Chasing Perfection – Could This Be Saban’s Second Perfect Season?
By: Larry Burton
No active coach has more division one national titles than Nick Saban, but one thing has been difficult for Saban to accomplish, a perfect season.
While Saban dominates the college football world, he has had just one perfect season in all his days as a head coach. That comes as a shock to most people when they think of Saban and his masterful teams full of talent that now fills the NFL. He’s had just one undefeated season and that one was almost lost too except for big Terrence (Mount) Cody blocking two Tennessee field goal attempts, one of which as the clock ticked to zero. That 2009 team was Saban’s one and only perfect season.
Just how hard is it to achieve a perfect season? Harder than you may imagine. In the last 16 years, just 15 division one teams have had perfect seasons, just barely less than one per year. Another thing to consider is that in the last 16 seasons only nine teams won the national championship with a perfect season while six had perfect seasons, but no championships.
But this is Nick Saban, the man with five national championships on his resume. How can he have the same perfect season record as Gene Chizik, Tommy Tubberville, Terry and Tommy Bowden and Kyle Whittingham? How could this man have fewer undefeated seasons than Chris Peterson who has never won a championship?
The answer to that could be debated any number of ways, but the question that is more relevant and perhaps easier to answer is, could this season be Saban’s best chance at another perfect season since the 2009 campaign?
That answer is clearly yes.
The toughest test of the season will either be the first or the last game of the season. Ironically, they may be against the same team, Florida State. The Seminoles have been picked by the majority of the media as well the money men in Las Vegas to be a contender for one of the college football playoff spots. No other team Alabama faces is ranked so high, so should the Crimson Tide come out of the first game with a victory, one could say it will be downhill from there.
Still, it’s not always been the highest ranked teams than have kept Saban from attaining another undefeated season. In his first season in 2007 Saban lost six games including one to lowly Louisiana-Monroe. In 2008 there were late season stumbles in the SEC Championship Game to Florida and then to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Following the undefeated 2009 season, the 2010 team was picked to repeat but lost to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn. 2011 saw them win their second national title under Saban, but a loss to LSU in the regular season marred a perfect season.
Alabama was picked to win it all in 2012, but a young gun named Johnny Manziel sparked an upset win for Texas A&M, but it wasn’t enough to derail Alabama from being the first team in many years to go back to back as national champions. 2013 brought about the “One More Second” game and Auburn’s win by running back a missed field goal will forever sting Alabama fans. It seems it also stung the team who lost the next game, the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.
2014 was the first of two Ole Miss regular season defeats and Alabama lost their first national championship game against Ohio State in the final game. 2015 saw the second Ole Miss regular season loss and like the first, it was a game that could’ve been won easily except for Alabama miscues. They did finish the season without another loss which brings us to last season when despite a perfect regular season, lost the national championship game in the closing seconds to Clemson.
To recap all this, in the ten years Saban has been at Alabama as head coach, he’s had one perfect season, four one loss seasons, three two loss seasons, one three loss season and one six loss season. But the record could and should get better this coming season.
But this is an unusual set of circumstances this year, that may cause everything to fall into place for Saban to have his second perfect season. Alabama is a young team overall, but has experience at every position and that experience is backed by spectacular talent with a huge upside. They have the easiest schedule overall that they’ve had in many years plus teams that have recently plagued Alabama in the past are in rebuilding mode like at Ole Miss and around the conference. Across the country, there just isn’t another powerhouse as Clemson was with DeShawn Watson to pose a huge threat either. Their toughest game could be the first against Florida State and it could be downhill from there. Plus Alabama is carrying a big chip on their shoulder from their last second loss to Clemson for last year’s championship. That too is a big factor.
Therefore, this is the best year since 2009 for Saban to notch only his second undefeated season.
If you spend the time around Nick Saban that we in the press have, you learn one phrase over most of the rest. That phrase if “FINISH”. This season it could be “START”, because if the Alabama team doesn’t start well against Florida State, they can’t finish their push for an undefeated season, even if they go on to win a national championship. However you can expect this team to start well and not take their foot off the gas until the final whistle of the final game.
That is how you have undefeated seasons and as this season gets going, that is what you’ll see from this year’s version of the Crimson Tide.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter
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