Alabama football: The next year? Nobody gets revenge quite like Nick Saban
When Alabama was preparing to play Clemson in the College Football Playoff for the 3rd year in a row, coach Nick Saban said, “I really don’t know how much revenge is motivation.”
The Crimson Tide had lost to the Tigers in the previous season’s national championship game. A year later, they beat Dabo Swinney’s group 24-6 in the 2017 semifinals en route to Bama’s 5th title under Saban.
Saban can be the king of coachspeak, downplaying emotional factors in favor of matchups and process. But competitors don’t easily forget, and there’s at least a correlation between what happens on the rare occasion Alabama loses and what happens the next time out.
The causation is harder to pin down.
Including the conference title game, the Tide are 10-2 under Saban in SEC play against teams that beat Alabama in their previous matchup. Mississippi in 2014 and 2015 is the last squad to beat Bama in consecutive years.
With LSU struggling this season and facing a COVID-19 outbreak, the trend is expected to continue Saturday — assuming these teams are even able to play.
But even if they don’t, it’s pretty remarkable to see what Alabama does the few times they have a chance to bite back.
In conference play, the average score in “revenge” games is 36-18 in favor of Alabama. The only other time under Saban that the Tide lost to a team in back-to-back matchups, 2011 against LSU, they turned around and shut out the Tigers in that season’s BCS national championship game.
Some opponents, like LSU in 2008 and 2012, came close to repeating the feat of besting Alabama. But sometimes it’s laughable — the 2008 Iron Bowl (Crimson Tide 36, Auburn 0) and 2014 Texas A&M game (59-0) come to mind.
Alabama has only had 1 opportunity to gain revenge in the SEC Championship Game. After Florida beat the Tide for the 2008 title, Saban and Co. took down Tim Tebow 32-13 in 2009.
Perhaps the next target on Alabama’s hit list is Clemson. The Tigers won the College Football Playoff championship game following the 2018 season, and the Crimson Tide missed last year’s Playoff.
So is Saban merely bluffing when he downplays the revenge factor? It might not be the first thing on his mind. It’s also the result of, frankly, just being good and the mathematical byproducts of not losing many games.
But Alabama does seem to bring a little something extra at times when defeat is part of their recent memory. Just look at this season as a whole.
The lesson for LSU, if there is one? Watch the heck out.