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Jumbo Package: You underestimate Nick Saban at your own peril

Georgia is built for the long haul, but Alabama has been the standard bearer for 15 years — the Tide aren’t going anywhere either

2023 SEC Media Days Photo by Johnnie Izquierdo/Getty Images

“He’s the best to ever do it...”

Lane Kiffin had some zingers yesterday. This was my favorite from the quotable Rebels’ head man:

“He’s done it in a time of scholarship limitations, where some of those older coaches didn’t have them,” Kiffin said. “What if Nick Saban didn’t have an 85 rule? What would his roster look like if he had 150 scholarships to give?

“H’s done what I don’t think anybody has done, and that’s doing it continually even with so much staff turnover. So many people are hired off of his staff, at other places or to be head coaches. He has all these first-round picks, and he loses his coordinators …”

Then Kiffin decided to poke at Finebaum.

“That’s why we have Finebaum,” Kiffin continued, sparking laughter, “so he can motivate him every other year and say, ‘Oh, his dynasty’s over and this is the end of Saban,’ and we’re like, ‘Hey, thanks a lot for pissing him off.’

“Paul’s always wrong on this subject. He just did it again the other day. ‘If he doesn’t make the playoffs, he’s not any good as a coach.’ Thanks, Paul.”

It’s amazing the way that Alabama and UGA diverged during the 2020 Covid season. Alabama plowed through the schedule, and marched right towards another ring, winning the battle. But that year of remote recruiting — and a third straight flaky class from UA — may have given Georgia the larger war.

See, it is that 2020 class, “Kirby’s Covid Babies” that have been powering the ‘Dawgs. The football gods are capricious indeed

That 2021 class finished fifth nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. Out of 17 remaining players, seven are starters on this year’s squad — another amazing ratio. That list includes not only Bowers but the entire starting linebacking corps and half the secondary.

All of them have championship rings, of course.

“I challenge anybody to dig up that COVID class … and you know what we evaluated that class on? Love of the game and being selfless,” Smart said. “It’s hard to find, but it’s not hard to evaluate.”

Alabama starting SS, and 11th round pick, Jim Jarvis signed his deal with the Tigers yesterday:

Get that paper, Jim. Admittedly, Detroit is one of the tougher assignments in all of MLB, but that also means the talent-starved Tigers can’t really afford to gut its farm system either.

I’m trying to think of another time that Alabama returned fewer starters than it does now. In production terms, the 2021 season saw the Tide return about the same amount of gutted offensive production; but it was nowhere this lean, on both sides of the ball.

This is one of the very youngest teams in the entire nation. But, hey, we had that same problem in 2017, and that worked out okay, right?:

In one preseason magazine (Phil Steele), Bama is listed as one of the least experienced teams in the country (127th out of 133, last in the SEC). Take the label for what it’s worth. In that ranking, which considers returning senior starters, percentage of returning yards and tackles, etc., Colorado is last (makes sense) but Missouri is No. 8 (huh?).

It’s a worthy jumping off point for this comeback story. Let’s settle on this: The 2023 marks some of the biggest turnover Saban has experienced during his reign. Only nine starters return at Alabama.

“I think experience matters, I really do, but I also think that when you have young players who are hungry and have great energy and enthusiasm, that’s helpful to the team chemistry as well,” Saban said.

Alabama has been lapped. Georgia is the new standard. That’s the media nattative now; that’s also one that coaches at SEC Media Days hinted at.

“We will have a roster to compete against Georgia,” Kelly said. “Is that now? No, but if we continue to recruit like we have we will.”

So, we’re skipping over Alabama now? The team that has its three toughest games against Texas, Tennessee and LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season. Maybe it’s a good time to remind viewers the Crimson Tide is 59-2 at home during the CFP era, and the last loss was to Joe Burrow-led LSU. Make no mistake – even with the Bulldogs at the top, the Crimson Tide remains in national championship-or-bust mode.

“I’m not here to create expectations for our team,” Saban said. “Lots of people will do that. Expectations in some way are a premeditated way to create disappointment. We need to stay process-oriented, not focused on outcomes.”

Sporting News, for one, is not having it. You underestimate Nick Saban at your own peril.

NIL and transfer rules have created a disaster for the sport; that’s indisuptable. But as Lane Kiffin also notes, it’s a problem without a solution — or at least one that is within the NCAA’s ability to fix. So much of the patchwork was assembled in response to awful litigation (that I think was still decidedly wrongly, and not on the merits or evidence of the very narrow question in Alford and O’Bannon).

“I tell our staff, ‘I don’t like you to tell me the problem but not the solution,’” Kiffin said. “So I feel like that in this one, that I don’t have the exact solution because it is so complicated … Because I used to say they should be employees so they can have real contracts, so when they come, you can sign somebody to a two, three, four-year contract. But there’s way more issues. That solves one problem but opens up more when they are actually employees of the university.”

“I don’t have the exact answers.”

That is one reason why Greg Sankey is so frustrated with Congress. For the better part of a decade, the NCAA has sought relief or clarification — hell, even a hard bright line — from Congress. And though there is some movement underway, institutional inertia in Washington, and Mark Emmert’s laziness, incompetence, and litigation shyness allowed the sport to be blow to ribbons.

And no one is moving fast enough, diligently enough, or with enough alacrity and seriousness:

“I am concerned that we had the opportunity for observations, comments or questions and I was the only one who spoke,” Greg Sankey said in an interview with Yahoo Sports this week from SEC football media days. “You have a DI leadership group receiving a report from a working group, well presented, and only one of 40 representatives engaged in this conversation.

“We spend more time talking about the committee selection process than we do about the leading issue we are facing, which is name, image and likeness,” he continued. “Maybe for some within Division I, there is an imaginary world where name, image and likeness doesn’t touch them. I think that’s exactly what I described it as — an imaginary world. Those in leadership positions owe their time and position to this topic.”

That’s it for now, folks. Have a safe weekend, and Roll Tide.