In 2019, Nick Saban returns to where he last lost to an SEC East foe: Looking back at his crossover dominance
You already know it’s insane. But just in case you didn’t know how insane Nick Saban’s dominance of SEC East opponents since 2010 is, fear not. I did the work for you.
Why is 2010 the reference point? And why am I writing about this in the last week of May?
Those questions sort of take care of each other. The last time Saban lost to an East opponent, was of course at South Carolina back in 2010. This year, Saban will make his first trip back to Columbia albeit under different circumstances. He won’t look across the sideline and see Steve Spurrier — unless the HBC is in town, which is a totally realistic possibility — nor will Saban have to draw up a game plan to try and stop skill players like Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore.
And while that bizarre, un-Alabama like performance served as a microcosm for that disappointing 2010 season in Tuscaloosa, it would be an upset of even more epic proportions if history somehow repeated itself in 2019.
Besides, we have nearly a decade’s worth of data that shows just staying on the field with Saban’s squad is a monumental task for East teams since that 2010 loss in Columbia.
So before we write a bunch of flashback pieces leading up to that game, I thought it’d be interesting to dig into Saban’s East dominance so that we could all keep things in perspective going forward.
The number is at 17. That is, Saban has won 17 consecutive games against East opponents since the South Carolina loss. Just for a little perspective, LSU’s longest East winning streak during that stretch is 6 games. (The Tigers are actually 13-4 in crossovers during that stretch, which is super impressive considering they have Florida on the schedule every year.)
Not impressed yet?
How about this — no East opponent scored more than 21 points against Alabama during that stretch. In fact, only 3 of those 17 opponents even reached 15 points. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide reached 34 points in crossover matchups all but once. As a result, Alabama won 14 of those 17 games (82%) by at least 28 points with an average margin of victory of 32.2 points. The last time Alabama didn’t beat an East opponent by at least 28 points was the 2015 Tennessee scare.
Speaking of that game, that was the only time that an East opponent even led in the second half against Alabama. Then this happened, and it became a footnote in a year in which Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and the Crimson Tide won a national title (via PC Sports Enthusiast):
In 1,020 minutes against East opponents since the 2010 South Carolina loss, Alabama trailed in 26 minutes and 48 seconds of them. That’s 2.6% of the time that they shared a field with an East opponent. If you add up the 34 total halves of football that Alabama played against the East, that means it trailed in just less than 1 half.
Ok, now you should be impressed.
But maybe you aren’t because after all, Saban played against either Derek Dooley or Butch Jones in nearly half of those matchups. Throw in 4 matchups against the likes of Kentucky or Vanderbilt and yeah, that’s probably what you’d expect Alabama to do in a given week.
Only 2 of those 17 East opponents were ranked. Actually, both were in the top 10 and both were on the road. Interestingly enough, the 2015 game against No. 8 Georgia ended the Crimson Tide’s streak of being the favorite at 72 games. And let us never forget that entering 2016 on the heels of that 2015 thriller in Tuscaloosa, ESPN’s FPI gave Tennessee a 59% chance to beat Alabama:
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 2, 2016
Yeah, about that.
In 2015, Alabama beat No. 8 Georgia 38-10. In the Tennessee matchup, Alabama held on for a 49-10 win. It was a nail-biter alright.
If your argument is that the streak isn’t that impressive because of the quality opponents, well, I can’t help you there. I didn’t even include the 5 SEC Championships in that stretch in which Alabama beat 5 top-20 opponents by an average of 18 points.
I bring this all up because here we are in the last season of the 2010s decade. It’s the same decade that Alabama started by losing to its first East opponent. To think that Alabama could be perfect against the East for the rest of the decade is still absurd.
And who knows how long the streak will last? I wouldn’t bank on it ending in 2019, but Alabama does get a home game against Georgia in 2020 and then it’ll make a trip to Florida in 2021. Both of those games have potential to be trendy offseason picks to see the streak end, much like the 2016 Tennessee game was.
It’s been 9 years since that sweltering Saturday afternoon in Columbia. That day, Alabama’s SEC win streak ended at 18. When Alabama travels to Columbia this time, a different 18-game streak will be on the line. That’s how many consecutive East wins the Crimson Tide would reach if they can take care of the Gamecocks.
Here’s a prediction — nobody in their right mind is calling Alabama an underdog against an East foe in the near future.