Nick Saban’s Victims: Programs that have Deflated

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - NOVEMBER 12: head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI - NOVEMBER 12: head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

“The Nick Saban Effect” is a term that’s been heard across the SEC for years now. It’s a term used to identify how players have developed that have played for the coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but also how it’s effected coaching hirings, firings and departures from the SEC because of the program’s success.

Those are just two of the more common uses of the term “Saban effect,” but there are several more. One outside of the SEC worth noting is the number of non-SEC power five programs that have failed to rise again to dominance after losing to the Crimson Tide during Nick Saban’s reign that began in 2007.

Below I’ve laid out each of these teams, the score of the game when they played Alabama and the notes about the teams record in the five years after they played the Crimson Tide.

7 programs that have deflated after playing Nick Saban and Alabama

Virginia Tech: After a 35-10 loss in 2013 to the Tide, Virginia Tech’s program saw a downturn start immediately when 9 of their last 10 seasons had been more than ten wins. The Hokies went 8-5 in 2013 after losing to the Tide, and 7-6 in the next two seasons following. This led to the retirement of legendary Hokies coach Frank Beamer. The argument is made that the game had “passed Beamer by” and that they were going to get worse win or lose to Alabama, but one can’t help to wonder if this loss was detrimental to the psyche in thinking they couldn’t hang with the SEC and Alabama.

Penn State: The Tide beat the Nittany Lions in 2010 24-3 in Tuscaloosa, and then again in 2011 in Happy Valley 27-11. The Nittany Lions finished 11-2 in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, including a share of the Big 10 title in 2008. Between 2010 and 2015, the Nittany Lions had four seasons where they only amassed 7 wins in each. One of them came in the 2010 season after kicking it off with the loss to Alabama. The Nittany Lions wouldn’t return to national prominence again with their first double-digit win season coming in 2016 under third year head coach James Franklin when they went 11-3. One can argue that with these stats it took them nearly a decade to recover and rebuild from the “Saban effect.”

West Virginia:  The West Virginia Mountaineers lost to the Tide 33-23 in 2014 and finished that season 7-6. This one can especially be argued that Alabama had no effect on it’s downturn as the next two seasons the Mountaineers went 8-5 in 2015 and then 10-3 in 2016. However, recruitment is long-term. And recruits that could’ve become factors for the Mountaineers potentially looked the other way, which caught up with the team a few years later and started showing on the field. Since 2017, the Mountaineers have had one 8 win season, and the rest 7 wins or less.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Badgers were a dominant program under head coach Bret Bielema beginning in 2006. The success was sustained to a degree with head coach Gary Andersen who took over for Bielema for almost two seasons going 9-4 in his first and 11-3 in his second. New head coach Paul Chryst then took over the Badgers program in 2015. His first game as head coach was a tough one as he had to face national power Alabama. The Tide defeated the Badgers 35-17 in the game many remember for Badgers safety Michael Caputo lining up on the wrong side of the football after tackling Derrick Henry. This could’ve been a microcosm of what was to come for the Badgers who had experienced a decade of success before taking on the Tide. Much like West Virginia, a few years later the downturn of the Badgers began. Between 2018 and 2022, the Badgers went a combined 38-17, which was a far cry from the standard their program expected.

USC: Removed from their recruiting sanctions by 2018 from the Reggie Bush era, the Tide made sure that the Trojans would still feel the ripple effect from it handing them a 52-6 loss in 2018 in the opening game of the season with the Trojans coming in ranked 20th in the country. Trojans head coach Clay Helton was in his third season and had gone 10-3 and 11-3 in the two seasons prior to taking on the Tide. In 2018 after the loss, The Trojans finished that season 5-7. They’d go 22-21 over the next four seasons with Helton at the helm before his firing in 2021. The Trojans have come back the last two seasons to prominence, but the loss to the Tide set them back another 5 years right when they seemed to have things heading in the right direction again.

Florida State: Coming in at number 3 in the country pre-season, the Tide defeated the Florida State Seminoles 24-7 in the first game of the 2017 season. Jimbo Fisher started as head coach of the Seminoles after taking over for the legendary Bobby Bowden in 2010. Up until the 2017 season, Fisher compiled 10 plus wins in 6 of those 7 seasons, including a national championship in 2013. One thing he hadn’t done however being from another conference was played the Tide. After the loss the first week of that season, Fisher went 7-6. That would be his last in Tallahassee as he exited for the head coaching position at Texas A&M. From 2017 through 2021, the Seminoles had a combined record of 26-33. They’ve started to rise again beginning in 2022 with their first 10 win campaign since 2016, but the loss to Saban seems to have made its impact as the Noles were no longer a mainstay at the top of the ACC for the next five years.

Louisville: The Louisville Cardinals had compiled two 8 win and two 9 win seasons from 2014 to 2017 under head coach Bobby Petrino. They then led off the 2018 campaign against the Tide and were walloped 51-14. That season, the Cardinals finished 2-10, which is a far cry from the 8 or 9 win seasons they had compiled in the four years prior. This led to the firing of Petrino. The next four seasons from 2019-2022 have seen records of 8-6, 4-7, 6-7 and 8-5. While they’ve started off the 2023 campaign at 4-0 under new head coach Jeff Brohm, it definitely took awhile to get there. And they still may not be back yet.

The psyche of each of these programs undoubtedly took a hit after losing to what many claimed as the program at the top of the mountain during this part of Nick Saban’s tenure.

What also should be pointed out is programs that did not falter but returned to pretty immediate prominence after losing to the Tide.

Clemson: Head coach Dabo Swinney has lost to Alabama a few times. But until recently has always been thought to be one of the elite programs in college football bouncing back from losses to the Tide, and defeating them.

Michigan: Head coach Jim Harbaugh has lost to Nick Saban twice during his time as coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh has sustained however and the Wolverines continue to consistently achieve 10 plus wins and have appeared in the college football playoffs each of the last two seasons.

Notre Dame: Brian Kelly’s program got destroyed twice by Alabama – once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. Kelly kept the Irish as national contenders each time after the losses, which considering other programs and how they came out after losing the Tide is impressive.

Although there were a few. There were a lot less programs that returned to prominence quickly than those that did not. And there’s something to be said for that, and the effect that Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide have had on the demise of several power five programs outside of the SEC.

Next. Which former assistants have defeated Nick Saban?. dark