Alabama Football is on Fumes Right Now. Is This Saban’s Last Ride?

They’ve lost two games this year, by a total of four combined points, and both games were lost on the last play of the game.

They were in the National Championship game 10 months ago, and probably would’ve won had Jameson Williams not torn his ACL in the first half.

They won a National Championship in dominant fashion as recently as January 2021, not even two years ago. That 2020 Bama team may have been the best of all of Nick Saban’s Championship squads during this dynasty run.

And yet it feels, today, like the Alabama football program is on shaky ground.

It doesn’t feel like Alabama anymore.

They’re not as scary.

They’ve got two losses this year but it could easily be 4. They should’ve lost to Texas on the road. They won by a point largely because Ewers got hurt.

They were one play away from losing to a horrible Texas A&M team.

Bama could easily be 5-4 right now, which would make this the worst season since 2007, Saban’s first year in T-Town.

As it stands, this is Bama’s most disappointing season since 2010. Honestly, if you compare this year’s Bama to 2010, there are some close similarities:

They had an early loss to an SEC East team, and then their season was ended in early November by a 10th ranked LSU squad.

Same exact thing this year.

Anyway, 2010 was the last time they were eliminated this early in the regular season.

Bama doesn’t really lose many games in the regular season. Again, you have to go back to 2010 to find the last time they lost two regular season SEC games straight up. Okay, yes it happened in 2019, but they lost the Auburn game after Tua had already gotten hurt and was out for the year so that doesn’t count.

  • 2021 they lost that one game to A&M and that was it.
  • 2020, undefeated.
  • 2019, they lost to Joe Burrow LSU and then Auburn when Tua got hurt. So their two losses that year were to arguably the greatest team in college football history, and to their chief rival (by a score of 48-45) after Tua went down.
  • 2018, they went undefeated all the way to the national championship game where they got blown out by Clemson.
  • 2017, they lost one game that year and it was to Auburn.
  • 2016, yet again undefeated all the way to the national championship game, where they lost to Clemson.
  • 2015, only dropped one game that year and it was to Ole Miss. Then went on to win the national championship.
  • So from 2016-2020, the only teams to beat Bama in the regular season have been Auburn, their primary rival, and 2019 LSU, arguably the greatest college football team ever.

Bama does not lose games in September and October and early November.

It was highly unprecedented for Bama to lose to Texas A&M last season—even just losing that one regular season game was something they hadn’t done since like 2015.

Now for them to drop two games in the regular season? Unheard of. And again, it should be more than two. It should be 4.

The decline really began last season, it only became apparent this season.

You remember last year how when A&M beat Bama, it was the first time Saban had ever lost to one of his former assistants? Saban was 25-0 against former assistants up to that point. Had never once lost to someone who had previously worked for him. That streak began back in 2010.

And then last year, he not only lost to Jimbo, he lost to Kirby as well. 12 years of never losing to an ex-protege, then he loses to two in one season.

That should have been the tell that something was amiss in Tuscaloosa.

Even though they made it to the National Championship last year, cracks were beginning to show if you looked closely.

The worst part about it is that this was supposed to be the big year for Bama. Last year was the “rebuilding year,” this year was supposed to be the year they were a complete juggernaut.

They lost a ton of players from their 2022 Championship team to the draft: DeVonta Smith, Waddle, Pat Surtain, Najee, Mac Jones, Landon Dickerson, Christian Barmore, Alex Leatherwood, Dylan Moses—they were expecting last season to be the down year and this season to be the up year.

But they’re way worse this year than they were last year. In fairness to Alabama, Tennessee is significantly better this year than they were last year. LSU also: they were a dumpster fire last year, Orgeron was a lame duck, everyone knew he was going to be fired (and they still almost beat Bama). This year with Brian Kelly, LSU is in a way better spot.

But then you could turn around and make the argument that Bama was only good last year because the SEC was a lot weaker as a conference. It was basically just them and Georgia last year. Now there are four really good teams, and arguably five if you include Ole Miss, who Bama has to go on the road and face this weekend. But we’ll hold off on calling Ole Miss a really good team until we see them in action this weekend.

It feels like Bryce Young is carrying this program on his back right now.

Him and the transfers, and there are a lot of them in high profile positions: Jahmyr Gibbs at running back, Henry To’o To’o the linebacker, Eli Ricks at cornerback.

