Nick Saban’s Record in Season-Opening Games
Alabama and Wisconsin are set to face off against each other in just under two weeks, and one question that exists before the season starts is, "How will each team look?" Judging by the past, Nick Saban's squads are more often than not ready for season-opening games.
It's a popular opinion that Alabama head coach Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in college football history, and it's usually based on his ability to win championships. However, it's difficult to win as many championships as he has by losing the first game of the season (yes, Ohio State did it last year, but it is a rare occurrance).
So just how good is Saban when the season starts?
If you're an Alabama fan, you know that he has yet to lose an opening game while with the Crimson Tide. He began his tenure in Tuscaloosa in 2007, and he led the Tide to a victory over Western Carolina by a score of 52-6. The caveat to this victory, however, is that the win was vacated due to NCAA infractions, so technically, this game never happened.
2008 is when the college football world began taking notice of Nick Saban and the Tide. The 24th ranked Crimson Tide took on the 9th ranked Clemson Tigers in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, and it could very well go down as one of the most important wins for the Tide under the tutelage of Saban.
The Tide were significant underdogs to the Tigers from Clemson, as Tommy Bowden's Atlantic Coast Conference squad were coming off a 9-4 season, but losing to Southeastern Conference rival Auburn Tigers in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl. They had revenge on their minds to defeat an SEC team, not to mention they were named preseason favorites to win the ACC. The Tigers had all the pressure on them, not to mention all the pundits, but Saban and the Tide had other plans.
We all know the result. After a fast start for the Tide, the Tigers eventually dropped the game 34-10. The only touchdown scored by Clemson came from C.J. Spiller on the second half kickoff. Past that, it was all Alabama.
Since then, Saban has tried to play a legitimate opponent to open each season, facing off against the likes of Virginia Tech twice, Michigan, and West Virginia. Alabama won each of those three match-ups by a combined score of 143-71.
Before his stint at Alabama however, he coached elsewhere (contrary to popular belief). His head coaching tenures have taken place at the University of Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, and even in the NFL for two years with the Miami Dolphins. In total, Saban has coached in 20 season-opening games (remember, the 2007 Western Carolina game "never happened"), and has only lost four of them.
His one year as the head coach for the Toledo Rockets produced a Mid-Atlantic Conference championship, but it all began with a 20-14 victory over Miami (OH) on September 8.
Saban took off to the NFL as an assistant for the next four seasons, but he returned to college football at Michigan State from 1995-1999. In those five seasons, he did lose two opening games, including a blowout loss to the eventual national champions, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, by a score of 50-10, and then a close battle with the Colorado State Rams in 1998, coming up on the short end of the stick, 23-16.
When Saban began his coaching stint at LSU in 2000, he was already one of the hottest names in the coaching ranks, and within five years, he was able to win a national championship with the Bayou Bengals.
Along with his elite record at LSU, Saban only lost one opening game in Baton Rouge, and it was to Frank Beamer and his Virginia Tech Hokies in 2002 (maybe that's why he keeps scheduling and beating Virginia Tech now).
In Saban's final season at LSU, the Tigers played host to Pac-10 foe Oregon State, and was able to squeeze out a nice victory against the Beavers, 22-21.
Many people choose to ignore the fact that Saban was a head coach in the NFL for the 2005 and 2006 seasons for the Miami Dolphins because he wasn't considered "successful" at the NFL level, but winning 15 games in two seasons in the NFL isn't anything to scoff at.
Also, during his two years as head man in Miami, he won the first game of 2005 when the Dolphins beat the Denver Broncos, 34-10, but dropped the 2006 opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 28-17.
Of course, we've already been over his record since then.
21 seasons as a head coach. In 20 season openers, Saban has won 16 of them (the 2007 game against Western Carolina doesn't count). If I were a betting man, judging by his overall record and his record while at Alabama, I'd say Nick Saban has a decent chance at defeating the Badgers of Wisconsin come September 5.