Of all the 7 rings, 2020 was Nick Saban’s most impressive one yet
He won’t say it, so I will.
Ring No. 7 was Nick Saban’s most impressive yet.
That’s not recency bias. That’s not just because it was the ring that allowed him to pass Paul “Bear” Bryant, either.
In 2020, when nothing came easy for anyone, Alabama made dominating an entire slate of Power 5 opponents look like it had weekly matchups with Group of 5 teams collecting a 7-figure check in exchange for a beatdown. There was no check collected by anyone, especially not Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night. Instead, it was another costly 60-minute reminder that nobody was on Alabama’s level in 2020.
History might not appreciate Alabama’s dominance, and when you win your 6th title in a 12-year stretch, well, it hits a little differently than say, 2019 LSU? Speaking of that, which team do you think would win between … just kidding. I’ll let y’all debate that.
What’s up for debate is if this was the most impressive Alabama team Saban has had. In terms of “dominance,” yeah, there’s an obvious case.
The 2020 Alabama team beat 13 Power 5 opponents. Saban had never defeated 12 Power 5 opponents in a season.
Monday night had a feeling similar to 2009, which was Saban’s only other perfect team. That team beat 6 ranked foes, just as the 2020 team did. The difference? That 2009 team only beat 2 teams that went to New Year’s 6/BCS Bowl games while this 2020 Alabama team beat a ridiculous 5 teams that played in New Year’s 6 bowls.
Oh, and it won’t come as much of a surprise that the margin of victory against Power 5 opponents was pretty lopsided, too. That 2009 team won games against Power 5 teams by an average of 14.4 points. After Monday’s beatdown of Ohio State, the 2020 Alabama team actually saw its margin of victory vs. Power 5 opponents drop to 29.1.
Speaking of margin of victory vs. Power 5 opponents — the only ones who matter for this argument — compare each of Saban’s title teams:
- 2009 — +14.4
- 2011 — +24.1
- 2012 — +24.7
- 2015 — +15.7
- 2017 — +22.5
- 2020 — +29.1
Yeah, football is different now than it was 11 years ago. Greg McElroy attempted 11 passes in that 2009 title game, which was as many completions as Mac Jones had on Monday night … in the first quarter.
Speaking of Jones, that’s another reason this should go down as Saban’s G.O.A.T. season. Go back to 2 years ago when he hired Steve Sarkisian. His hiring after a failed run with the Atlanta Falcons was scrutinized, especially for an Alabama team coming off the worst loss of the Saban era to Clemson in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship.
All Sarkisian did with 2 different quarterbacks was lead the 2 best offenses in school history before getting the Texas job. He set an FBS record with 24 consecutive games of 35-plus points and Alabama became the first team to yield 3 of the top 5 Heisman Trophy vote-getters — including Heisman winner DeVonta Smith — since 1946.
On Monday night, it didn’t matter that everyone and their mother knew about Alabama’s Big 3. Sarkisian still dialed up magic. There wasn’t an answer for Smith, who put up a casual 13 catches for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns … in the first half. Jones was on point all night with 464 passing yards and 5 touchdowns while Harris had 158 scrimmage yards and 3 touchdowns in his last collegiate game. Alabama was so dominant that it didn’t even matter that Smith was out with a wrist injury after the first series of the second half (he still won MVP honors).
Let’s dig into that “dominance” discussion a little more, shall we? No, 2020 Alabama didn’t have a defense like the 2017 or 2011 squad. So what? It still beat 11 Power 5 teams by at least 3 scores. The 2009 and 2015 teams had 5 such wins. The 2017 team had 7 while the 2011 and 2012 squads had 8 of those 3-score wins vs. Power 5 competition.
And for what it’s worth, the 2020 Alabama team only surrendered more than 24 points on 2 occasions. Neither game was in the Playoff, either.
Whatever the Crimson Tide wanted, it took in 2020.
Not even a pandemic got in Alabama’s way. This was the offseason when the gap was supposed to be narrowed without full access to world-class facilities like the ones that reside in Tuscaloosa. Those on the outside will never fully understand what it was like to be a college athlete in 2020. Yet Alabama never had a game canceled because of its own COVID issues.
Shoot, Saban even tested positive for COVID (twice) and Alabama just motored along like business as usual. A midweek false positive didn’t deter a blowout win against Georgia, and an actual positive test ahead of the Iron Bowl didn’t slow down the Crimson Tide train.
Besides the fact that there wasn’t a midseason loss to overcome like the 4 previous Alabama title teams, there was no sign that the 2020 squad dealt with any sort of “midseason adversity.” When some speculated that Jaylen Waddle’s ankle injury was going to prevent Alabama from winning a title, it actually improved on offense. Never mind the fact that including Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy, 3 of the 4 elite wideouts from the 2019 squad were gone. Granted, it helps when you still have one of the great college receivers ever.
Some will look at Smith’s dominance and say that anyone could’ve won with this Alabama squad. They’d say that Alabama played with more talent than anyone, despite the fact that Harris was actually the only 5-star starter at the offensive skill positions. They’ll dismiss Alabama’s accomplishment and say that nobody played defense during the COVID season.
That’s fine. Ignore Alabama’s SEC record 48.5 points per game. Choose not to acknowledge that there were never any “Bama ain’t played nobody” cries all year in this SEC-only season.
Chalk it up to Bama being Bama, if you choose.
Scott Van Pelt said something so simple yet so accurate on SportsCenter after Alabama capped off its perfect season with an exclamation point.
“Winning like this isn’t easy. All year long, it was for Alabama.”
Football isn’t supposed to be this easy. It certainly looked like it with how locked in Alabama was all year. Everyone in the sport had their moments in 2020 when it looked like they had a steep uphill climb to accomplish a basic task. Clemson had that when Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID. Georgia had that when it couldn’t figure out its quarterback situation. Shoot, Ohio State had that when the Big Ten said it was punting on a fall season.
(Well, the Buckeyes certainly faced another uphill climb on Monday.)
Reaching the heights that Saban and Co. got to in 2020 proved to be an impossible feat for anyone outside of Tuscaloosa. It might be an impossible feat for any Alabama team to ever reach those heights again.
It was an unprecedented year. It was only fitting that we got an unprecedented Saban team.
Something tells me ring No. 7 will shine a little brighter on the Saban mantel.