Nick Saban’s absence from the sidelines of the Iron Bowl may only add to the legend of what is unfolding as the best season ever played by a college football team.
Similar banter occurred last year in the midst of LSU’s run to the national title. It seemed legitimate to at least consider it given the production on the offensive side of the ball. Yet, one cannot help but think much of the LSU discussion happened because the bar was set so low going into the 2019 season. The shock and surprise that Ed Orgeron and a previously average transfer quarterback could put it all together made the feat seem that much bigger.
There has been no element of surprise in Tuscaloosa, which makes for a more solid case.
Saban, through various coordinators, has recently installed some of the most explosive offenses in the country year after year. And the old defensive wizard has fielded in 2020 a unit with elite athleticism and speed.
After six games last year, LSU’s offense was averaging 536 total yards per game. In the same amount of games this season, Alabama’s offense is racking up 555 yards per game.
Through six games, Mac Jones has a passing efficiency rating of 210.3. Joe Burrow’s rating was 204.5 at the same point last season. Burrow was leading the nation in completion percentage after six games, in what would end up being a Heisman Trophy-winning season, at 78.8%. Jones is completing 78.5% of his passes.
With an offense churning out those kind of historic numbers, not much is required of the other side of the ball.
Excluding its performance against Ole Miss, which has proven to be an aberration, the Tide is a top 25 defense with a ton of disruptive potential on the back end. This is a nearly identical spot at which LSU sat last year.
Alabama is 7-0 with everything, including history, out in front.
For a minute this week, all fanbases united against Dabo Swinney.
Dabo had the audacity to stand up for his team and his program after his Clemson Tigers hauled all the way to Tallahassee only to have their game against the hometown Seminoles canceled.
Florida State did not feel comfortable with Clemson’s health protocols. Dabo, in turn, expressed his disappointment with the entire situation.
No doubt Dabo has some problems on the field that would seem to be more pressing, including a secondary devoid of athleticism and an offensive line which is downright bad. Clemson’s roster pales in comparison to Alabama’s.
Still, Dabo committed a notable criminal act this week which brought him the flack.
His crime was that he spoke like a football coach.
Dabo did not get the memo that you may only speak about college football in 2020 if your remarks include an irrational fear of the virus.
He did what football coaches have done for as long as the ball has been snapped, he spoke to his team through the media.
After taking a tough loss against Notre Dame and spending two weeks preparing to get back on its feet, Dabo’s Tigers got the rug pulled out from under them less than two hours before kickoff. In seeking to get his players’ minds right and motivated for another week of practice, Dabo teed off on FSU’s decision to cancel the game and vigorously defended his program’s commitment to safety. Not to mention that in the days leading up to the initial college football rankings, he used the opportunity to create a diversion of focus.
Tide fans jumped in quickly to sit in reserved #NeverDabo seats.
Reminded of the fact that they have never liked Dabo, Auburn fans saw this week’s events as a way to kill two birds with one stone.
Then there was the national media who has never liked Dabo and still thinks the entire season should have been canceled.
Here is an idea, maybe it is possible to coach hard, motivate your players, stand up for your team and be diligent in how you operate your program.
None of those things are mutually exclusive.
Let’s get to a special Iron Bowl edition of all underdog picks.
UCF (-25) at South Florida: Someone famous once said, “There’s an old saying…fool me once, shame on you. Fool me, can’t get fooled again.” Well, he would not like what is about to happen here. We have taken South Florida as a big underdog at home once before, and it did not end well for us or the Bulls. UCF is coming off an emotional fourth quarter loss to No. 7 Cincinnati. First-year head coach Jeff Scott is building a foundation in Tampa. It continues today. Can’t get fooled again.
The pick: UCF 40, South Florida 20
No. 2 Notre Dame (-5.5) at No. 19 North Carolina: Believe it or not, North Carolina has been a bit of a disappointment this season. It will be interesting to see just how many more years Mack Brown is willing to commit to his second trip through Chapel Hill. If the over/under is 2 more seasons, we will take the under. Going back to his time at UAB, Brown has always been a big game coach. Bryan Kelly and the Irish will be happy to get out alive.
The pick: Notre Dame 43, North Carolina 40
No. 13 Iowa State at No. 17 Texas (-1): Every once in a while college football fans are forced to stop and think about the fact that Tom Herman coaches at Texas and Matt Campbell is the head man at Iowa State. It should be the other way around. While Iowa State is incredibly well-coached, Texas probably has the superior 1-22. Probably.
The pick: Iowa State 27, Texas 23
No. 15. Oregon (-14) at Oregon State: Do enough people in the state of Oregon really care about college football to warrant calling this rivalry “The Civil War”? Doubtful. One of the more predictable aspects of this season is that Oregon misses Justin Herbert.
The pick: Oregon 26, Oregon State 24
Pittsburgh at No. 3 Clemson (-25): Even Dabo cannot think Clemson is the third-best team in the country. Instead of complaining about Dabo’s FSU rant, maybe the warriors in the national sports media should be asking for a playoff committee competency hearing. The Panthers have oddly been a tough out for Clemson in Death Valley.
The pick: Clemson 30, Pittsburgh 20
No. 20 Coastal Carolina (-17) at Texas State: We have had our eye on this game for more than a few minutes. Coastal Carolina comes off of a big win against rival Appalachian State and now must make the cross country trek to San Marcos, which is not the easiest outpost to reach. Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator, and current Texas State head coach, Jake Spivatal is seeing his Bobcats struggle through a tragic week, though. Defensive back Khambrail Winters was fatally shot on Tuesday during a drug deal gone bad. Not an easy situation for Spivatal.
The pick: Coastal Carolina 33, Texas State 29
THE IRON BOWL
No. 22 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama (-24.5): An Auburn win would mean that head coach Gus Malzahn takes sole possession of the winningest record against Nick Saban during his time at Alabama. Or would he? Malzahn’s overall record lends to the belief that he is the best coach to ever walk the turf at Jordan-Hare. The air would get a lot thinner if Malzahn were to pick up his fourth victory over Saban. No one else has accomplished that. But does a win Saturday count against Saban? The Tide head coach’s COVID-induced absence on the sideline could call that into question. Malzahn and his teams have never been intimidated by Alabama. There is no reason to think any different this weekend.
The pick: Alabama 44, Auburn 32
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia