Nick Saban has enjoyed a very successful coaching career in college football that has spanned 16 seasons. He has won two national championships, four conference championships (three SEC, one MAC), six top 10’s and two top five finishes.
Les Miles is putting together a Hall-of-Fame resume as well. He has one national championship, two SEC championships, five top 10’s and three top-five finishes.
As a result, it's hard to take one game and say that this game will define both coaches' legacies. However, this is clearly a defining moment.
It does not take a brain surgeon to grasp that a national championship game is important. This is neither coaches' first rodeo, but this might be their most important. With a win, Les Miles would become the indisputable top coach in LSU history.
For Saban, it would prove that he's more than a one-hit wonder. Don’t get me wrong, Saban is recognized as one of the top program restorers in college football history. He has the ability to resurrect football programs from the grasp of death. However, he has never won at one school over a period of time.
At Toledo, he had one good season, and then he was gone. At Michigan State, he had one season with more than seven wins, and then he was gone. At LSU, he did win two SEC championships, but the first was considered a fluke-win over Tennessee as they were looking ahead to the national championship game.
At Alabama, he has had more consistency than he has at any other football program in his career. However, for all of the wins the Tide have enjoyed under Saban, they only have one SEC championship.
While one SEC championship in five seasons is not horrific, it would be a poor representation of the overall body of work for Alabama over the last five seasons.
This game is important because it could set the tone for the next five years. LSU has defeated Alabama the last two seasons, and this could make it three straight games. As hard as it is to swallow for Tide fans, LSU will be big favorites next season in Baton Rouge. A loss on January 9th could lead to four straight losses.
In other words, a win set LSU clearly as the dominant team in the SEC.
Since 2009, Saban had become the media’s pick as college football’s top current coach. After LSU’s win earlier this season, Miles is becoming the sexy pick. A win in this game and Saban might never carry that title again.
But what would a win for Saban mean to his legacy? A third national championship would prove that he could win long term at one school and would thrust him into the conversation as one of the top coaches of all time.
There are two knocks on Saban’s resume. First, as mentioned above, he has not proven he can sustain success. Secondly, he has only had two top-five finishes in his career.
This win could silence both of those criticisms.