If there’s one headline that could have overshadowed Nick Saban’s expansion in Alabama, it was College Football Playoff expansion news. My Stars, June 7th feels like months ago.
But in a way, these are two compelling stories that can be intertwined. College football is at a crossroads. A historic regional sport is now national and there is very good and bad in it. At the same time, the best coach who has ever done that is to let full steam up in it. Saban in this new world becomes fascinating. He has shown a remarkable ability to adte before.
So with that in mind, our college football team is wondering how many more national championships are on the horizon. I really wondered if anyone wanted the stones to say zero, and I promise you, dear reader, I was ready to see the world burn. Alas, no one, not even I, could go that far. That said, I think it’s appropriate to start with me because …
Ben Kercheval: 1
I will go low on this topic and say that Saban will only get one more title in Alabama. It’s not about doubting him at this point – he’s already the greatest coach in the sport’s history if he puts it up tomorrow – but rather because of the direction the sport is heading. Saban will be 70 this fall. It is not old, but today’s game with the transfer portal and threatening NIL changes is very different from what was played even 10 years ago. The icons that coach in the 80s no longer exist. I’m just wondering if it ends up playing a factor when Saban decides to retire.
The grinding of athletic college athletics can quickly lead to a burnout. I may be wrong – Saban may be surviving all of us on a diet of Little Debbie snacks and coaching until 2050, and I would be like “sure, of course” – but the recent trends of permanent university buses suddenly calling it quits have me thinks a little differently of him. His contract extension also pays him completion bonuses through 2025 so it can give us a clearer look at the crystal ball. Expansions are largely based on recruitment, and in Saban’s case probably ceremonially more than anything else.
Meanwhile, Alabama is still the top program in college football, but it’s not a monopoly either. Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia or LSU – some of them will probably need a team cable to win a title in the coming years. And with the expansion of the playoffs, there are a few more that can run as well. (Somewhat related, I think a 12-team playoffs will be implemented faster than advertised. Just in general, we’re coming up with a big shift in college football.) It’s assumed Alabama will be in that position, too, but that does not mean that the tide wins it all every time. If I feel that Saban’s actual retirement date might come a little faster than most, I’ll take the track along with the other candidates for the title.
Barrett Sallee: 3
Saban’s contract is interesting to me because of how it is structured. The length provides a solid answer when his retirement date is brought up on the recruiting track, while the closing bonus after each season through 2025 may indicate that it should be his actual target date. Provided he trains through 2028, I give him three more titles on the shelf. He has won six out of the last 12, so the average law says three more would actually be below his average. Saban will likely have to deal with Georgia and Oklahoma, which remain viable title threats beyond Clemson and Ohio State, but that should not shut down what has become a college football machine.
Tom Fornelli: 3
Three more natty to Nick
I fully admit that much of this prediction is based on not being the person underestimating Nick Saban. I mean, I’m the same guy who wrote last spring that the Buccaneers would not get their money’s worth from Tom Brady, and I have not stopped receiving angry messages from the Central Floridians since.
But if Saban sees the end of this overtime, he has to win at least three more national titles, right? Given the speed at which he won them now and the way Alabama works, it’s not like the program will fall off a cliff. Honestly, the only reason I can see him win fewer than three is that he retires early, or playoff expansion just makes it a lot harder. But I’m not sure that will be enough to stop him. I mean, do we know for sure that Nick Saban can not win a national title after retirement?
David Cobb: 2
Alabama has won six national championships in Nick Saban’s 15 seasons as a coach, which translates to two national titles every five seasons. Provided Saban trains for another five seasons and retires after the 2025 campaign, he would win two more titles at his current pace. While his recent contact extension lasts eight seasons – through the 2028 campaign – Saban will be 77 years old, which is older than any current Division I head coach. Five more seasons seems like a logical stopover as it would give him a steady 20 seasons of service in Alabama. Saban will then be 74 years old, which is the current age of Mike Krzyzewski, who just announced that he is retiring after Duke’s next basketball season.
Could Saban train until he’s 80 like Bobby Bowden did or even 84 like Joe Paterno? He certainly could. But the job is more demanding than it was 15 years ago, and it’s hard to imagine Alabama maintaining a 40% national winning percentage with a head coach approaching 80. So even if he coaches until he’s 80, you expect a dip in Alabama’s dominance. This is especially true as Saban’s staff turn to a greater extent than Paterno’s staff or Bowden’s staff did. The fact that I’m arguing why Saban wants to only Winning two more national titles is ridiculous. That would make for a legendary career for most coaches. But for him, it would just be a predictable twilight.