Alabama Football: How Nick Saban Is Changing College Football Today
All college football coaches make impacts on their respective schools, but few have made impacts on a national level like Nick Saban has in recent years. He really is helping sculpt a new college football landscape.
His influenced has helped shape both subtle decisions as well as national headliners.
Here are a few ways that Saban, as the most powerful coach in college football today, helped make college football into something that it wasn't five years ago.
5. He Helped Restructure the SEC
It wasn't until recently that the SEC once again was considered the best conference in all the land by most people that aren't in SEC states.
Five years ago, far too many argued that the Pac-10 was the best, with powerhouses like USC and up-and-comers like Oregon.
Others said it was Texas and the Big 12, or the Big Ten, etc.
Florida and LSU started to bring the recognition back to the SEC after three state titles, but truth be told, I believe LSU owed all their success back then to what Nick Saban had done for the program.
Then Nick Saban came to Alabama and pulled out two championships in his first five years.
The SEC is the toughest conference, and everybody knows it, even if they won't admit it.
That is why so many voters selected Alabama for the championship last year, even though most of them would have preferred Oklahoma State just for the sake of entertainment rather than merit.
Saban helped make the SEC the powerhouse it is today (though it has always been brimming with talent). He started at LSU and is continuing the trend at Alabama.
4. Saban Helped Bring Back the "Defense First" Mentality
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It's often said that defense wins championships, and that adage has been around for something like a century.
So where did that go?
For a while there it seemed that the nation was obsessed with high-octane offenses that struggled to keep garbage teams from racking up 30 points each game.
The critics of Alabama (i.e. most of the nation) think that Alabama's offense is average at best and really nothing special, even with Mark Ingram winning the Heisman, but they can't argue with Alabama's success.
That success is due more to the defense than any other part of the team, and maybe the rest of the nation will catch up on that idea because it's those defensively sound teams that win the most games.
LSU now has a reputation for always having a superb defense, and Michigan State is rapidly starting to build that same rep. They are both teams that everyone circles on their calenders each year as of late.
Guess who is responsible for laying the foundation at these programs?
3. Saban Is Helping Grow the Validity of "Game Managers"
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Slowly, more and more people are having to acknowledge the potential of "game managers" at quarterback, who can lead offenses efficiently and slowly if needed.
Nick Saban has proven that you don't need a superb gunslinger to throw for ridiculous yardage each season to bring home a championship.
With John Parker Wilson under center, Nick Saban and the Tide came within inches of playing for the national title in 2008.
They played for and won it in 2009 with game manager Greg McElroy and had a very successful 2010 campaign that was capped with a big 49-7 bowl win over Michigan State.
And then another title in 2011.
You don't need a Heisman Trophy winner or a future first overall pick at the helm. You just need a guy that understands and accepts his role and doesn't turn the ball over.
The quarterback is, overall, one of the most important (if not the most important) players on a team. At Alabama that is just as true, but their importance is due to their heads, not their arms (though having a cannon helps).
2. Saban Is Reminding Other Coaches That NFL Potential Matters to Recruits
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I don't know why so many coaches think using a game plan completely different from the NFL is such a great thing.
It seems a little too prolific to me, especially considering that players from a program that functions nothing like a NFL machine have trouble actually getting into the NFL.
Take the Oregon Ducks, for example. They have been a great team for the past several years. They narrowly lost the 2010 BCS National Championship Game by a field goal, and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last season.
What was the result of those accomplishments for Chip Kelly's former players looking to head to the next level?
Four players total were drafted, in Rounds 2 (LaMichael James), 5, 6 and 7. Oregon's talent-laden squad played in a system so drastically different than the NFL that most of the NFL just said, "No thanks."
Alabama had four players go in the first round alone, and nearly had five in the first round.
Pipeline states will only take these coaches so far. They need to do a better job getting their players ready for the next level, and they know it.
When teams become known as pro-factories, well, it can be pretty tough to compete with them for the biggest prep school recruits.
Too many coaches are only concerned with what the players can do for the coaches, and are not concerned with what they can do for the players at the next level.
But not Nick Saban, and prep prospects are starting to catch onto this.
1. Nick Saban Gave College Football Fans What They Really Wanted
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College football fans have wanted a playoff system since the beginning of football history. Nick Saban didn't get them that, but he is the primary figure responsible for getting the next best thing.
A four-team playoff.
Yes, I credit Saban with this. If he had not had such an utterly dominating team this past season, there never would have been a rematch with LSU, and with no rematch, the nation would have been content to see LSU play Oklahoma State.
Saban made it so agonizingly clear to the voters that Alabama was the second-best team in the nation and forced the rematch.
Because of that rematch, there was one hell of a mess to clean up. SEC commissioner Mike Slive had offered ideas of a four-team, "plus-one" system back in 2008, and the idea was shot down by just about everybody.
Thank you, Nick Saban, for giving them an irrefutable reason for a playoff system, however small it may be.