It's scary how good Alabama has been in season openers under Nick Saban
It’s cliché, but by now, you’ve probably heard a million people say it.
When Alabama and Florida State square off Saturday night in Atlanta, something will have to give. After all, both are ranked inside the top three of the Associated Press poll. Both have legitimate national title aspirations.
In addition to that, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher have never lost a season opener at their respective schools. That, of course, will change Saturday night.
Alabama’s winning streak in openers predates Saban. It goes all the way back to 2002. But since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Alabama has been on a different kind of streak in season openers.
If Florida State does somehow get past Alabama, it’ll give way to an astonishing run of season-opening dominance.
So just how dominant has Alabama been to start off the season? Well, take a look at the numbers and it’s pretty clear.
Here’s every opener in the Saban era:
- 2007: Win 52-6 vs. Western Carolina
- 2008: Win 34-10 vs. No. 9 Clemson*
- 2009: Win 34-24 vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech*
- 2010: Win 48-3 vs. San Jose State
- 2011: Win 48-7 vs. Kent State
- 2012: Win 41-14 vs. No. 8 Michigan*
- 2013: Win 35-10 vs. Virginia Tech*
- 2014: Win 33-23 vs. West Virginia*
- 2015: Win 35-17 vs. No. 20 Wisconsin*
- 2016: Win 52-6 vs. No. 20 USC*
- 2017: ?
Breaking news: Alabama was pretty good at football the last decade.
Ok, you should’ve had at least had some takeaways from looking at that. For starters, Alabama won by double digits in all 10 of those games. In eight of them, the Tide won by three-plus scores.
The point differential numbers are off the charts. Alabama hit at least 33 points in every contest, yet it never surrendered more than 24 (it only allowed 20-plus points twice). On average, the Tide won the past 10 openers by a score of 41.2-12. Yowza.
And for the most part, the games were in the bag by the break. The 2009 game against Virginia Tech was the only time Alabama trailed at halftime in a season opener under Saban (it was a one-point deficit). Last year’s showdown against USC marked the first time the Tide trailed at the end of the first quarter of a Saban opener (Bama trailed 3-0, and ripped off 38 consecutive points).
Analysts might try and say that the turnover battle will decide the winner between Alabama and FSU. But will it? Alabama actually only won the turnover battle in five of those 10 games, and it had a modest 15-12 advantage overall.
It’ll come back to the same thing it always does. When it comes to being prepared, teams hardly ever have that advantage on Alabama. It doesn’t change with the opponent, either. Alabama is 5-0 against ranked opponents in openers under Saban, and 3-0 against top-10 foes. They outscored Top-25 teams 196-71 and they outscored top-10 teams 109-48.
Alabama’s run of opening game success is unmatched, and even compared to Florida State’s streak, it’s far more impressive. The Seminoles only beat two Power 5 opponents in their seven openers under Fisher. Last year marked the first time during that streak that they faced a Top-25 opponent. Florida State had to rally to beat an Ole Miss team that finished the season with five wins.
So yeah, Alabama’s opening game streak trumps Florida State’s by a mile.
Will that matter come Saturday night? For a game that’s getting national championship hype, it could. Obviously every team is different, but it’s no coincidence that Saban doesn’t falter when he has an entire offseason prepare for a matchup.
Something does have to give. The question is whether one of Saban’s squads is actually capable of looking mortal in a season opener.