It certainly Bears examination, no matter how persistently Saban deadpans questions that raise comparisons between him and Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant.
If it wasn’t clear before Saturday, then it should be after Saturday’s release of the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll. Of 60 AP voters, 58 believe Saban’s seventh Alabama team will do what no other major college football team has done in the poll era by winning a third straight national title.
Bryant won two in a row twice but never made it three in a row in his 25-year run at Alabama.
Go ahead and argue with history. Scream injustice about circumstances, but history’s judges and juries have ruled, and Bryant never won three national titles in a row.
Saban has already done at Alabama what Bryant didn’t, winning three national titles in four years, so the comparison questions naturally arise. He has answered them consistently.
“I don’t think I have any reason that anybody should do that,” Saban said at SEC Media Days. “I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is. … There’s no way that we have done anything close to what he’s done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times. They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won.”
But Saban has done it in the era of the 85-scholarship limit, rising above the parity it wrought.
Bryant was coaching Alabama when the NCAA passed the first scholarship limit in 1973, but that first limit equal today’s full rosters -- 105. The limit dropped to 95 in 1978, four years before he retired, but didn’t fall to 85 until 1992.
For those who doubt how much scholarship limits matter, there’s a reason why we’ve seen only two repeat national champions since 1992. Saban’s Alabama teams were the only ones to do it in the Bowl Championship Series era, which started in 1998.
The BCS era went 15 seasons before seeing its first repeat champion. Saban could win the final three BCS titles, four of the last five and five of the final 11, including his 2003 title at LSU.
Assuming Saban does it, as most poll voters believe he will, should history’s judges and juries penalize him for coaching in an era when coaches rarely stay in one place as long as Bryant stayed at Alabama?
For that matter, should Saban be docked for coaching in an era when coaches don’t coach as long as Bryant did? Including Bryant’s stays at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M, he was a head coach for 38 seasons.
At age 61, Saban is entering his 18th season as a head coach and stands to win his fifth national title. Bryant’s six titles spanned 18 years, from 1961-79, but Saban has won national titles at two schools.
It’s a worthy comparison, wouldn’t you say?
History sends its warnings, though. No one has won three national titles in a row, and the last Saban-led Alabama team to start the season at No. 1 in the AP poll didn’t finish that way.
This season’s Alabama team matched the 2009 Florida team for the highest percentage of first-place votes received in the 63-year history of the preseason rankings, but we know how that turned out for Florida.
If winning three national titles in a row was easy, it wouldn’t be worthy of historic comparisons. If Saban does it, then it’s time to grin and Bear that little talk.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.