Saturday Football: Nick Saban's legacy, Playoff expansion and a budding Auburn-South Carolina feud
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Good morning and happy Thursday! Now that we’ve reached the end of the 2020 season (congratulations to Alabama for winning its sixth title under NIck Saban), we’re going to be cutting back to two newsletters a week. We’ll be in your inbox on Mondays and Thursdays moving forward.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss this year’s Alabama team’s place in history and what this title means for Saban’s legacy. We’ll also dive into the latest round of talks surrounding College Football Playoff expansion. Finally, we’ll take a look at the bizarre budding feud between Auburn and South Carolina. Let’s get started!
ALABAMA WINS AGAIN
Alabama has now won six titles under Nick Saban. What does this latest title do for his legacy?
The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled to an easy 52-24 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night. That marks six titles for the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban took over in 2007, making him the coach with the most football championships in Division I history. Adding in his one title at LSU, he passes the legendary Bear Bryant, who also won six titles at Alabama.
Many analysts and fans already considered Saban the greatest coach of all-time. But, what does this seventh title do for Saban’s legacy? And, was the 2020 team his best ever? Let’s see what’s being said about Saban and the Crimson Tide in the wake of an undefeated season:
- Saban now has seven total titles to Bryant’s six. Both have six at Alabama. SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said Monday’s title “removes any doubt” about Saban being the best coach ever. Alabama QB Mac Jones agreed, saying “C’mon, man. Of course he is. How could he not be?” Saban, though, in typical Saban fashion, said he hasn’t given much thought to passing Bryant. Many fans and media members were surprised to see how emotional Saban got after this last title. ESPN’s Ryan McGee wrote that it seemed like Saban enjoyed this title more than the others. The moment Saban sent Landon Dickerson out for one last snap with his teammates really illustrated how sentimental the hard-nosed coach has gotten.
- What is being said about this title and how it fits in Saban’s legacy? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara writes that, of Saban’s seven titles, this 2020 title was the most impressive. What drives Saban to keep doing this? He said it’s his fear of losing. “The two (title games) that haunt me are the two that we lost,” he said. “Don’t ask me why it’s that way.” He added that the buy-in from the players made this 2020 championship even more special.
- Now, let’s dive into the 2020 Crimson Tide’s place in history. The SEC has had two all-time great teams the past two years with this season’s Alabama squad and the 2019 LSU team. Saturday Down South’s David Wasson wrote that this year’s Crimson Tide team would beat 2019 LSU by three touchdowns. Talk about a bold prediction. Wasson also explained why the 2020 TIde are the best team in the storied history of Alabama football. We’ll see how history remembers this team that went 13-0 during an unusual, stressful, crazy pandemic season.
How much longer will Saban coach? Does he have an eighth (or even a ninth) title left in him? He has a lot of talent and several assistants to replace before the 2021 campaign kicks off, but if we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that we should never doubt Saban’s teams!
WAY TOO EARLY 2021 TOP 10
Now that the 2020 season is over, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2021. Though much is still up in the air amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very possible we’ll be seeing more spring football this year. Last year, you’ll recall that many schools had to cancel their spring sessions during the early days of the pandemic.
So, which teams figure to be in the mix for the four spots in this coming season’s College Football Playoff? Well, Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara put together his way-too-early 2021 rankings after Alabama claimed victory in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Here’s a look at his top 10:
- Ohio State
- Iowa State
- Texas A&M
- Notre Dame
- North Carolina
Yes, there are a lot of familiar names in there. O’Gara also ranked teams 11-25. Check out his full early 2021 top-25 rankings here.
- It’s a real bummer that the 2020 season is now over. But, there’s plenty to look forward to as we await the start of the 2021 campaign. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara took a look at the 2021 nonconference schedule and broke down the best games of each week.
- Ohio State QB Justin Fields played through a lot of pain on Monday. But, even though the Buckeyes lost, Fields’ place as an Ohio State legend is secure. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan Clark wrote about the toughness Fields showed during his time at Ohio State.
- Many teams face important questions heading into the 2021 season. From Alabama trying to find a new offensive coordinator to seniors being able to return for another year, there are some big decisions that need to be made. Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon broke down some of the biggest storylines of the offseason.
- With many top players heading to the NFL, new guys will have to step up. Who will see their draft stock skyrocket in 2021? Who will become household names? ESPN’s college football staff put together a list of one breakout candidate for each top 25 team heading into 2021.
Ratings are dropping because of the College Football Playoff’s predictability. Is it time to finally expand?
There’s no need to bury the lede, this year’s College Football Playoff left a lot to be desired. Despite all the hype about seeing goliath programs like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame in the four-team field, very little about this season’s national title chase proved to interesting.
All three games were determined by 17 points or more and Alabama cruised to a 52-24 victory in the National Championship Game against an Ohio State team that was supposed to be the toughest squad the Crimson Tide faced all year.
Seven years into the College Football Playoff, the format’s predictability paired with the lopsided results have taken a toll on the sports’ viewership ratings. Is it finally time to start seriously considering expansion to address this problem?
- Concerns about the Playoff, and the ratings, surfaced a month ago. Before a single snap was taken in the College Football Playoff, there was already a pretty adamant discussion about a change for the sport. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit hates that it’s become a “race for one spot” every year, essentially knowing that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are all locks most years. While most suggest that an eight-team format would be a significant improvement, FOX’s Joel Klatt has a plan that would expand the field to 16 teams, which would eventually lead to even more parity in the sport.
- Three things are working against the current format: Ratings, ratings, ratings. In the middle of a pandemic, you might expect viewership ratings to be at an all-time high for the College Football Playoff. That hasn’t been the case. First, this year’s College Football Playoff rankings shows on ESPN decreased significantly from previous years, evidence that there’s a general lack of interest in the operation right now. According to ESPN, this year’s national championship had the lowest rating in over two decades. After watching Alabama smoke Ohio State by 28 points, it’s hard to blame people for skipping the game.
