Bowl season brings back Alabama football pre and post-Saban memories

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With awards season in full swing and Alabama football recruiting blazing, there is also time to look back – and reflect on what was, and what is.

College football has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. A big change has been the bright light shining on the College Football Playoff has dimmed the view of most other bowl games. There is also the current long menu of games. So many teams play in 42 bowl games, some of the honor of a bowl selection has faded.

That does not mean most of the bowl lineup is filled with meaningless matchups. For a team like South Carolina, written off in the preseason and for several weeks of the season, playing North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is a big deal.

There are other contests that fans will enjoy. Baylor and Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl is a big deal for both programs. Many SEC fans will join Hawgs’ faithful in rooting for Arkansas against Penn State. The Citrus Bowl between Kentucky and Iowa is big for the Cats and not insignificant for the Hawkeyes. Because of Mike Leach, Mississippi State versus Texas Tech will draw attention.

For all teams allowed to ‘bowl’ – the extra practice sessions are a much-needed benefit in building for next season.

On the flip side, not all players wish to play in what they view as a meaningless game. Every year, there are player opt-outs. There could be more than normal this year. If for no other reason, head coach exits may lead to player opt-outs from Oregon, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Some LSU and Florida players may not wish to play an extra game with injury risk potentially harming professional opportunities.

Another issue is the future of bowls in an expanded College Football Playoff format. Many Alabama football fans cherish the Crimson Tide’s history with the Rose Bowl. That game still matters to Big Ten and Pac 12 schools, but it is also an impediment to a sensible, expanded Playoff structure.

Younger Alabama football fans may not realize how big a bowl game can be for a team – any bowl game. When the Crimson Tide held on to win the 2007 Independence Bowl, Alabama fans were relieved, and optimistic their long, losing agony was over. Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Colorado Buffaloes were ranked going into the game. With matching 6-6 records, only the winner would record a winning season. Nick Saban’s first Tide team exploded to a 20-0 lead. It took all the Tide had to finish on top of the 30-24 score.

Two Worlds of Alabama Football

What did that Independence Bowl win signal? A review of the pre-Saban and post-Saban seasons provides the answer. In the 10 seasons between Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, the Tide had only three 10-win seasons. During the period, the average number of wins in a season was 6.7.

Everything changed after the 2007 Independence Bowl win. In every one of the 14 seasons, going back to the 2008 season, Tide teams have won 10 or more games. Not counting the unfinished 2021 season, the average number of wins from the 2008-2020 seasons has been 12.5 wins.

If the Crimson Tide had come up short on that cool December night in Shreveport, LA, those win stats, and the six National Championships that followed might have happened anyway. We can never know for sure. We can appreciate that sometimes even a lower-tier bowl, in a drab location; can turn a program around.

Check out: Alabama Crimson Tide Bowl History

Next. Evaluating the Bearcats. dark

Speaking of lackluster bowl games, the tractor parade up Highway 280 from Auburn to Birmingham will likely be a short one this season. There can’t be much Birmingham Bowl enthusiasm from the Aubies – fans or players.