SDS Roundtable: Which former assistant will be the first to beat Nick Saban?
Each SDS roundtable discussion involves the SDS staff providing individual answers and comments to questions covering a wide range of sports and non-sports topics. In this discussion, we ask the question: Which former assistant will be the first to beat Nick Saban?
Previous roundtable discussions:
- If you could change 1 thing about college football, what would it be?
- What are you watching right now?
- Who is your favorite SEC football player of all-time?
- What are your 3 favorite postseason moments involving SEC teams?
- Which 4 SEC athletes are on your Mount Rushmore?
- What is your most painful sports memory?
- The greatest team I ever saw …
- Which school’s all-time position group is the best in SEC history?
- Who are your way-too-early picks to make the College Football Playoff?
- If and when the SEC expands, which 2 teams should it add?
- Who is your pick to win the SEC East, SEC West in 2020?
- Who is your favorite player from every SEC program?
- Who is your favorite SEC personality to follow on Twitter?
- Which SEC program produced best pro sports duo?
- Which prop bet would you risk stimulus check on?
A bit of background …
Nick Saban has never lost to a former assistant. You might have heard. The assistants know the deal. A few even joke about it. Saban is 19-0 against his former assistants and will face at least 4 more in 2020 (Kirby Smart, Jeremy Pruitt, Lane Kiffin and Jimbo Fisher). Is this the year one of them finally dethrones the king? If so, which assistant takes out Saban first?
Michael Bratton, News editor
Easy answer here is Kirby Smart. Georgia is winning Week 3 of the season in Tuscaloosa, so there won’t be much drama with this one.
The real question to ask is how many former assistants will Nick Saban lose to this season. I’d put the over/under at 2.5.
The first one comes early as Georgia’s defense will suffocate Steve Sarkisian’s offense while the Bulldogs will become the latest team to expose Alabama’s defense. Saban still hasn’t found a way to replace Jeremy Pruitt and that’s becoming more evident with each passing season.
I’d be surprised, but not stunned, if Alabama found a way to lose to Ole Miss in Oxford. I’ll give that one to the Tide, but The Third Saturday in October will be a different story. I’ve got Tennessee beating Alabama in Knoxville to end the 13-year streak of misery for the Vols. Pruitt outcoached Saban last year and if not for Jarrett Guarantano playing hero ball on the goal line, the streak might have already ended. A year later, Pruitt and his staff will have a more talented roster to work with when going up against the Tide.
I’ve already called for Texas A&M to win the West and I believe the Aggies will play Alabama with either a 10-0 or 9-1 record. Alabama gets this game at home and should be favored, but that doesn’t guarantee them anything in this matchup. This will be the Aggies’ breakout year and earning a win on the road in Tuscaloosa might punch Texas A&M’s ticket to Atlanta.
Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder
The easy answer here is Kirby Smart. Lane Kiffin has a few years to get the roster in order at Ole Miss before he can even think about it, and with Jimbo Fisher, it’s a wait-and-see. Jeremy Pruitt, too, has to continue to improve the roster talent at Tennessee. Smart has the roster ready, and to put it plainly, the Georgia head coach should have already beaten Saban in the national championship game.
This year, Smart could get Saban twice, once during the regular season and again in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game depending on how things shake out. The odds would heavily favor Smart in this specific scenario we’re discussing, and I’m not going to bet against him.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
I’ll stick with Kirby Smart not just because of the close calls, though that’s obviously part of it. His team stayed on the same field as Alabama both times they faced off, which is more than I could say about Jimbo Fisher’s A&M squads (or his 2017 Florida State squad). But whether it happens this year or not, I like the fact that Smart actually acknowledged the need to modernize the offense. Granted, it took the SEC Championship beatdown against LSU for that message to really be driven home for Smart, but better late than never.
