|Is Nick Saban invincible when he has time to prepare? (US Presswire)|
When you were watching Alabama dismantle Notre Dame on Monday night to win its third national title in four years, there's no doubt you heard somebody say, or possibly said to yourself, that there's just no beating Nick Saban when he has time to prepare. It's a narrative that has been accepted as reality in recent years because of Saban and Alabama's dominance in college football.
But is it true?
Well, as it turns out, yes and no.
Since becoming a head coach at Toledo for a season in 1990, Saban has coached 210 games on the college level. He has gone 154-55-1 over 17 seasons, which means he has won 73.3 percent of the time.
During those 17 seasons, Saban has coached 51 games in which he had at least eight days to prepare. Be it a season opener, a game while coming off a bye week or a bowl game. In those 51 games, Saban's teams have gone 34-17 -- 66.7 percent of those games. So, in actuality, when you look at Saban's entire career, his record is actually worse when he has extra time to get ready for an opponent.
However, where things begin to change is when Saban left Michigan State and the Midwest for LSU and the Southeast after the 1999 season. In his 11 seasons in the SEC, Saban's teams have gone 28-9 (14-5 at LSU, 14-4 at Alabama) with the extra time to prepare -- a winning percentage of 75.7 percent. But it's important to note that, at both LSU and Alabama, Saban has won 79.2 percent of his games, going 111-29.
So, again, his success rate is slightly worse with the time to prepare.
Also, while it has nothing to do with the overall percentages, it should be noted that of those nine losses at LSU and Alabama with time to prepare, not a single one came against a team that was ranked lower than No. 17 in the AP Poll. Also, ironically enough, three of the losses came to LSU in Saban's time at Alabama.
Where the narrative itself really seems to find its basis is when Saban came to Tuscaloosa. Saban is 14-4 (77.8 percent) with time to prepare at Alabama and 63-13 (82.9 percent) overall. Again, the winning percentage gets worse when he has time. But that changes quite a bit when you change one factor.
If you take out games after a bye week during the season and look only at season openers and bowl games, when Saban has at least a month to prepare, his Alabama teams have gone 11-1 (91.7 percent). The only loss was the shocking 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. In his entire college career, Saban has gone 21-9 (70 percent) in season openers and bowl games, with a much better record in openers at 13-3 (81.3 percent).
So if you're thinking that you can beat Saban when he has an extra week to prepare, you can. That has been the case everywhere that he has gone. If you think you can beat Saban when he has at least a month to prepare, you can do that, too. But with just one simple caveat.
He better not be coaching Alabama.
Turns out that if you not only give Saban time but also a ridiculous amount of football talent, you aren't beating him. The only way to stop Saban and the Crimson Tide from winning a national title is keeping him from getting to the national championship game.
After all, the most important win percentage in Saban's career is the one that he has in national title games. That one sits at 1.000.
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