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College Football Championship

If Nick Saban is going to win a sixth title with Alabama, it’ll be thanks to his offense

Nick Saban is chasing his sixth national title with Alabama, and seventh overall.
Nick Saban is chasing his sixth national title with Alabama, and seventh overall.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

MIAMI — Trying to figure out which of Nick Saban’s Alabama teams is best is akin to picking Michelangelo’s greatest work of art or Ernest Hemingway’s best novel.

They are all excellent in their own way.

The first to win a national championship came in 2009 and is still the only Alabama team to finish unbeaten under Saban in 14 seasons of unprecedented dominance.

The 2011 national champions had maybe the greatest defense of college football’s modern era of high-powered offenses. The current Crimson Tide team has one of the most prolific and talented offenses in the history of the sport.

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“Every team is different. Every team has its own personality,” Saban said Sunday. “But it’s hard to compare teams.”

The top-ranked Tide (12-0) are set to face No. 3 Ohio State (7-0) on Monday for the College Football Playoff championship in search of their sixth national title with Saban as coach.

The final game of this taxing and strange season played through the coronavirus pandemic is on schedule to take place at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, as planned. Because of COVID-19, which caused the postponement or cancellation of nearly 130 games, nothing has been guaranteed this season. But Alabama arrived in South Florida on Friday and Ohio State got to town Saturday.

The usual day-before-the-championship-game news conference with the coaches was held Sunday morning via Zoom. No sharing of a stage, posing with the trophy and staged handshakes this year.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are set to meet Alabama for the title.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are set to meet Alabama for the title.John Bazemore/Associated Press

“It certainly has been a strange road to get here,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

The Buckeyes faced the prospect of no fall football at all when the Big Ten postponed in August, and then they managed to get in only six games before making the playoff. Day acknowledged earlier this week that Ohio State was dealing with some new COVID-19 cases.

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There was even some concern early in the week that the game might have to be pushed back.

If the Buckeyes do upset Alabama to win their first national title since 2014, they will have played the fewest games of any national champion since Minnesota finished 8-0 in 1941.

Alabama had only one game postponed this season, though it was because of COVID-19 issues with LSU. Saban tested positive for the virus — twice. The first time it was deemed a false positive after further testing and he was able to coach against Georgia. The second time he had to miss the Iron Bowl against Auburn.

Otherwise the Tide dynasty has rolled along as close to business as usual as possible considering the circumstances.

“Our team has shown a lot of maturity and perseverance throughout the season,” Saban said. “We told our players basically the team that shows the maturity to be able to handle disruptions is going to have the best chance to be successful in the end, and consistency in performance is always a key to success, and that perseverance has shown up in the way we’ve been able to play with consistency.”

And consistently great against an unusually difficult schedule.

Because of the pandemic, the Southeastern Conference decided to play only league games this season. Facing 11 SEC games and Notre Dame in the playoff, the Crimson Tide have had an average margin of victory of 29 points. Only one of their games was decided by fewer than 15.

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DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones lead the Alabama offense.
DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones lead the Alabama offense.Gary Cosby Jr/Associated Press

Alabama’s offense features five All-Americans, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and two more players (quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris) who finished in the top five in Heisman voting.

“This is a great offense. It is a complete offense,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “They have great players, but they also have a great scheme and they understand how to attack defenses. People have tried numerous different things against them, and they always have an answer.”

Another championship would give Saban seven overall, including a BCS title at LSU in 2003, breaking a tie for the most all time with Alabama’s other coaching great, Paul Bryant. The Bear won six championships in 25 years leading the Tide from 1958-82.

The 69-year-old Saban is 169-23 at Alabama, with no signs of slowing down.

“One of the best football coaches in the history of college football,” Day said.