College Sports

Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss feels like end of an era

Mississippi wide receiver Markell Pack  celebrates with fans after the Rebels beat Alabama 43-37  in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday.
Mississippi wide receiver Markell Pack celebrates with fans after the Rebels beat Alabama 43-37 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday. AP

The national media used Alabama’s 43-37 home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday night as an opportunity to write Nick Saban’s professional obituary, at least for his time with the Crimson Tide.

One loss doesn’t knock Alabama out of the playoff race, as Saban proved again for the hundredth time last year, but there was a distinct “end of an era” feel to this loss.

Saban, 63, has had an incredible run with the Crimson Tide, winning three national titles, three SEC titles and qualifying for the College Football Playoff last year.

Alabama has won at least 10 games in each of the past seven years under Saban and nearly every regular-season game Alabama has played since 2008 has had an impact on the national title race.

But all good things must come to an end. It happened to Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami, Southern California and every other college football dynasty in the past 50 years.

Saban’s true Waterloo wasn’t on Saturday night in “T” town, though. Auburn’s “Kick Six,” a 100-yard return of a missed field goal by Chris Davis with no time on the clock in the last regular-season game of the 2013 season served as the end of Alabama’s magnificent run under Saban.

The extraordinary loss propelled Auburn into the SEC title game and eventually to the last Bowl Championship Series championship game against Florida State. Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban assistant, won that game to end the SEC’s seven-year stranglehold on the national title.

Alabama hasn’t been the same since, even though it has won 14 of its past 18 games. Any other program, and almost any other coach, would trade vital organs for that type of success. But not Saban.

What’s incredible is how Saban has won at Alabama. He calls it “The Process,” but basically it’s Saban recruiting and developing more talent than anyone else.

Alabama has 37 former players in the NFL and probably another two dozen on its roster right now. But what Alabama hasn’t had is an extraordinary quarterback. Quick name the quarterbacks who led the Crimson Tide to titles in 2009, 2010 and ’12?

Longtime college football broadcaster Tim Brando suggested earlier in the week that Saban, who has been rankled by the direction of the college game, should retire and work for ESPN, as a de facto spokesman for college football.

The path for Saban is more likely the one Urban Meyer took, ironically enough, after Saban ended Meyer’s dynastic reign at Florida in 2009.

Meyer worked one year at ESPN after leaving Florida and before taking the job at Ohio State in 2012. Meyer’s Buckeyes knocked Alabama out of the CFP last year and now Meyer sits on Saban’s throne.

Texas, reportedly offered Saban an annual eight-figure salary in 2013, was the natural out for Saban, who probably now regrets not leaving. The Longhorns wanted Saban to do for them what he did for Alabama (and before at LSU).

Saban, and his wife, Terry, decided they didn’t need to leave Tuscaloosa for Texas. That certainly would have been the easy play (can you imagine Saban recruiting in Texas for the Univesity of Texas? That’s shooting fish in a mason jar.)

After another demoralizing loss — the second in as many years to an Ole Miss coach (Hugh Freeze) who was infamously lampooned as a rube in the movie “The Blind Side” — maybe the easy way out was the way to go. Even if Saturday’s loss wasn’t the end for Saban, there’s no question the climb back to the top is the toughest path.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Who’s trending

A weekly review of who’s trending:

OLE MISS (Up): Remember that time the Rebels beat Alabama on the road? That was 1988, at least until former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly had his way with Alabama’s defense with 341 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 43-37 upset of the Crimson Tide.

MIAMI (Up): In retrospect, that Nebraska loss was the most confounding (of many) by Miami last year. Saturday’s 36-33 win overtime was a bit of redemption for embattled Miami coach Al Golden.

Sure, the fourth quarter was ugly for the Canes , but sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya (379 yards, two TDs) might be good enough for Golden to keep his job.

OLE MISS (DOWN): Remember that time the Rebels upset Alabama and then lost four of their next eight games? Oh, yeah, that was last year.

DUKE (DOWN): We have to stop grading Duke on a “Duke curve.” Losing at home to Northwestern is not the end of the world, nor does it erase the progress of the program under David Cutcliffe, but at some point the Blue Devils need to do more than just win the games they are supposed to win..

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