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Senior College Football Columnist

Forget 13-1 vote loss: As Saban goes, so goes the SEC

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DESTIN, Fla. -- The SEC coaches voted 13-1 Wednesday in favor of keeping an eight-game conference schedule. Or, put more accurately, Nick Saban won the argument for going to a nine-game schedule, 1-13.

The vote meant nothing -- and it meant everything. The schedule discussion this week at the SEC spring meetings is both dreadful and mundane. No one outside the walls of the Hilton Sandestin Beach and a bunch of bored sports talk show hosts actually cares. For the record, you might as well book that the SEC going to that nine-game conference schedule. It makes too much sense in terms of inventory for the SEC Network and positioning in the playoff era.

That's a few years down the line. As for now, Saban is the entertainment value as an outlier. He knows it makes sense for the SEC and Alabama to play nine conference games. That coaches vote essentially is nothing more than a straw poll. When TV and revenue are involved, their opinions matter little.

So, Saban wasn't exactly dictating things. Let's just say he knows how to line up behind a winner.

"I'm absolutely in the minority, no question about it," Saban said at the SEC spring meetings. "But everybody's got their reasons."

They may be against him in this discussion, but his peers will leave this resort otherwise spreading his philosophy. They can't help it. The Sabanization of the sport continues.

From his offensive preferences (the killer 1-2 punch at tailback) to his media policy -- the so-called "One Voice" concept borrowed from Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells -- Saban is a modest trendsetter. You've no doubt heard of The Process. If not, take it one day at a time. That's how Saban and Alabama football live their lives.

"First of all, we don't do comparisons. That's the No. 1 media rule we have," former star center Barrett Jones once said. "It's about what you accomplish."

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher has almost become mini-Nick. Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator for LSU's national championship team in 2003. After arriving in Tallahassee three years ago he immediately signed up the Pacific Institute for players' mental conditioning. Just like Nick. Saban is in the minority, perhaps here, but he doesn't need a plurality. He's the Nicktator. He's Nicky Satan. Florida assistant Tim Davis called him "the devil himself" this spring.

It's been open season on the best coach in the game this year which only reinforces ... that he is the best coach in the game.

"I think it's a sign of respect that a lot of people are talking about that program and talking about that guy," said Vanderbilt's James Franklin, author of the "Satan" comment in January.

Florida's Will Muschamp sounded on Wednesday like he had admonished Davis, who worked under Saban with the Miami Dolphins and at Alabama.

"I was very disappointed in what Tim said," Muschamp said. "I don't think it's reflective of his true opinion of Nick and the opportunity Nick gave him at Miami. I've talked to Nick about the subject and Tim and we've moved on." "I can see how people turn into boring interviews and people turn into robots because you have to be very, very careful what you say," Franklin lamented. "People want to write the sensational story. It's a shame that's the world we live in now."

Such a shame that in a convoluted way, Franklin created attention for his program by taking on Saban. Any Nick publicity, then, is good Nick publicity.

"I would like to look at it on a broader scope," Saban said. "We haven't had many players have [off-field] problems. We have done really well in terms of graduating our players. We've have had good success on the field and we have people who have a good direction when they leave the program."

If this was Notre Dame, they'd be doing documentaries. At Alabama, they just shrug and build a $9 million, 37,000-square foot weight room.

After beating the snot out of Notre Dame.

Facilities are a good place to start but it's the entire package. It is everywhere, the imitation of Nick Saban in college football. From his recruiting to his intensity to just the Tao of Nick, many are trying to copy the success, but few have succeeded.

"It's not really flattering," Saban said. "From the standpoint of professionalism, you like to think you have the best program to benefit the players. That's what we've always tried to pride ourselves on."

It is not so much a system but a state of mind. It leaves other coaches grumbling about the amount of Alabama polo shirts on the sidelines. The coaching staff isn't any larger -- it can't be -- but maybe it just seems that way.

Chris Conley was walking the halls of the Hilton, ripe to be asked the question. He and his team were in the position to beat Saban last December. It was the Georgia receiver's misfortune to catch the ball from Aaron Murray on the final play of the SEC title game. Actually, because the ball was tipped by Alabama's C.J. Mosley it was the last play of the game. Unfortunately, time ran out on Georgia's 32-28 loss with Conley laying on the Alabama 5 cradling the ball.

That ripe question: How do you beat these guys?

"It's really the little things ... They don't make mistakes, they don't beat themselves," said Conley, whose college decision came down to Georgia and Bama.

"There was attention to detail everywhere I looked."


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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