On Dec. 28, 2006, Oklahoma State defeated Alabama in the Independence Bowl. Six days later, Nick Saban resigned as the Miami Dolphins’ head man and accepted the top job at Alabama.
Saban was expected to thrive with the Crimson Tide, but no one could have envisioned his unbelievable combination of winning and preparing players for pro football.
This defines what the Saban machine has become: Since the start of the 2009 season, Saban’s record is 126-12. Within any 10-year period in major-college football, Alabama’s 2009-18 winning percentage of .913 is the best since the Bud Wilkinson-coached Oklahoma Sooners had a .924 success rate from the late 1940s until the late ’50s.
And this explains why Saban has five national championships: 26 of his Alabama players were first-round NFL draft picks. Overall, 77 of his guys have been drafted.
During an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel last spring, Saban said, “To me, I’ve always felt like you’re in a little bit of a partnership with the NFL.”
More than a little bit.
The Big 12’s current lineup has been in place since 2012. During the 2013-18 drafts, the Big 12’s 10 programs produced a total of 12 first-round picks. In 2013-18, 15 Alabama players were first-round selections.
In 2013-18 overall, 53 Crimson Tide players were drafted. That’s a greater number than Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State combined.
There has to be acknowledgement also of Saban’s apparent management skills. Because of Alabama’s success, he constantly has to replace coordinator and position coaches. On Saban’s current staff are six first-year assistants, and where is the Crimson Tide?
At 13-0. Again.
With an SEC championship. Again.
And for the fifth time in the five-season history of the College Football Playoff, the Tide is in the final four – matched with OU in a Dec. 29 Orange Bowl semifinal.
After having driven through Big 12 opponents, the Sooners brace now for a massive upgrade in competition. Alabama has NFL-caliber players at nearly every position.
Everyone knows that Saban runs the best show in football, and everyone knows about the Tua Tagovailoa-Jalen Hurts storyline at quarterback.
What makes Alabama great, however, are the foundation people of Saban’s program – the ones who block and tackle.
Running back Damien Harris, center Ross Pierschbacher and offensive tackle Jonah Williams are draft-eligible and NFL good. On the defensive side, nose guard Quinnen Williams and ends Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis are destined to be drafted. So is safety Deionte Thompson.
Alabama has three linebackers – Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson and Christian Miller – who also are on NFL draft boards. As workouts are conducted by NFL scouts in February and March, several additional Tide players could enhance their draft potential.
Running back Josh Jacobs embodies the quality of Alabama’s depth.
Football-minded Tulsans remember that Jacobs starred at McLain but was mostly ignored by Power Five programs until late in his senior-year recruiting process. He was discovered by Alabama and signed by Saban.
Jacobs has started in only three games in three seasons with the Crimson Tide, and yet the 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior is considered a high-level NFL possibility.
From USA Today: “He may not be a starter at Alabama, but Josh Jacobs could still be the top running back prospect in the 2019 NFL draft. If your favorite NFL team is looking for the complete package at running back, Jacobs checks every box.
“He’s got the explosiveness to make big plays every time he touches the ball, the frame and physicality to churn out the tough yards and hold up at the next level, and the patience, vision and intelligence to take full advantage of his physical skills.”
OU’s Lincoln Riley may be the best offensive coach and play-caller in college football, and his Baker Mayfield attack did roll for big numbers in last season’s CFP semifinal loss to Georgia.
At what level might the Riley-Kyler Murray offense click against Alabama?
Of infinitely greater concern for Riley and OU fans is how the Sooner defense looks against the best offense Saban has ever had.
It’s a fantastic Orange Bowl collision of Oklahoma style and Alabama’s substance. The level of that substance is defined annually during the NFL draft.