Why Isn't Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban in the Coach of the Year Picture?

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Why Isn't Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban in the Coach of the Year Picture?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Oregon State's Mike Riley and Florida's Will Muschamp have established themselves as legitimate Coach of the Year candidates, Alabama head coach Nick Saban seems to be overlooked.

He shouldn't be.

It seems like the general public regards the 2012 version of the Alabama Crimson Tide as "the same old Alabama," but nothing could be further from the truth.

This isn't the same Alabama team that won the 2011 BCS national title, and Saban deserves a ton of credit for getting this team back to the top spot in the BCS rankings.

What has Saban's crew overcome in 2012? Here are just a few items.

 

Defensive Turnover

Six starters from last season's national championship squad moved on to greener pastures after hoisting the crystal football and posting the nation's top defense in the process (183.6 YPG). 

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Alabama CB Dee Milliner

New full-time starters Dee Milliner and Deion Belue have stepped in and locked down the outside, while Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have limited the impact of Mark Barron's departure, and the Crimson Tide linebacking corps is as good as it has ever been.

This year's Crimson Tide defense has given up fewer yards per game (181.2) than the 2011 bunch and again leads the nation in total defense.

Yes, Alabama fills spots vacated by 5-star talent with more 5-star talent, but that doesn't happen by accident. Saban is directly responsible for Alabama's ability to reload, and it shouldn't be used as an excuse to not give him Coach of the Year consideration.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dee Milliner break up a pass vs. Ole Miss

 

Questions in the Passing Game

Fair or not—and I think it's unfair—Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron is viewed as a game manager rather than a gunslinger.

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Alabama QB AJ McCarron

But it wasn't McCarron that made the passing game a question coming into 2012. It was the absence of wide receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, running back Trent Richardson and tight end Brad Smelley—the top four pass-catchers from last season. Those four players combined for 145 of Alabama's 237 receptions last season.

To compound issues for Alabama, true freshman Chris Black injured his shoulder in practice and is out for the year, and sophomore DeAndrew White was lost for the season as well after tearing his ACL against Ole Miss.

How has Alabama responded?

With the nation's No. 5 passing game in terms of quarterback rating (171.99). That's not so bad, if you like wildly efficient passing attacks coupled with a devastating running game.

McCarron has completed 89 of 132 passes (67.4 percent) for 1,170 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Game managers don't put up stats like that—gunslingers do. At least, gunslingers that play in an old-school, ground-and-pound system.

AJ McCarron highlights

 

Complacency

Losing starters is one thing, but keeping the ones that remain with the program hungry is something entirely different, and it's not something that coaches can practice until they've actually been in that situation.

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Alabama QB AJ McCarron (left) with head coach Nick Saban

To Saban's credit, he immediately focused on this as soon as the final gun sounded on Jan. 9, 2012 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and it appears that all of his hard work has paid off.

This team plays exactly like last season's national championship squad. Same look, same philosophy and—most importantly—the same hunger.

The credit for that falls squarely on Saban.

The sixth-year head coach of the Tide doesn't rebuild; he reloads. That shouldn't preclude him from being in the national Coach of the Year conversation. In fact, it should be one of Saban's top bullet points on his resume.

 

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