- Some important people want to see change. Shortly after the selection committee named the four College Football Playoff participants, Coastal Carolina President Michael Benson wrote a letter to the group, calling out its “lack of fairness” in the selection process. Seeing as how no Group of 5 programs have earned a spot in seven seasons, he makes a strong case. Florida head coach Dan Mullen also seems to be in favor of change, offering the idea of scrapping the “old bowl system” in order to expand the field to at least eight teams.
Would an expanded field actually fix college football’s problem? Obviously, there’s no guarantee that including eight or even 16 teams would increase the viewership of the College Football Playoff. Allowing more teams to participate in a national championship chase would likely level the playing fields in terms of recruiting. That, alone, would go a long way in eliminating some of the predictability we see in the sport. Maybe we’ll see the College Football Playoff seriously consider expansion after this year, but executive director Bill Hancock has reassured us that, whatever decision is made on the future of the format, money will not be a factor (wink, wink).
JUST FOR FUN
As we may have mentioned a time or two already in this newsletter, Nick Saban has now won seven national championships — the most in Division I history. He is one of 15 coaches in Division I history with at least three national titles to his name. For today’s quiz, can you name the other 14 coaches to win at least three titles?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
AUBURN-SOUTH CAROLINA FEUD
New Auburn coach Bryan Harsin really seems to enjoy poaching South Carolina coaches. What’s the deal?
As we prepare to enter the 2021 season, Auburn and South Carolina both have new coaches. Bryan Harsin has taken over for Gus Malzahn on The Plains, while former Steve Spurrier assistant Shane Beamer will lead the Gamecocks into the 2021 campaign. Already, tensions are escalating between the Tigers and Gamecocks, though, and things are only getting weirder.
So, what’s going on between these two schools? Is this a budding SEC East-West rivalry? Let’s take a look at why these two programs have been in the news lately:
- Beamer has already lost three assistants (yes, three) to Auburn. First, OC Mike Bobo left to join Bryan Harsin as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, drawing mixed reactions from fans. This came after Bobo was retained by Beamer after Will Muschamp was fired. Beamer didn’t exactly sound sincere when wishing Bobo well moving forward. Next, OL coach Will Friend continued his rapid tour of the SEC. He coached at Tennessee in 2020 before joining Beamer’s staff. Then, he immediately left to join Auburn’s staff. On Wednesday, DL coach Tracy Rocker became the third Beamer assistant to leave for The Plains. He’ll have to pay South Carolina $100,000 in buyout money.
- Why is Harsin going after so many South Carolina assistants? As @TheSpursUpShow pointed out on Twitter, Bobo and Rocker were part of the South Carolina staff that went 2-8 under Muschamp in 2019. But, in terms of recruiting, this has had a major impact on South Carolina. The Gamecocks 2020 starting quarterback, Collin Hill, has entered the transfer portal. In even worse news, 5-star 2022 QB Gunner Stockton decommitted from the Gamecocks and is now trending toward Auburn.
- It’s not all terrible news for Beamer at this point, though. Ryan Hilinski, the 2019 starter who was benched in favor of Hill in 2020, entered the transfer portal earlier this offseason. But, according to reports, he’s been in contact with Beamer since Bobo left for Auburn. Meanwhile, Jordan Strachan of Georgia State — who led the nation in sacks in 2020 — has committed to South Carolina. See? We told you it wasn’t all bad.
There’s still plenty of time before the 2021 season starts. And, now that Beamer has more open spots to fill on his staff, we’ll see if Harsin poaches any additional coaches. Whatever the case, the game between the two schools this coming season should be an intense one.
Here are all the Division I coaches who have won three or more national championships:
- Nick Saban (Alabama, LSU) — 7
- Bear Bryant (Alabama) — 6
- Bernie Bierman (Minnesota) — 5
- Woody Hayes (Ohio State) — 5
- Howard Jones (Yale, USC) — 5
- Frank Leahy (Notre Dame) — 4
- John McKay (USC) — 4
- Walter Camp (Yale) — 3
- Urban Meyer (Florida, Ohio State) — 3
- Tom Osborne (Nebraska) — 3
- Knute Rockne (Notre Dame) — 3
- Darrell Royal (Texas) — 3
- Barry Switzer (Oklahoma) — 3
- Glenn “Pop” Warner (Pitt, Stanford) — 3
- Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma) — 3
Who will be the next coach to join this illustrious group? Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has two titles under his belt, so he could be poised to join the list soon.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Effortlessly? You didn’t see what they was doing? They was blowing my ass up, what you talking about? It wasn’t effortlessly, I’ll tell you what. They did they thing, bro, to be honest with you.
“What they did is every time we did a play action, they just shot the gaps, shot the gaps. The linebackers, we got a couple of them to play a lot of fakes, that’s why we’re able to throw so much bubbles and slants and all that. But bro, they was blowing my ass out. You trippin’ — it was not easy. I am hurting.”
– Alabama RB Najee Harris took issue with a question in his postgame press conference about how he was able to run “easily” against Ohio State’s defense. Just because he makes it look so easy doesn’t mean it actually is. Ohio State has some quality defenders, but Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian put his players in positions to succeed, and Harris’s strength and determination did the rest. Just don’t tell him it was easy!
TWEET OF THE DAY
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams was in awe of DeVonta Smith’s first-half performance in the title game just like the rest of us. He even took to Twitter to say he’d be OK with people misspelling his name “DeVonta” moving forward. High praise from a guy who many consider to be the best receiver in the NFL today.