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Will Nick Saban End the Trend?

There is a very popular internet meme surrounding a particular SEC Western Division head coach.  One which suggests that, under certain conditions, he is unable to guide his teams to victory.  Yes, it has been proven time and time again that this coach--whose previous coaching tenure at another SEC West school, controversial career moves, and unique personality have caused quite a sir throughout the Southeast--has a hard time getting over a certain hump.

We are talking of course, about Nick Saban's inability to reach double-digit wins without a Senior at quarterback.

Heh, and you thought we were talking about Houston Nutt's "can't win with expectations" meme, didn't you?  Don't you remember?  That's been debunkedTwice

We'll elaborate with a fancy chart and even fancier words after the jump. 

You will need to click for biggification here.

There are Saban's BCS level records and quarterbacks.  Do you see what we see?  It is quite simple, really.  In 1999, the Michigan State Spartans, led by senior quarterback Bill Burke and head coach Nick Saban, completed a 9-2 regular season.  They tied for 2nd in the Big 10 before earning a Capital One Bowl bid.  After the regular season, Saint Nick was in Baton Rouge beginning his stint as the head coach of the LSU Tigers, but that didn't stop Burke, receiver Plaxico Burress, and the rest of the Michigan State Spartans from defeating the Florida Gators to earn their season's 10th win.

In 2001, the Saban's Tigers, led by senior quarterback Rohan Davey defeated every opponent in the SEC West aside from Ole Miss (I just had to do it) before besting the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Title game and defeating the Fighting Illini of Illinois in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2003, Matt Mauck, while technically not a senior, filled the role of the Saban quarterback.  Mauck, a 24 year old redshirt junior who had spend a brief amount of time playing minor league baseball, led the Bayou Bengals to a 13-1 overall record and a BCS championship.

In 2004, a senior Marcus Randall started a majority of LSU's games that rebuilding season, but eventually began to lose playing time in favor of the redshirt freshman and eventual #1 overall draft pick, Jamarcus Russell.  Russell and Randall had incredibly similar stats that season as playing time was seemingly split down the middle.  While still a good season under most standards (9-2 regular season, bowl loss to Iowa on a Hail Mary pass), the scores of LSU's games in 2004 were all much closer than the scores seen in their 2003 season, demonstrating just how much of a rebuilding effort Randall and Russell were a part of.

And finally, in 2008 Nick Saban was finally able to get John Parker Wilson to produce wins which had escaped Alabama in Wilson's previous seasons.  JPW's interceptions (some of which were pick sixes) which cost the Tide a few games in 2007 were significantly reduced while less pressure was placed on Wilson to win games.  He used fantastic leadership and adequate decision making to produce an undefeated regular season for the Crimson Tide.

So, why the trend?  It's all Saban-ball. 

Whiskey Wednesday and I theorize that Saban-ball could be renamed to "don't-screw-it-up" ball.  Namely, with regards to quarterbacks, Saban relies on level-headedness, adequate decision making, and confidence-inducing leadership skills.  Saban's quarterbacks are never flashy NFL-prospects or stat machines.  Their value doesn't come with their abilities to make plays.  Their value comes with their abilities to not make the wrong plays.  Last year's Crimson Tide squad is no more exemplary of this system.  In looking at John Parker Wilson's stats (186/321, 57.9CMP, 2243yYDS, 9TD, 7INT, 121.53RAT), one is hardly impressed.  However, in looking at 2007's stats (255/462, 55.2CMP, 18TD, 12INT, 114.6RAT), it becomes obvious that Saban implemented "don't-screw-it-up" ball.  Really, they asked Wilson to do less.  Hell, he threw the ball 141 fewer times in 2008 than 07.  He was asked to just manage the offense, make as few mistakes as possible, and wear the clock down.  Alabama had the running game and offensive line to run such an offense.  They also had a quarterback who, through his experience, could make the clutch decisions when need be.  Remember, Bama was just a shade below Ole Miss in terms of 3rd down efficiency for 2nd in the West.  John Parker Wilson had a lot to do with that.

Coach Nick Saban couples this efficient, conservative offense with a stifling defense to build championship programs.  It is really that simple. 

Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, with regards to the defense, this upcoming season should be no different than the last.

But what about offensively?  Alabama is replacing two All-American offensive linemen, their leading rusher, and their veteran quarterback.  Don't be misled, their rushing attack will be good, and their passing attack will also be good--I mean, Julio Jones, he's still alive and all--but they did lose a significant amount of offensive yards to graduation and the NFL draft.  It is safe to say that Alabama will not be as dominating on the ground during this upcoming season as they were for the last.  That being considered, while merely speculation, a lot more may be asked of Greg McElroy in his first year as Alabama's starter than was asked of John Parker Wilson in his last.

None of this is to suggest that Nick Saban is not a good coach.  He is a great coach.  The only issue is that, thus far, he has proven to rely on a particular formula to put togther highly successful seasons.  Unfortunately, one of the most significant parts of that formula will not be in Tuscaloosa this fall.

Does this mean Alabama can't win 10+ games this season.  Certainly not.  They've got one of America's best coaches, one of college ball's most dominating receivers, and a defensive two-deep most schools would envy.  Are these trends indicative of much?  Hard to say.  This particular narrative demonstrates what Saban's offensive modus operandi is whereas this one (yes, there's not only one doom-and-gloom for Bama trend out there) shows the inconsistency of the program over the last decade.  Are they both true?  Yes.  Are they both going to somehow intangibly influence the coaches and players for this upcoming season?  No.

Just, in the extreme off chance that McElroy is an absolute bust and Bama struggles to make a decent bowl game, please remember where you heard it first.