Nick Saban can be anal-retentive to the point of obnoxiousness. Everyone knows this. It’s one of the things that makes him a great coach.
He obsesses over the details.
He is meticulous.
He is precise.
He sometimes gets carried away.
In Alabama, we call these special moments “Saban Rants,” but they predate the coach’s time here.
For example, there’s an infamous story among NFL insiders of a time Saban freaked out on a local South Florida radio host off air. The host’s great offense? Asking who on the Dolphins was looking good during practice.
Possibly the most innocuous question of all time, right? Saban didn’t see it that way.
Not wanting to leave anyone out, Saban went through his entire NFL roster naming off every player. Saban then laid into his interviewer during the commercial break.
Keep in mind this was during one of Saban’s official weekly radio shows at a sports bar in South Florida. Imagine Saban dressing down Alabama radio host Eli Gold at Bob’s Victory Grille in Tuscaloosa. You get the picture.
Here’s the point: Saban doesn’t miss a thing. And if he does, then it’s usually on purpose.
Like on Wednesday at SEC Media Days when he left Auburn off a list of teams “catching up” to the Crimson Tide.
During his news conference with print reporters at Hoover’s Wynfrey Hotel, Saban dutifully answered a question about the perception of the SEC. The question was from Mike Bianchi, a legendary columnist for the Orlando Sentinel:
“Coach, you guys have won 17 straight SEC games now. You pretty much dominated the league over the last few years. How do you respond to those who say that your program is turning the SEC into a one-team league? And do you sense anybody getting closer to catching up with you guys?”
It was a slightly loaded question, to be sure, and hit on a popular theme in the SEC this week — Alabama’s dominance.
Here’s Saban’s response in its entirety:
“Well, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a lot of teams in our league. I mean, LSU is very, very good. Ole Miss has beaten us a couple times in the last few years. Mississippi State has got a good quarterback coming back. Arkansas’ got a good quarterback coming back. A&M’s always a very challenging team.
“I think Kirby’s doing a great job at Georgia. Jim McElwain is doing a good job at Florida. Tennessee has gotten better and better every year. I am trying to think of somebody in our league that I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for. Vanderbilt went to a bowl game last year and had a winning season.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in our league. I think it’s very challenging from a consistency standpoint in our league. I think that we have one of the youngest teams that we’ve ever had. So it’s going to be a real challenge for us to maintain the standard that we’ve been able to maintain in terms of — especially on defense, especially in the front seven — for all the good players that we lost.”
If you’re counting, Saban mentioned nine teams and none were Auburn.
I was thinking about picking Auburn to win the SEC before Wednesday, but after listening to Saban omit the Tigers from that very thorough and thoughtful answer, I’m more confident now than ever that Auburn can be the surprise team this year in the league. Why mention Auburn as a team on the rise when the Tigers are already there?
Matching up well against Alabama, Auburn will be experienced along their offensive and defensive lines, and it’s talented running game will finally be balanced by a competent if not standout quarterback in Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. Auburn plays at Clemson during the second week of the season. A victory in South Carolina should put them on a collision course with Alabama for the SEC West title.
My way-too-early Iron Bowl prediction because this is sports and sports are fun: Auburn 31, Alabama 28. Don’t @ me, bro.
The winner of that game will represent the SEC West in the league’s championship game, and defeat Florida for the SEC crown. They’re saying at SEC Media Days that Florida doesn’t have a quarterback. I’m saying it doesn’t matter.
It didn’t hurt Alabama much last year.
Saban got by with starting a run-first freshman quarterback in 2016 because he knew he had the defense to do it. Alabama then lost three defensive linemen (Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson and Tim Williams) and the best linebacker in the country (Reuben Foster) to the 2017 NFL Draft. Auburn, meanwhile, has veterans returning this season along the offensive line, at tight end and in the backfield. In Marlon Davidson, Auburn should have the best defensive lineman on the field come November.
By ignoring Auburn at SEC Media Days, Saban offered Alabama’s chief rival the biggest compliment possible. It goes without saying that the Tigers are coming for the Crimson Tide.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.