Last year, Jameson Williams was a transfer from Ohio State. Imagine if Bama didn’t have him last year? Their offense would’ve been about identical to this year. No way they make the National Championship without Williams last year.

Bama just isn’t the same anymore.

It’s not just my opinion, either. I mean, I do believe all this stuff to be true, but far more credible voices than myself are saying it. For example, Greg McIlroy, who was the Alabama quarterback when they won their first National Championship under Saban in 2009, talked at length about the way things seem to be falling off in Tuscaloosa currently.

It feels like the foundation of the Alabama football program is gone. It’s just Bryce Young holding it all together.

They are increasingly reliant on transfers even though they routinely pull in the best recruiting classes in the country.

Bama has won National Titles in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020.

The longest they’ve ever gone between National Championships is three seasons.

It’s now happened three times: 2013-2014, and 2018-2019.

Now it’s 2021-2022. If they don’t win a Championship next year, it will be the longest stretch Nick Saban has gone without winning a National Championship at Alabama. He even won one in his third year there, so even when he started as Alabama head coach, he did not even have a gap of 3 or more seasons between National Titles.

Do you really see this Bama team winning a national championship next year after losing Bryce Young? I don’t.

And that’s the big elephant in the room now that this season is as good as lost: what’s going to happen at Bama when Bryce Young is no longer there?

I really think they’re in trouble.

They’re also losing Will Anderson, too. But Bryce Young is going to hurt the most for them. Will Anderson is a great pro prospect, but he’s not as much of a field-tilter as Bryce is at the college level.

I’ve never seen the Bama program more reliant on one single football player. Bryce Young is carrying them. When Derrick Henry left in the 2016 draft, it was survivable. When Mark Ingram got drafted, they just replaced him with Trent Richardson. When DeVonta Smith went to the league, they just pulled in Jameson Williams from the portal.

But none of the quarterbacks on their roster for next year will be able to fill Bryce Young’s shoes. Bryce Young is carrying this program right now—he’s covering up for tons of deficiencies and roster holes that will become much more apparent next year when he’s playing on Sundays.

So I fully expect Bama to miss out on the National Championship next year as well. I think we’re about to see the longest national championship drought at Alabama in the Nick Saban era. And it could be a long drought because Saban is only getting older and older (he’s 71 now, which is right around the age Bobby Bowden and JoePa began falling off).

If I had to put my money down on it, I would say 2020 is the last national championship Nick Saban wins at Alabama. That’s it. Saban will not win another one.

The more pressing question is what’s going to happen to them on Saturday when they travel to Oxford.

Bama has not been good on the road this year. It’s where both of their losses happened and it should’ve been a third road loss at Texas.

Ole Miss will have two weeks to prep for this game. They were on bye last Saturday when Bama was losing to LSU.

Lane Kiffin is determined to beat Alabama. It means a lot to him.

And I wonder how motivated this Bama team will be this weekend with the playoff out of the question. Bama is pretty much eliminated from playoff contention, which is a weird thing for them. They have only missed the playoff once and it was in 2019, after losing Tua for the year with a hip injury. And their second loss came at Auburn, which was the last game of the regular season for them, so when they got eliminated from the playoff, it was the end of their season. All they had left was the bowl game.

This year they still have to play three more games in the regular season knowing it’s like 99.99% they can’t make the playoff.

There’s a real possibility they just pack it in and don’t care anymore. Would that surprise you if it happened?

I have been waiting all season for them to “wake up” or for Saban to turn things around in a hurry. I feel like it’s an annual tradition: when Bama loses, it’s actually the worst thing for everyone else in the country because that’s when Bama actually gets serious. They kick it into high gear after their first loss.

Not this season. This year they responded to losing by losing again a couple weeks later.

Maybe there is no high gear for this squad. Or maybe Nick Saban no longer has the ability to pull off the radical in-season turnaround.

Honestly, after the Texas game this year I expected them to turn it up. I thought that was the last best chance anyone had at beating them, because they will never be caught slacking like that again this year.

But it turns out that’s just who they are. That game was them at their best. There is no higher gear for them.

Alabama is mortal now.

They are no longer so far out of everyone’s league that beating them is a pipe dream.

