TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Nick Saban turned 60 on Halloween, and his players – tempting fate and possibly their scholarships — turned off the lights in a meeting room and yelled, “Surprise!” when their coach walked in. As it turned out, even in the week of the Alabama-LSU game, the little curmudgeon showed a humorous side.
After acknowledging, “It’s hard to think about birthdays,” Saban referenced the No. 60 jersey that was presented to him and cracked, “I wasn’t thinking about age. I was thinking I’m a skill player. There’s no way I can sport this 60. I’ve got to have a lower-than-50 number of some sort.”
Might as well give Saban and Les Miles jersey Nos. 1 and 2. They coach the two best teams in the nation. They’re probably the two best coaches.
Maybe we think of them differently: Saban as cold, evil, I-hate-him-I-hate-him-can-I-get-him-on-my-team brilliant. Miles as goofy, grass-eating, Mega-Millions-lottery-lucky brilliant. But they give Alabama and LSU the things every other college football program wants: identity, direction, championships.
They are the reason the SEC looks down on every other conference. Saban and Miles (and, before his career timeout, Urban Meyer) are why so many other coaches wonder about job stability.
Because if Saban and Miles hadn’t set the bar so high, other fans bases wouldn’t scream, “Why can’t you win like them?”
We have waited two weeks for Alabama vs. LSU. It’s like a Super Bowl, only without the Hollywood-on-steroids halftime show, and a trophy when it’s over.
This game won’t decide a championship, but it will set the GPS. Saturday’s winner at Bryant-Denny Stadium will win the SEC West. The winner of the SEC West almost certainly will win the SEC title. The winner of the SEC will be an overwhelming favorite to win it all.
The loser from Saturday will be somewhere else come bowl time. That’s about the only downside of this. The two best teams should not be deciding this much on Nov. 5. But barring an unforeseen series of losses by other teams, and an unforeseen series of votes in human polls to somehow make a rematch happen, this is as good as it’s going to get.
Regardless, this game is why no other conference has an argument about superiority. We can talk about how the SEC is down this season (and it is). We can point out that schools from the Big 12 and the Pac-12 (numbers subject to change) and even Boise State have legitimate chances to win the BCS title.
But only the SEC — in a down year — can give us a No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the first week of November and lead some to wonder, “Why can’t they play again in January?”
Saban and Miles don’t win championships every season. But they make everybody believe they’re going to contend for them. They are why so many other coaches, particularly in the SEC, wonder about their own job stability. If these two didn’t set the bar so high, other fan bases wouldn’t scream, “Why can’t you win like them?”
Players for these coaches know how to win conference games, road games and games with national ramifications. You never expect either to crack. Imagine what that feels like.
“I want the players to enjoy the glare and the light of the big stage,” Miles said earlier this week. “I want them to enjoy the opportunity to play for a big victory. Once I’ve prepared the team and after I feel I’ve done a quality job, I want the players to play with freedom.”
It’s easy to get lost in the numbers this week. Alabama has won eight games by an average score of 39-7. LSU 39-11.
Alabama’s defense has allowed 359 yards rushing all season. That’s 44.8 per game and 1.7 per carry.
LSU has trailed has for only 6 minutes, 33 seconds all season (6-3 against Oregon in Week 1. The Tigers went on a 30-7 run and won 40-27.)
It’s two teams and everybody else in the SEC, and the nation, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Look at the sideline.
By Jeff Schultz