TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a challenging defeat against Texas last Saturday night, Nick Saban, the renowned head coach of the University of Alabama football team, took a moment to reflect. He spoke about the privilege of playing for a university with such a rich football tradition and history.
While the debate about Alabama’s position in college football history persists, there is little doubt that Nick Saban is one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. With seven national titles to his name, including six with Alabama, and a track record of developing Heisman winners, NFL stars, and first-round draft picks, Saban’s legacy is secure.
Clemson, once Alabama’s fierce rival in the mid-2010s, has seen a decline in recent years. Meanwhile, the Georgia Bulldogs, coached by Kirby Smart, are the back-to-back defending national champions. Alabama’s 34-24 loss to Texas raised eyebrows for several reasons. It was one of the rare occasions in the Saban era where Alabama suffered a double-digit point loss during the regular season. From 2008 to 2022, Alabama had only two regular-season losses by double digits.
Losing, especially by such a margin, is an uncommon occurrence for the Crimson Tide. Alabama has gone undefeated in the regular season five times, with just 22 total losses in the last 16 seasons, including the recent loss to Texas.
However, these losses are becoming more frequent, with four in the last 16 games dating back to the 2021 national championship loss to Georgia. For a program that has enjoyed so much success in recent years, this trend raises questions about whether Alabama is slipping from its position as the king of college football.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit picked Alabama as his preseason favorite to win the national title, primarily because Saban has never gone more than two years without winning a title at Alabama. The standard Saban has set for himself and the program is extremely high, making it challenging to accept anything less than excellence.
Rece Davis, host of College GameDay, also emphasized that Alabama is still at the top of college football. However, the early-season loss to Texas has cast doubt on whether Alabama can maintain that position.
Alabama now finds itself in unfamiliar territory. The program is not accustomed to losing often, especially not this early in the season. The earliest Alabama had previously lost a game in the season was in Week Three against Ole Miss in 2015. The Crimson Tide is accustomed to having a target on its back, but now it’s facing a challenging situation right from the beginning of the season.
Alabama’s starting right tackle, JC Latham, believes that the 2023 team has all the necessary components to win a national championship. However, he acknowledges the pressure that comes with playing at such a high standard. Every opponent gives their best when facing Alabama, and the team must rise to the occasion.
While the loss to Texas was a significant setback, it is by no means a death knell for Alabama’s season or its College Football Playoff hopes. The Crimson Tide still has its sights set on an SEC championship, a CFP appearance, and another national title.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe remains determined, saying, “We’re going to look in the mirror. We’re going to try and improve. We’re gonna keep fighting. No matter who it is, we’re going to give our best foot forward as a team.”
While the quarterback may face scrutiny for his performance, the issues extend beyond a single player. The team committed ten penalties for 90 yards, struggled to score, and had difficulties on defense. Special teams were a bright spot, with impressive performances from Will Reichard and James Burnip.
For Alabama to return to its former glory and prevent further slippage from the top of college football, changes and improvements are necessary. Coach Saban emphasized the importance of hard work and perseverance, stating, “You can throw in the towel and quit and be mediocre. Or you can fight and grind and do the hard things that you need to do to be successful.”
As the season unfolds, all eyes will be on Alabama as they work to regain their dominance and uphold the standard they’ve set for themselves.