth.

10. Ohio State 1968-77

  • Coach: Woody Hayes
  • National titles: 1 (1968)
  • Overall record: 91-16 (.850)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 18-11-2 (.613)/11-8-2 (.571)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.1
  • Games played as No. 1: 38
  • Draft picks/First round: 74/16
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

Although Hayes won only one national title during the peak of his career, the Buckeyes played 38 games ranked No. 1. The 1968 team featured five sophomores on offense and six on defense, including safety Jack Tatum, nicknamed “The Assassin.” Ohio State upset No. 1 Purdue, 13-0, finished the regular season 9-0 and defeated Southern California in the Rose Bowl, 27-16, for the national championship. A total of 11 players from the team earned All-America standing during their careers and six became first-round draft selections.

9. Oklahoma 1971-80

  • Coach: Barry Switzer (eight seasons) and Chuck Fairbanks (two)
  • National titles: 2 (1974 AP, 1975)
  • Overall record: 105-11 (.905)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 39-8-2 (.816)/21-7-1 (.741)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.9
  • Games played as No. 1: 17
  • Draft picks/First round: 75/8
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

The Sooners finished in the top three of the AP poll eight times. Chuck Fairbanks began the run with a pair of No. 2 finishes. Barry Switzer won the 1974 national title and finished atop the AP poll in 1975. However, Oklahoma didn’t play in a bowl game in 1973 or 1974 due to NCAA sanctions, and during the ’74 split championship its toughest opponent was No. 6 Nebraska, which finished 9-3.

8. Southern California 1967-76

  • Coach: John McKay (nine seasons) and John Robinson (one)
  • National titles: 3 (1967, 1972, 1974 coaches)
  • Overall record: 91-18 (.834)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 30-9-4 (.721)/17-4-3 (.771)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.3
  • Games played as No. 1: 19
  • Draft picks/First round: 95/20
  • Consensus All-Americans: 18

John Robinson did a terrific job of extending John McKay’s legacy. His 1978 team also finished No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, while the 1976 and 1979 Trojans were No. 2 in the AP poll. But statistically this was the best 10-year stretch due to the three national titles. Overall, McKay compiled a 127-40-8 record, including only 17 conference losses over 16 seasons. During his last nine seasons, USC went 18-3 against its two biggest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Some consider the 1972 team possibly the best in college football history. It went 12-0, beat six ranked teams by an average of 20.2 points, and never trailed.

7. Alabama 1971-80

  • Coach: Paul “Bear” Bryant
  • National titles: 3 (1973 coaches, 1978 AP, 1979)
  • Overall record: 107-13 (.891)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 27-9 (.750)/16-8 (.667)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.6
  • Games played as No. 1: 11
  • Draft picks/First round: 44/9
  • Consensus All-Americans: 10

Although the 1973 title remains controversial, as Alabama was named No. 1 in the coaches’ poll before it lost to Notre Dame 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl, a regular-season loss to Nebraska in 1977 may have kept the Crimson Tide from winning three consecutive national titles. Instead, the SEC champions finished 11–1 overall and beat Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but were second to 11-1 Notre Dame in the polls. Regardless, the 107-13 (.891) record stands out.

6. Nebraska 1988-97

  • Coach: Tom Osborne
  • National titles: 3 (1994, 1995, 1997 coaches)
  • Overall record: 108-15 (.878)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 26-12-1 (.679)/14-11 (.560)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.9
  • Games played as No. 1: 14
  • Draft picks/First round: 63/9
  • Consensus All-Americans: 14 

The five-season stretch from 1993-97 might be the best in college football history, when the Cornhuskers went 60-3. One of the defeats was in the 1994 Orange Bowl when Nebraska missed a last-second 45-yard field goal against favored Florida State. It came 10 years after Tom Osborne famously went for two with the national title on the line, losing 31-30 to Miami.  Michigan fans are still upset that the coaches’ poll split the 1997 title, leapfrogging the Cornhuskers over the Wolverines after No. 2 Nebraska pounded Peyton Manning and No. 3 Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. The No. 1 Wolverines defeated Ryan Leaf and No. 8 Washington State in the Rose Bowl. It was widely viewed as a sendoff present to the retiring Osborne.

5. Oklahoma 1949-58

  • Coach: Bud Wilkinson
  • National titles: 3 (1950, 1955, 1956)
  • Overall record: 97-7 (.933)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 21-6 (.778)/7-5 (.583)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 2.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 24
  • Draft picks/First round: 49/7
  • Consensus All-Americans: 13

Some of Oklahoma’s players completed their varsity careers without experiencing a single loss. From 1953-57, Oklahoma racked up a major-college record 47 consecutive victories (snapped by Notre Dame in 1958, 7-0). There also was the famous 31-game winning streak that was ended by Paul “Bear” Bryant and Kentucky in the 1951 Sugar Bowl. The 1949 Oklahoma team outscored opponents 364-88 and topped the season with a 35-0 victory against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. The 1956 Sooners averaged 46.6 points per game, crushed Texas 45-0, and pounded Notre Dame at South Bend, 40-0.