Even Texas A&M almost beat them, and A&M is horrible. That was really the game this year where I thought to myself, “Oh, wow, this is just who Bama is this year. They’re not going to turn it up. This is just who they are.”

The A&M game happened after the Texas game. So if there was any levers Saban could’ve pulled to boost his team up into a higher gear, they would’ve been pulled already by the A&M game.

But they were missing Bryce Young and they almost lost to an A&M team that is not even going to make a bowl game this year.

That was a preview of what Alabama football will be like after Bryce is gone, by the way. It will not be pretty.

So I do think Bama loses to Ole Miss this weekend, actually.

It’s on the road, Ole Miss has had an extra week to prepare, Kiffin really wants to beat Bama, the freshman Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins is a phenom, and above all, Bama just isn’t Bama anymore.

My gut instinct–learned behavior over the course of 13 years of watching Bama kick everyone’s ass–is to pick Bama to turn around after a loss and just devour poor Ole Miss. That’s usually what they would do after a loss in the past.

But this is not the same Bama anymore. They no longer strike fear into the hearts of college football programs everywhere. They are no longer the firebreathing dragon sitting atop the mountain charring any and all challengers to a crisp.

The reason most people–and Vegas–think Bama is going to beat Ole Miss is because they’re thinking of the old Bama.

This is the new, significantly less scary Bama.

Bama could still win this game of course, but they’re not just going to blow Ole Miss’ doors off. It’s not going to be one of those typical Bama games where they jump out to a 27-3 lead and it’s over by halftime.

It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be a four-quarter game. Bryce might be able to pull off some late-game heroics for Bama to escape with the win, but I’m taking Ole Miss to win because they’re at home.

I think it’ll probably end up being a shootout, so I will say 41-35 Ole Miss wins.

I don’t think enough people realize what a big deal it is that Saban is now 71 years old.

Look at all the other top programs and how old their coaches are; there are not a lot of old coaches out there in college football.

Kirby is 46, Ryan Day is 43, Josh Heupel is 44, Dabo is 53, Lincoln Riley is 39.

Nick Saban is way older than most coaches in college football, especially compared to the top programs.

The median age of an FBS head football coach is 49 years old.

Nick Saban and Mack Brown are the two oldest (Brown is about 2 months older than Saban). They’re both 71. They’re the only two coaches in the FBS in their 70s right now.

The next closest are Kirk Ferentz and Don Brown (UMass). Both are 67.

Only 20 of the 131 FBS head coaches are over the age of 60, and that includes Saban and Mack Brown.

Half the coaches are under 50.

The fact that Saban was able to coach at an elite level this long is a remarkable feat. But to expect him to remain the top dog in the sport into his 70s, that’s a tall order.

I think what we’re seeing now is simply Nick Saban getting old.

I mean, there’s a reason there are not many head coaches out there over the age of 70.

After researching the matter (I had to Google all 131 FBS head coaches to find out the median age of an FBS coach), I actually think there’s a chance Saban just retires after this season.

Now, after looking at the matter, it would not shock me.

It’s not that he can’t coach at all anymore, it’s just that he probably cannot coach at an elite level, and he would rather go out on top than slowly regress year after year until Bama goes like 4-8 one year and he’s kind of gently shoved out the door by the Athletic Department and the boosters.

Nobody wants a situation like that. Nobody wants to force a living legend–the greatest of all time–into retirement.

Nobody wants a Bobby Bowden situation, where the program is clearly in decline as the head coach gets up there in his mid-late 70s but won’t step down.

The more I think about it, the more it’s starting to feel like this is Saban’s last season.

I don’t think he’s Alabama’s head coach next year.

If he is, then that will be his last season.

But I don’t see him wanting to coach this team without Bryce Young and without Will Anderson. They’re going to be much worse next season.

The million dollar question becomes, who replaces Saban?

The overwhelming favorite in the clubhouse has to be Dabo. I know he says all the time he’s happy at Clemson and he never wants to leave and blah blah blah.

It’s going to be Dabo. He was born and raised in Alabama, he went to Alabama, he played on their National Championship team in 1992, he got his football coaching start at Alabama–it’s going to be Dabo.

It could also be Lane Kiffin, honestly.

But it won’t be. It’ll be Dabo.

Dabo will be the head coach of Alabama within the next two months.

That’s my prediction.

If not the next two months, then by January of 2024.

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