Alabama’s worst nightmare of all: What if Nick Saban never came?

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Alabama’s worst nightmare of all: What if Nick Saban never came?

Texas Longhorn logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo Illustration CW / Hannah Saad

Texas Longhorn logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Photo Illustration CW / Hannah Saad

Texas Longhorn logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Photo Illustration CW / Hannah Saad

Texas Longhorn logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Photo Illustration CW / Hannah Saad

For an Alabama football fan, what thought could be scarier than wondering what would’ve happened if Nick Saban had never come to Tuscaloosa? 

With West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez having already backed out of a deal and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier agreeing to a contract extension, Alabama athletic director Mal Moore flew to Miami in late 2006 for a last-ditch effort to lure Saban. 

Obviously, Moore convinced Saban to join him on his flight back to Tuscaloosa. But what if Saban had opted to stay with the Miami Dolphins? 

2007-2010

Alabama would have turned to legendary Miami Hurricanes coach Larry Coker. Miami had become one of the premier teams in college football in the early 2000s under Coker, reaching back-to-back national championship games. 

Coker would have restored some attention and prestige to the program, and the team would have seen similar improvement in 2007 under Coker as it did under Saban.

But, without Saban’s recruiting prowess during the 2008 recruiting cycle, key in-state recruits Julio Jones and Mark Barron would have spurned the Crimson Tide for Oklahoma and Florida, respectively. Jones’ influence on the Sooners’ offense would have enabled them to defeat Florida in the BCS championship game instead of losing. That would have denied Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow their second national championship in three years. 

Motivated by validation rather than complacent in their greatness, the Gators breeze through their 2009 schedule, defeating LSU in the SEC Championship Game and Texas in the national championship game to cap an undefeated season.

Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, Coker couldn’t replicate Saban’s ascent to national contender. The Crimson Tide finishes 8-4 in 2008 and 7-5 in 2009, putting Coker’s job on the line in 2010. An early-season loss to Penn State doesn’t do him any favors, and a November home loss to No. 17 Mississippi State is the final straw. Coker finishes the season with a loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl and is fired after going 31-21 over four years in Tuscaloosa. 

Coker’s tenure brought stability to the program, but Alabama Athletics wants more than stability – especially with SEC rival Florida having won a second straight national championship with Tebow’s successor, Cam Newton, at quarterback. 

Auburn hits the in-state recruiting trail to find a quarterback and lands A.J. McCarron, from Mobile, Alabama.

2011-2013

Alabama enters the 2011 offseason with Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden as its chief target, but Gruden insists he is not interested in returning to coaching. The University also reaches out to Boise State coach Chris Petersen and former Alabama receivers coach and Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden, but has no luck. 

Alabama then turns to a former Nick Saban assistant with a history of playing and coaching in the SEC: Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Muschamp’s tenure gets off to a strong start with a road win at Penn State in quarterback Phillip Simssecond career start, returning the Crimson Tide to the top 25 in the AP Poll. Alabama enters a Nov. 5 matchup against No. 1 LSU at 6-2 but falls to the Tigers, 24-6. 

Les Miles leads LSU to its second national championship in five years, defeating two-time defending champion Florida in the SEC Championship Game and downing Oklahoma State in the BCS championship game. 

The Tigers bolster their roster with in-state five-star safety Landon Collins in the offseason. Muschamp desperately tries to land a receiver from Florida named Amari Cooper, but Cooper opts to stay in-state at Miami. He had briefly considered Florida but was turned off after Meyer’s sudden departure due to health issues.

Alabama freshman linebacker Reggie Ragland becomes an immediate starter on a stout defense. The offense, though, sputters in a season-opening loss to Michigan and is mostly to blame for losses at LSU and against Texas A&M. The difference between Alabama and the Aggies, led by freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, is stark.

Another disappointing regular season comes to an end with a loss to Auburn, led by A.J. McCarron, in the Iron Bowl. Georgia, now the class of the SEC East, wins the SEC Championship Game and throttles Notre Dame to win its first national title since 1980.

There is optimism for Alabama’s offense entering 2013, however, thanks to incoming freshman quarterback Cooper Bateman. With Georgia expected to take a step back under redshirt junior QB Blake Sims, this might be the year for Alabama to compete for the conference title.

