Costly Lessons Fuel Alabama Playoff Chances

Alabama Playoff Chances Fueled by Costly Lessons

Alabama Playoff Chances to win and advance to the National Championship are higher this year than they were last year.  Why?  Last year Alabama answered the ESPN Playoff show tagline, “Are you in?” with a convincing 12 – 1 season and SEC Championship, but got beat by the Buckeyes, 42 – 35, in the inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinal.  This year with the same record, Alabama would face Clemson, Oklahoma or Michigan State and much to the chagrin of Mark Dantonio, the twelve-member CFB Playoff gang, in year two, condemned Sparty to face the Tide in Arlington, TX New Year’s Eve.  Unfortunately for Coach Dantonio and his Michigan State team, no coach spins losses into fuel better than Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

Alabama Playoff Chances are high because of the games Coach Saban’s team lost, not  the ones they won.  Games Coach Saban continues to leverage start with the humiliating, 21 – 14, loss to a Sunbelt Conference opponent La Monroe before the home crowd in Bryant-Denny in Saban’s first year at Alabama.  The Tide has not lost a regular season out of conference game since 2007.

When he doesn’t have a loss, the fuel is diminished and Alabama Playoff Chances reduced.  Following his only perfect season and first National Championship wearing Crimson and White, in 2009, Saban’s Tide Team lost to a much less talented South Carolina Gamecocks team, 35 – 21, in Columbia, SC in 2010, which were followed by losses to LSU and the “Cam Back” Iron Bowl decided by one point in Tuscaloosa.

Did three SEC losses and blowing a 24 – 7 halftime lead in the Iron Bowl bother the Alabama team and Coach Nick Saban?

Best qualified to answer that question is Mark Dantonio and his Sparty team, which was the next to face the fueled up Tide, Capital One Bowl, in Orlando, FL that year.

High on the fumes of adversity, Alabama held Michigan State scoreless for 54 minutes.  Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Julio Jones scored six rushing TD’s that day – all four Alabama legends playing in the NFL now.  Only one turnover in the game was a snatch by Alabama Robert Lester, who is also in the NFL.  That team not only clobbered Sparty, 49 – 7, but harnessed their frustration into fuel like a perfectly trimmed sail propelling a yacht into the wind.

Mark Ingram who said after the loss in Columbia that the younger players acted like they could just show up had this to say after shaming Sparty,

“We just showed what we’re capable of doing when we play our best football.  It just shows how fragile a season is.”

Obviously Coach Saban liked how his team responded to the three SEC losses by dominating the bowl game, but his comments that followed were practically prophetic:


“There were just four of five plays in this season relative to what this team could’ve accomplished,”


“And I think the maturity will help this team in the future. I think the leadership that will come from the lessons learned this season will be beneficial to this team in the future.”


And what a future it was.  Coach Saban and Alabama accomplished a feat only shared by fourteen coaches in college football history.

Tank full, Coach Saban overcame the biggest hurdle of his coaching career, something that escaped him in 2003 at LSU and 2010 at Alabama.  He coached his team to back-to-back national championships, in 2011 and 2012.  But all that success nearly drained the tanks for the upcoming football season.

Now running on fumes in 2013, Coach Saban and his QB AJ McCarron still managed to put their team in a position to face a monumentally historic opportunity to three-peat national titles, but Alabama froze and got “Kick Sixed” in the teeth by Auburn in that Iron Bowl 34 – 28.

Alabama hasn’t won a national championship since their back-to-back titles.  Seems silly to write that, since 90% of college football teams have never won a single national title, but by the Crimson litmus test that the media measures Alabama, it’s past due.

Alabama’s path to National Championship number 16 goes through a semifinal and Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State Team.  After their last meeting, Dantonio described the game this way,


“Sometimes, you get an avalanche come on you and that’s just what happened.”


“We were outcoached, we were outplayed and we were outphysicaled and that’s just the way it is.”

So what does their second meeting in five years say about the Alabama playoff chances?

Both teams have a 12 – 1 record.

Alabama lost to number 12 Ole Miss, which has a 9 – 3 record.  Sparty lost to unranked Nebraska, which has a 5 – 7 record.

Both won their conference championship.

Alabama beat number 19 Florida in the SEC Championship, 29 – 15.  Florida is 10 – 3.  Michigan State beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, 16 – 13.  Iowa is 12 – 1.

Both have coaches in their ninth season and while Dantonio heralds from the Saban coaching tree, that didn’t seem to matter for Will Muschamp or Jim McElwain, or for Dantonio last time they met.

That’s where the similarities end.

Alabama playoff chances are tilted like the imbalance of talent on the two teams.

Michigan State brings one former 5-star recruit, DE Malik McDowell and Alabama has eight, Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Robinson, Rueben Foster, Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, Marlon Humphrey and O.J. Howard.

Alabama wins the national championship when their defense is ranked in the top two nationally and this one ranks second nationally in total defense allowing 258 yards and 14.4 points per game.  But this Alabama defense is even better than its own gold standard.  Alabama is ranked number one in the country in sacks and had never been ranked higher than 16 in the previous three national title years.

Even though the defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, is running around visiting Georgia recruits in his Bulldog underoos, fast approaching is the NCAA dead period, December 14, 2015, through January 13, 2016, and Smart committed to Coach Saban and the Alabama team that he will be back focused on winning another championship at Alabama and his fifth with Nick Saban.

Nobody hates losing more than they love to win than Alabama coach Nick Saban.   Coaching through adversity is his method.

Will Coach Dantonio’s post-game comments from the last meeting of these two teams be the template for him this year?  The real question isn’t what are the Alabama Playoff chances, but rather how big of an imprint did the Buckeys and Ole Miss Bears leave on the Alabama coaches and team.

The real question is, does Alabama have enough fuel in the adversity tank to win.

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