4. Florida State 1991-2000

  • Coach: Bobby Bowden
  • National titles: 2 (1993, 1999)
  • Overall record: 110-13-1 (.891)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 44-12-1 (.781)/19-10-1 (.650)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 5.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 43
  • Draft picks/First round: 67/17
  • Consensus All-Americans:  22

Every Florida State team between 1987 and 2000 finished with at least 10 wins and ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25, a streak that might never be equaled. The two national championship teams were led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. The 1993 title was a bit controversial in that FSU lost a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown against Notre Dame, a week before the Fighting Irish lost to Boston College, 41-39. Although West Virginia was undefeated, Florida State played Nebraska for the national championship at the Orange Bowl, and won 18-16. The final rankings had Florida State first and Notre Dame second. The 1999 season was Bowden’s only perfect finish as the Seminoles went wire-to-wire as the nation’s No. 1 team.

3. Notre Dame 1941-50

  • Coach: Frank Leahy (Ed McKeever/Hugh Devore)
  • National titles: 4 (1943, 1946, 1947, 1949)
  • Overall record: 79-11 (.878)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 22-5-3 (.783)/14-4-2 (.750)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.0
  • Games played as No. 1: 27
  • Draft picks/First round: 94/13
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

Frank Leahy was able to claim a national title in 1943, when the Fighting Irish played a record four teams ranked in the top five of the AP poll, before serving in the Navy during World War II. Two assistant coaches manned the program in his absence. When Leahy returned in 1946, Notre Dame went 36-0-2 over the next four seasons, posting 12 shutouts in a 38-game span and claiming three more championships. However, two of them are considered among the most controversial in college football history. Leahy’s career record against top competition was nothing short of stunning — 32-5-4 (.823) against ranked opponents, and 22-3-1 versus top-10 teams.

2. Miami 1983-92

  • Coach: Jimmy Johnson (five seasons)/Dennis Erickson (four)/ Howard Schnellenberger (one)
  • National titles: 4 (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 AP)
  • Overall record: 107-14 (.884)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 35-12 (.745)/23-8 (.742)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 29
  • Draft picks/First round: 80/15
  • Consensus All-Americans: 17

When Howard Schnellenberger was hired in 1979, the Hurricanes were coming off a decade in which they had nearly as many coaches (six), as losing seasons (nine). After shocking Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, 31-30, to win the program’s first national championship, he left for the United States Football League. Jimmy Johnson (52-9) and Dennis Erickson (63-9) followed and continued one of greatest runs in college football. From 1987-91, Miami won three national titles and missed a fourth by a point due to a controversial 31-30 loss to Notre Dame. During those five seasons, the Hurricanes went 56-4 and were considered both the giants and outlaws of college football. For example, in 1989, the Hurricanes didn’t allow a touchdown for one 10-quarter stretch, held six opponents without a touchdown and allowed 9.3 points per game. Miami bounced back from a loss to Florida State to defeat No. 1 Notre Dame, 27-10, and defeated No. 7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

1. Alabama 2007-16

  • Coach: Nick Saban
  • National titles: 4 (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015)
  • Overall record: 114-19* (.857) | * — vacated wins not included
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 50-16 (.758)/25-8 (.758)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 6.6
  • Games played as No. 1: 50
  • Draft picks/First round: 56/22
  • Consensus All-Americans: 29

The numbers speak for themselves, especially when factoring in strength of schedule and the seven-round NFL draft.

Consequently, there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn: We all just witnessed the greatest decade in college football history.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 8 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Eighth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When ESPN/SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears was a highly-touted recruit in 2001, he gave Miami a ton of consideration. The Hurricanes had a lot of appeal and were considered a premier destination in college football, especially for those hoping to someday play in the NFL.

“People like winners,” he said. “That’s really all it boils down to. If someone told you you could be on the executive team at Apple, or you could go be on the executive team at Whataburger, where are you gonna go?”

Spears now sees something similar to what Miami had at Alabama, not only in accolades and getting prospects to the next level, but status.

“It’s cool to go to Alabama,” Spears added. “Most high school kids, you tell them you got an offer from Alabama and it’s ‘You’re the man.’

“All that stuff matters, but it all manifests from winning games.”

Not just games, but big games, which the Crimson Tide have done better than anyone under Nick Saban, Spears’ former college coach.

Alabama often goes from playing in the marquee game on opening weekend, like its showdown with Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2, to a high-profile schedule and postseason. The three-time reigning SEC champions are the only team to make the College Football Playoff in each of its three years of existence.

Last season, Alabama faced 10 opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 when they played. That’s a record.

The nine ranked teams the Crimson Tide faced in 2015 are the most ever by a team that’s won the national championship.