Bateman and sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon make a formidable pair, but can’t keep pace with Manziel at A&M in Week Two. The Crimson Tide wins its next nine games to set up an Iron Bowl matchup for the ages. 

Trailing by 2 points in the fourth quarter, McCarron leads Auburn into field goal range, and their kicker drills a 57-yarder to win the game and keep their undefeated season alive. 

The Tigers end Blake Sims’ dream season for Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and advance to play Florida State in the national championship, losing on a late interception of McCarron by Seminoles safety HaHa Clinton-Dix

The key storyline of the offseason, though, isn’t Florida State or Auburn. It’s Texas, which responds to longtime coach Mack Brown’s resignation by hiring Nick Saban as its next head coach.

2014-2016

In 2014, the expectations for Muschamp have increased, but Georgia’s defense, led by defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, has improved to match the Sims-led offense. The Dawgs defeat defending SEC champion Auburn at home on Nov. 15 – despite Tigers linebacker Reuben Foster’s 12 total tackles – and narrowly knock off undefeated Mississippi State, quarterbacked by Dak Prescott.

Georgia defeats Baylor in the national semifinal to advance to an all-SEC, all-Bulldog College Football Playoff (CFB) National Championship Game against Mississippi State. Smart has no answer for Prescott, but is promoted to head coach after Mark Richt’s retirement. Mississippi State wins its first national title before its first SEC title.

Muschamp enters a contract year in 2015 knowing he has a team that can compete. Bateman, now a junior, has built a solid rapport with sophomore receiver Cam Sims, and the defense has plenty of talent. With the pressure mounting, though, the team fails to play to its potential, allowing 48 points to Ole Miss and losing to Tennessee, both at home. Muschamp is fired after a 6-6 regular season.

The top offense in college football resides at Florida State, led by senior quarterback Jake Coker, sophomore running back Dalvin Cook and freshman receiver Calvin Ridley

The trio powers an unstoppable offense to its second national championship in three years, earning coach Jimbo Fisher a contract extension. The Seminoles defeat Clemson in a thrilling ACC Championship Game, knock off Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and win the championship over Nick Saban’s Texas Longhorns.

Texas begins the 2016 offseason with a quarterback controversy: dynamic freshman Jalen Hurts looks poised to win the job. The Longhorns ride Hurts’ athleticism to a second straight Big 12 championship but fail to make the CFP.

Alabama again hires from within the conference, tabbing Alabama native and UA alum Jeremy Pruitt, Smart’s successor as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, to become its new head coach. The offensive struggles continue, but the defense remains strong enough to carry Alabama to a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma and quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Clemson, hungry to overtake Florida State in the ACC, rides an undefeated regular season to a national championship, defeating LSU in the national semifinal and winning the national championship over Penn State and all-world running back Saquon Barkley.

2017-present

USC ascends to the top of college football in 2017 thanks to redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and freshman running back Najee Harris. An improved Jalen Hurts briefly loses his job to true freshman Sam Ehlinger, but steadies himself to lead the Longhorns back to the playoff. 

LSU freshman receiver DeVonta Smith made a late touchdown catch to knock off Alabama, dropping the Crimson Tide to 6-3 with another loss coming the following week to Mississippi State. LSU wins the SEC on the strength of Derrius Guice’s running and defeats defending champion Clemson in the semifinals.

Tiger fans rejoice when the Bayou Bengals deny Saban, their former head coach, his first national title in 14 years.

The storyline going into 2018 is whether Saban still has what it takes to win a national championship. Hurts continues to improve as a passer and leads Texas to its third CFP berth in four years. 

Georgia rides the lethal duo of wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and quarterback Jake Fromm to another SEC title. 

With Darnold having moved on to the NFL, USC returns to the playoff with Harris and redshirt freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa carving up the Pac-12. 

Clemson rose to a new level with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whose transition to the college game is seamless due to his chemistry with sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy.

If Nick Saban had never come to Alabama, he, Hurts, Tagovailoa, Harris, Lawrence, Jeudy, Smart, Fromm and Ruggs would have battled for the 2018 national championship while Alabama and Coach Pruitt watched from home. Pretty scary, huh?