It would be understandable if Nick Saban has finally lost control of his death grip on the college football world — at least for a season.

For the first time in almost 2 years, Alabama doesn’t look like its same old dominant self. Attrition over time appears to have caught up with Saban — for now. I’m certainly not suggesting that the end is near for Saban’s legendary run nor am I suggesting that he won’t win another national title this season or more in the future. However, the 2021 season is shaping up a bit different than the recent seasons in which Alabama dominated all-comers.

Before we delve into that, let’s first be clear: Alabama is still one of the elite programs and can still win a national title. None of what you will read here is to bash Saban or Alabama. Let’s just look at the facts.

The first signs of mortality came in September when Alabama struggled to beat Florida 31-29. Florida has since lost 2 games. That should be disconcerting for Bama fans. Concerns over struggling against the Gators were quickly put to rest at the time when Alabama hammered Ole Miss 42-21 in a game that Rebel coach Lane Kiffin desperately wanted to win. Despite Kiffin’s best efforts, that game was never close. Bama was back! Right? Not really.

Of course, the ultimate sign of vulnerability came 2 weeks ago when Alabama lost to Texas A&M 41-38. That was the first time that one of Saban’s former assistants beat him, and it was frankly a game Alabama should have won. That was a game that the dominant Bama teams would have found a way to win. The 2021 crew couldn’t pull off that feat.

Alabama also looked susceptible to losing again for much of the Tennessee game on Saturday. Then, the Vols offered up miscues that Alabama capitalized on and pulled away for a 52-24 victory. However, for those who watched the game, it was closer than the score indicated, especially for most of 3 quarters.

Saban has shown time and again that he can plug-and-play with his player personnel and coaching staff. Perhaps he loses a trusted, longtime, proven coach like Kirby Smart to Georgia. Saban just replaces him with Jeremy Pruitt and keeps rolling. As Tennessee fans can attest, Pruitt isn’t a head coach, but he’s highly respected as a defensive-minded coach. Now, Bama’s defense is led by coordinator Pete Golding, which has had mixed results.

Saban has lost 2 offensive coaches lately with Lane Kiffin to Ole Miss and Steve Sarkisian to Texas. Both are highly respected, but Sarkisian’s replacement, Bill O’Brien, is no slouch. O’Brien kept Penn State relevant and won division titles with the Houston Texans in the NFL. No, he wasn’t considered a great NFL coach, but he did win the AFC South 4 times and was thought of as a good replacement for Sarkisian at the time. He still is.

I could go on and on, but what is more important is that even the mighty Saban can’t hire an elite coach every time he has another to replace? First, there aren’t that many elite coaches available and, second, Saban isn’t exactly the easiest person to work for, especially in the coaching community.

Is the latest duo of coordinators working? Let’s take a look at the numbers. It’s hard to knock O’Brien. His offense averages 45.9 points per game, which ranks highest in the SEC and No. 2 in the nation.

Golding’s defense is allowing 20.6 points per game, which is 5th-best in the SEC and 35th in the nation. That’s not very Alabama-like. However, Golding and Saban, who still has strong control over Bama’s defense, deserve some leeway. Leading Bama’s defense isn’t an easy job since the Crimson Tide run an up-tempo offense. That puts pressure on a team’s defense.

So is Alabama’s defense the reason the Crimson Tide isn’t as dominant as they have been in Saban’s dominant run? Yes and no. The defense has been an issue, but so has personnel.

The 2021 replacements have been a step down this season, albeit slightly. They’re either too inexperienced or just not as talented as that offensive trio Bama showcased last season.

Attrition hasn’t been much of a problem under Saban in Alabama. For the short term at least, that’s one of the reasons Bama doesn’t look like the hands-down, most dominant team in the country as we head into November. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s certainly a bit different. If Alabama wins a national title this season, they might have to fight a bit harder than Saban’s championship teams of the past.