Most games against ranked opponents by a national champion

SEASON COACH SCHOOL TOP 25 TOP 5
2015 Nick Saban Alabama 9 3
2007 Les Miles LSU 8 1
1997 Lloyd Carr Michigan 7 2
1993 Bobby Bowden Florida State 7 3
1990 Bill McCartney Colorado 7 2
1975 Barry Switzer Oklahoma 7 3

Between them, the 19 ranked opponents over two seasons were — you guessed it — another record.

It’s exactly what ESPN announcer Rece Davis means when he says the Crimson Tide have played a “boatload” of big games during the Saban era.

“They have established a standard to which they — more times than not — play as opposed to being caught up in the magnitude in the game,” Davis said. “They’re used to the stage.”

For a little perspective, consider:

  • The Crimson Tide faced a combined total of 17 ranked opponents in the six seasons they claim a national championship with Paul “Bear” Bryant.
  • Alabama’s 17 wins against ranked opponents in 2015-16 matched the number by Florida State under Jimbo Fisher since 2010.

During the last decade, Alabama was 50-16 against ranked opponents, a winning percentage of .758. When facing tougher foes, the Crimson Tide were 24-9 vs. top-10 teams (.727), 13-7 against top-5 teams (.650), and 5-1 when playing the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 (.833).

Those five wins against top-ranked teams are more than any coach in history.

Saban has six overall, including his signature win with Michigan State against No. 1 Ohio State in 1998. Joe Paterno, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Mollenkopf all had four. Urban Meyer has three, along with Bryant, Dennis Erickson, Bo Schembechler and Barry Switzer.

Yet that’s not the statistic that floors most historians and broadcasters. Since the 2008 season, Alabama has played in only three regular-season games that did not have national championship implications. They were all during the 2010 season, after the Crimson Tide took their second loss (LSU, 24-21).

“It’s pretty amazing,” Gary Danielson of CBS said about that consistency. “It’s just phenomenal what he’s done.

“They were literally playing for a national championship every year since 2008.”

Overall, winning big games has probably defined coaches more than any other factor. Correspondingly, losing big games has forged reputations that could take years to overcome, if at all.

Bob Stoops had an impressive 60-30 record against ranked opponents at Oklahoma, but is primarily known for his one national championship. On the plus side he got a ring, but on the minus it’s his only one despite winning 10 Big 12 titles.

A better example is Tom Osborne at Nebraska. From 1987-93, the Cornhuskers were defeated in seven consecutive bowl games after losing a combined eight regular-season games. Finally, though, he became the first coach in 40 years to have two consecutive undefeated seasons en route to winning national titles.

Overall, Saban’s career record against ranked teams is 73-39 in 112 games. He has a ways to catch Bobby Bowden with 145 (79-65-1) over 40 years and Joe Paterno with 172 (86-85-1) over 46 seasons. Against top-10 teams, Bowden was 38-44-1 and Paterno 35-47.

Other national championship coaches

COACH TOP 25 TOP 10 TOP 5 vs. NO. 1
Urban Meyer 35-14 (.714) 15-6 (.714) 11-4 (.733) 3-2 (.600)
Jimbo Fisher 17-10 (.630) 8-7 (.533) 3-4 (.429) 0-2 (.000)
Dabo Swinney 18-19 (.486) 11-5 (.688) 6-4 (.600)  1-1 (.500)

While many focused on Saban finally finishing on the losing end of a national championship game in January, with Clemson scoring with 1 second remaining to pull out the dramatic 35-31 victory, what most missed was that it was his 50th game coaching Alabama when it was ranked No. 1.

At this point, we can cue everyone to say it along with us: That’s a record.

At 44-6, Saban has won more games coaching a No. 1 team at one school than any coach in college football history. Woody Hayes and Bobby Bowden are tied for second at 40, over 28 and 34 seasons, respectively.

The Crimson Tide have been ranked No. 1 in 36.2 percent of the 138 games under Saban. Hayes’ percentage was 16.7 and Bowden’s 10.8.

Of course, that’s when Alabama was No. 1. It won the 2009, 2011 and 2012 title games when ranked second.

Going back to the 2016 team, when Alabama defeated Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal, it had won 16 straight games against ranked opponents, which tied Southern California (2002-05) for the longest streak in college football history. Eight of those victories were against top-10 teams, and four were top-5.

Saban’s career average of 3.48 wins against ranked teams is a record.

His average of 1.71 wins against top-10 teams is as well, topping Frank Leahy’s 1.69 (although Leahy’s winning percentage of .865 against top-10 opponents likely will never be touched).

Saban is 5-1 in national championship games, and 7-1 in SEC championship games, which only keeps attracting top-end players who want to be a part of that.

“It’s good for college football,” said Spears, who played Saban’s national championship team at LSU in 2003. “I like dominating teams.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10