But in a way, these are two compelling storylines that can be intertwined. College football is at a crossroads. A historically regional sport is now national, and there's a lot of good and bad in that. At the same time, the best coach to ever do it is charging full steam ahead into it. Saban in this new world is going to be fascinating. He has shown a remarkable ability to adapt before.
So with that in mind, our college football team wonders how many more national championships are on the horizon. I truly wondered if anyone would have the stones to say zero and I promise you, dear reader, I was prepared to watch the world burn. Alas, no one, not even I, could go that far. That being said, I guess it's appropriate to start with me, because ...
Ben Kercheval: 1
I'm going to go low on this topic and say Saban gets just one more title at Alabama. It's not about doubting him at this point -- he's already the greatest coach in the history of the sport if he hangs it up tomorrow -- but rather because of the direction said sport is headed. Saban is going to be 70 this fall. That's not old, but today's game, with the transfer portal and looming NIL changes, is very different from the one played even 10 years ago. The icons coaching into their 80s aren't around anymore. I just wonder if that ends up playing a factor whenever Saban does decide to retire.
The grind of big-time college athletics can lead to a burnout really quickly. I might be wrong -- Saban may outlive us all on a diet of Little Debbie snacks and coach until 2050 and I'd be like "sure, of course" -- but the recent trends of tenured college coaches suddenly calling it quits has me thinking about him a little differently. His contract extension also pays him completion bonuses through 2025, so that might give us a more clear-eyed look into the crystal ball. Extensions are largely based around recruiting, and in Saban's case, probably ceremonial more than anything.
In the meantime, Alabama is still the top program in college football, but it's also not a monopoly. Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, or LSU -- any of them will probably have a team capable of winning a title in the coming years. And with the expansion of the playoff, there are a few more that could make a run, too. (Somewhat related, I think a 12-team playoff will be implimented sooner than advertised. Just in general, we're coming up on a big shift in college football.) One would presume that Alabama will be in that position, too, but that doesn't mean the Tide will win it all every time. If I feel Saban's actual retirement date may come a little sooner than most, I'm going to take the field with the other title contenders.
Barrett Sallee: 3
Saban's contract is interesting to me because of how it's structured. The length provides a rock solid answer when his retirement date gets brought up on the recruiting trail, while the completion bonus after every season through 2025 could indicate that to be his actual target date. Assuming that he will coach through 2028, I'll give him three more titles on the shelf. He has won six out of the last 12, so the law of averages says that three more would actually be below his average. Saban will likely have to deal with Georgia and Oklahoma remaining as viable title threats in addition to Clemson and Ohio State, but that shouldn't shut down what has become a college football machine.
Tom Fornelli: 3
Three more nattys for Nick
I'll fully admit that a large part of this prediction is based on not wanting to be the person who underestimates Nick Saban. I mean, I'm the same guy who wrote last spring that the Buccaneers weren't going to get their money's worth from Tom Brady, and I haven't stopped receiving angry messages from central Floridians since.
But if Saban does see out the end of this extension, he has to win at least three more national titles, right? Given the rate at which he's won them now and the way Alabama operates, it's not like the program will fall off a cliff. Honestly, the only reason I can see him winning fewer than three is that he retires early, or playoff expansion just makes it far more difficult. But I'm not sure that'll be enough to stop him. I mean, do we know for sure that Nick Saban can't win a national title after retiring?
David Cobb: 2
Alabama has won six national championships in Nick Saban's 15 seasons as coach, which translates to two national titles every five seasons. Assuming Saban coaches five more seasons and retires after the 2025 campaign, he would win two more titles on his current pace. While his recent contact extension lasts eight more seasons -- through the 2028 campaign -- Saban will be 77 then, which is older than any current Division I head coach. Five more seasons seems like a logical stopping point as it would give him an even 20 seasons of service at Alabama. Saban will be 74 then, which is the current age of Mike Krzyzewski, who just announced that he will retire after Duke's next basketball season.
Could Saban coach until he's 80 like Bobby Bowden did or even 84 like Joe Paterno? Sure, he could. But the job is more demanding than it was 15 years ago, and it's tough to envision Alabama maintaining a 40% national title win rate with a head coach nearing 80. So even if he does coach until he's 80, you should expect a dip in Alabama's dominance. That's especially true since Saban's staff turns over at a greater rate than Paterno's staff or Bowden's staff did. The fact that I'm arguing why Saban will only win two more national titles is ridiculous. That would make a legendary career for most coaches. But for him, it would merely be a predictable twilight.