The GOAT conversation isn’t going anywhere.
Nick Saban vs. Paul “Bear” Bryant is to college football what LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan is to the NBA. While the current stars of the sports world continue to rack up accolades, at the very least, the gap is narrowing in a hurry.
If there still is any separation from Saban and Bryant, Saban can do something in 2018 that might even convert the pro-Bryant crowd in the GOAT argument.
And no, it isn’t just passing Bryant with total rings.
Coming off a national title — and arguably his most impressive one yet — Saban can repeat for the second time in his career. Bryant did technically already accomplish that feat (1964-65, 1978-79).
What Bryant didn’t do was unanimously win consecutive national titles twice in the Associated Press poll era. The 1979 title was Bryant’s only unanimous title among those 4. He shared the 1964 title (11-0 Arkansas, 9-1 Notre Dame), the 1965 title (10-1 Michigan State) and 1978 title (12-1 USC).
Saban, however, can become the first coach to win consecutive unanimous national titles twice in the AP poll era. All he has to do is repeat.
The current system is obviously better for a coach to do that now instead of what it was while Bryant was racking up rings. Saban’s unanimous titles are determined by just the College Football Playoff selection committee. The NCAA recognized 4 polls during Bryant’s years of repeating (AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI).
But to be fair, Bryant’s teams were never undefeated when they shared those 3 national titles. The counterargument to that is well, neither were Saban’s. That’s true.
What’s also true is that Saban’s teams won 12 or 13 games en route to national titles in the potential repeat seasons (2011-12, 2017 and Alabama would need that again in 2018). Bryant’s teams won 10 games to get the 1964 title, 9 games to earn the 1965 title and 11 games to win the 1978 title.
I’d argue that while losing a game all but ended chances of a unanimous national title during the multi-poll days that Bryant coached in, it’s still more difficult to win a title in the Playoff era.
Let’s also remember that Alabama won 14 games in 2016 and still didn’t win a national title. Had Alabama defended Hunter Renfrow, Saban would’ve already had this accomplishment in the bag because the Tide won it all in 2015. But that didn’t happen.
That brings us to this year, when Saban will attempt to add that impressive separate repeat feat to his résumé (sorry for the rhyme). History suggests that’ll be easier said than done. Since the beginning of the BCS era in 1998, the 2011 and 2012 Alabama squads were the only unanimous repeat title winners recognized by the NCAA.
What about USC in 2003 and 2004? Ironically enough, Saban’s first ring in 2003 (at LSU) prevented the Trojans from claiming that title as “unanimous.” And when USC was on the verge of accomplishing that feat in 2005, it couldn’t get a goal-line stand against the quarterback who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting … just like Alabama when Deshaun Watson halted the repeat bid in 2016.
As per usual, Alabama is in good shape to repeat. Do teams like Clemson and Georgia pose the best threat? Absolutely. But perhaps both programs elevating their status the past few years would make another potential Alabama repeat that much more impressive.
Is that what it would take to put Saban in a class of his own? Perhaps. Some might argue the simple “7 rings > 6 rings” logic says enough. But who are we kidding? We know the Saban vs. Bryant argument is going to be broken down in more ways than we can count. In my book, though, Saban repeating again in 2018 should end that discussion for good.
Then, we could all refer to Saban as the unanimous GOAT.