Let’s get something out of the way; The answer is not “Yes, because he’s Nick Saban.”
The Alabama Crimson Tide are Alabama because they have one of the best coaches and more resources than anyone else. If Saban wants his players spending five fewer minutes on the road going from their favorite food place, he can get the entire kitchen of that restaurant moved into Alabama’s facilities. It’s true!
A listener asked Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody (PAPN) this simple question: If Saban left Alabama tomorrow, what’s the worst school Saban could land at and win a National Championship at within six years (2024)? Naturally, let’s pretend Saban comes back to the Hill — where he was an OLB coach in 1977 — and took on this challenge. How would he be able to pull this off?
We’ve long covered how the Syracuse Orange program doesn’t have the same resources of any National Championship-caliber team. Saban would have to become an active part of fundraising after being hired to get even a quarter of what he currently has access to in Tuscaloosa. The critics of Saban will argue that he can’t do what he does without these recourses: facilities, a small army of coaches, almost limitless cash on hand, etc.
I choose to think he can win without these, but I will say this: if he came to Syracuse tomorrow, I think people would assume ‘Cuse goes 6-6/7-5 at the minimum. I don’t think he hits that in his Year 0 (transitioning a team from one style to another in the first year). I do think the challenge comes from media/fan/online critics of not meeting early, lofty expectations. That’s something new to him. It’s something that on PAPN, Steven Godfrey thinks would break Saban. I don’t agree that it would break him, but I think it makes things far more difficult.
But here’s the rub: Syracuse does have to get better. Way better, if they want to win at the level Saban would need to contend for a championship.
Right now, the Orange are coming off a season where their S&P+ rating was -2.7,
Clemson, in a “reset year,” and won the ACC. Their S&P+ was 15.3, good for 8th.
Georgia, the team so close to beating Alabama, was 18.6, 3rd nationally.
Alabama was 1st, with 20.8.
That’s a lot of ground to cover. Georgia was the most balanced of these teams, ranking in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Clemson and Alabama each had very good but not elite offenses (45th & 23rd respectively), but were the top two defensive teams in the country.
Alabama and Saban have won by wearing teams down on offense, While neither all that explosive or amazing in the air, they can methodically and consistently gain yards on the ground. I’m sure there are plenty of Syracuse fans who would love this system to make a return. Defensively, Alabama is just a beast. Actually, click that link. Alabama was dominant and that kind of dominance will get you far.
So can Saban take six years (essentially five more recruiting classes) to assemble enough talent to either build a dominant defense and/or an extremely good, balanced Syracuse team? I’m not sure that he can. Saban would need to hit on most of the 2019 class to build enough momentum to get guaranteed stars in 2020 & 2021 to be the backbone of the championship team down the line.
But there are those dreams of Tommy DeVito spending the next 3-4 years carrying the offense, and being succeeded by a handpicked Saban successor. Maybe Saban’s magic makes four-star guys blue chips by senior years. I don’t know...
Regardless, this is always a fun thought experiment. And imagining Saban and Boeheim together is just too funny to ignore.
What do you think? Could it work out? If not, where would the Orange top out under Saban?