SEC Football: Why Alabama Might Not Return To Atlanta Any Time Soon

Kevin McGradySenior Writer IMarch 9, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on from the sideline during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This article is dedicated to those who have worked hard to create lively debates on college football long after the season has ended.

Why not Alabama? This question has been posed on several occasions during the offseason. It has usually followed a prediction that LSU, Arkansas or Auburn would win the SEC West in 2011. This article is devoted to that subject in its entirety.

Alabama does not have the best talent or players at any position, but they do have exceptional talent and players at all positions. Alabama has the talent to operate their overall scheme and stay in any game they play. They will even win most of them.

This is a prevailing scheme fans have witnessed from teams like Ohio State, Penn State and to a certain extent Southern California over the last decade.

These teams are usually near the top of the rankings and win the majority of their games most years. They also lose at least one game that they are projected to win in the majority of seasons.

Why is this happening?

The two most important statistics in any competitive sport is scoring offense and scoring defense. Let’s take a look at these two important statistics for some of Alabama’s biggest nemesis and compare them to the Tide.






2010 Scoring Offense





2010 Scoring Defense





Win Margin 2010










2009 Scoring Offense





2009 Scoring Defense





Win Margin 2009










2008 Scoring Offense





2008 Scoring Defense





Win Margin 2008










2007 Scoring Offense





2007 Scoring Defense





Win Margin 2007










2006 Scoring Offense





2006 Scoring Defense





Win Margin 2006





As many Alabama fans predicted, the average margin of victory has increased each season with Nick Saban as head coach. So why did Alabama have early success in 2008 and 2009 and then fall off in 2010 even though the margin of victory increased?

There is a simple strategic logic that accounts for this fact. In fact it was also the case during Nick Saban’s tenure at LSU.

From 2000 to 2004 the scoring margin of victory at LSU was as follows, 2000 (6.46), 2001 (8.59), 2002 ( 6.54), 2003 (22.39), 2004 (11.59).

Nick Saban has shown time and again that he is capable of building a defensive program that can shut down and match up with any conventional offense. SEC teams could not use powerful offensive lines and strong power games to wear these defenses down when he was at LSU and have had no better luck while he has been at Alabama.

In fact, it is foolish to try and beat him attacking the strength of that defense. He runs a very complex defensive scheme that is adapted to the strengths of his individual players each year.

As long as Nick Saban is the head coach, the Alabama defense will be very strong against all conventional defenses. His defenses have always had trouble facing unpredictable and explosive offenses.

In 2000, when Nick Saban arrived in the SEC, there were few teams that ran an unconventional explosive offense. In fact Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas had dominated the SEC west with a strong defense and a very conventional offense. In 2001, Nick Saban took LSU to their first SEC western division title since the conference split in 1992.

2002 was a rebuilding year and then Nick Saban led LSU to another western division, SEC and BCS Championship in 2003. Tommy Tuberville at Auburn knew what was necessary to overcome the LSU advantage.

In 2004, Auburn hired a new offensive coordinator that arrived with a more unconventional and less predictable offensive scheme. It added an explosive quality to the Auburn offense that was enough to overcome the Saban strategy.

In 2007, Nick Saban arrived back in the SEC at Alabama. As was the case at LSU, he simply did not have the talent necessary to run his overall scheme in 2007. In 2008 he had put together the necessary players and defensive depth to operate. He took Alabama to another SEC western division title in 2008.

Incoming Auburn head coach Gene Chizik knew immediately that Alabama was the biggest threat when he took the Auburn job for 2009. Tommy Tuberville had made the right call and attempted to bring in a more unconventional and explosive offense in 2008, but it was a failed gamble that cost him his job.

Gene Chizik took control of a team with a lot of offensive talent, but a much depleted defensive roster. He knew what was necessary to move forward. He found and hired a very unconventional offensive coordinator that had built the most explosive offense in the nation at Tulsa.

Realizing that the offense was the weak link in the Saban system, he also hired a defensive coordinator known to use a lot of players and wear opposing offenses down during the course of a game. It was a strategy that was to pay off much sooner than expected.

Arkansas had already hired a very unconventional offensive oriented head coach. The problem was building the defensive depth necessary to overcome the Saban strategy and dominate the offensive weak link.

LSU was slow to the table. They largely stuck to the old conventional strategy with some very explosive plays mixed in and had moderate success. After seeing the writing on the wall in 2010, they also moved toward a more unconventional and explosive offense in 2011.

As was the case when Nick Saban arrived at LSU, the rest of the SEC has adapted to his system. Alabama will face Auburn, Arkansas and LSU for the first time since all three have adapted to the Saban strategy and football philosophy in 2011. All of these teams know it puts the odds in Alabama’s favor to bludgeon their defense with a powerful conventional offense.

Alabama’s main strength and depth is on defense, not offense. They play a minimum of players on the offensive side of the ball. Opponents will use defensive depth to rotate and wear down these offensive players.

Come the fourth quarter no lead will be safe for Alabama as they face unconventional offenses running explosive play after explosive play. Some are bound to succeed in the end. The Alabama offense will be physically whipped and stand little chance of coming back if the opponent gets the lead late in the game.

The Alabama defense will play heroically, but be exposed to more higher risk, high reward plays as their offense is unable to sustain drives late in games against these opponents. They will be scored on and it will be too much to overcome in some games.

The Saban strategy is complete at Alabama. Talent is at an all time high for the last three decades. The Saban strategy will need another adjustment if Alabama is to return to Atlanta any time soon.


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