Again, I don’t think it’s by any means a given to happen this year in the regular season. This delayed spring practice has me a bit more worried about what Todd Monken’s offense is going to look like with inevitable limited reps with nearly an entirely new starting lineup. But that’s the thing Smart needed to put in place to get Georgia over the top. That was the key for LSU, and sooner or later, it’ll be the key for Georgia.
You know, assuming fake punts are completely out of the playbook.
Chris Marler, The SDS Podcast co-host
My answer is Kirby Smart. That might not seem like I’m going out on much of a limb, so let me spice things up by saying I think it happens this season. I know that UGA hasn’t beaten Alabama since Saban’s first year in 2007, but that will change in 2020. I’ve been saying since last year that 2020 is the year Kirby wins a natty.
And, before anyone starts in with the “they lost too much talent” or “Saban isn’t as dominant as he once was” excuses … let me say that I think UGA beats Bama this year and does so for reasons that have a lot more to do with UGA’s strengths than Bama’s weaknesses.
This Georgia defense will be the best defense that we’ve seen in college football since 2011 Alabama. Kirby has loaded his roster with 5 stars and Bama will not only have to stop Pickens, Zeus, and Newman, they’ll have to also find a way to score 30+ on a defense that might not allow over 20 to anyone all season. Also, if the Dawgs don’t get them in Tuscaloosa they will most likely get a second chance to beat them in Atlanta. They honestly might win both.
That being said, I dread the day that this streak actually comes to an end, and you should too. I know that there are a lot of SEC fans that love watching Bama and Saban lose almost as much as they enjoy their own team winning. However, you should pull for this streak to continue for as long as possible for 2 reasons:
1. If/when it happens, we’re going to get roughly 2,903,824 articles, podcasts, and TV segments about the dynasty being dead and Saban retiring. It will monopolize sports talk for weeks if not months. Looking at you Joel Klatt.
2. Do you really want to live in a world where Vol and/or UGA Twitter are finally validated?! There are few fan bases that are more overconfident and as rabid as they are on social media.
Imagine if either gets over that Bama hump. I don’t know if the world is ready for that. I know I’m not, and neither are my mentions. We all need to hope and pray it’s Kiffin or Jimbo, otherwise, there might not be another oak tree left standing in Athens or Knoxville thanks to the Updykes.
Neil Blackmon, Florida columnist
I was tempted to say never, but while Saban isn’t Bowden, he is every bit as competitive as Steve Spurrier. And like the HBC, I fully expect him to coach a little longer — just not Bobby Bowden longer — than he should. That means at some point, he’ll take a couple of losses to proteges.
That said, I’m going Jimbo Fisher here, mainly because Fisher gets a crack at him every season and Georgia and Kirby Smart do not. It’s just math.
With Dan Mullen pushing Florida back to national relevance, Smart is going to have a dogfight in the East year and year out, and LSU and Auburn aren’t just going to concede Alabama’s path to Atlanta every season. That means annual UGA-Bama meetings, like the one scheduled for this September, aren’t guaranteed.
Fisher already built teams better than Alabama at Florida State — but his best 2 teams didn’t get a shot at the Crimson Tide. Now he’s recruiting like his hair is on fire at Texas A&M, a place with better facilities and resources than FSU. Get Jimbo the right quarterback (whispers: it isn’t Kellen Mond) and a home game against the Tide in College Station, and he’ll deliver a W to that fan base.
Then we’ll have to listen to 10 hours of Finebaum calls about how Saban is done, which will be both annoying and of course, absurd.
Chris Wright, Executive editor
Did you know Saban has lost exactly 3 games to SEC East opponents since landing at Alabama in 2007? He lost 2 in the regular season (none since 2010 against South Carolina) and the 2008 SEC title game to Florida. That’s it.
I’m supposed to believe he’s going to lose multiple games to East opponents — coached by former assistants — in 2020? That double whammy is not happening.
Alabama isn’t losing to anybody on its schedule in 2020, former assistant or future rehab project.
This streak will be 23-0 (or 24-0 if he has to beat Kirby Smart and Georgia twice) when we revisit this conversation again next offseason.