INDIANAPOLIS — No. 1 Alabama came up one quarter short in its bid for a seventh national championship under coach Nick Saban.
No. 3 Georgia scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a 33-18 victory in the 2022 College Football Playoff championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday. Saban, who has guided the Crimson Tide to six appearances in the championship game in eight seasons, used that as an opportunity to get across his own talking points.
Saban, who will turn 71 next season, already is laying the groundwork for another national championship run in 2022. In other words, this show is not over, even if the downfall is what everybody is anticipating.
Two of the most-popular contemporary television series are “Succession” and “Yellowstone,” and both detail a rich family’s struggle to protect their wealth. It’s seductive television because it makes the viewer empathize for the “haves” despite their flaws. In the college football landscape, Alabama is WayStar RoyCo on the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. In this regard, Saban can play the role of either Logan Roy or John Dutton.
The difference is Saban is a real-life success story, and that made for box-office sports entertainment on Monday. Alabama (13-2) came up short in its bid for back-to-back championships, and Saban used that opportunity to heap praise on his team despite the loss.
“They’re a really great bunch of winners,” Saban said. “They won going away this year. They came from behind and won close games to have the opportunity to play in this game. I just feel really poorly that we didn’t finish the game better than we did in the fourth quarter.”
Saban also congratulated his protege. Former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart, who was with Saban through four of those national championship runs as a defensive coordinator from 2008-15, led No. 3 Georgia (14-1) to its first national championship since 1980.
“I love Kirby,” Saban said. “I think Kirby has a lot of respect for us. He did a great job for us for a long time. If we had to lose a national championship, I’d rather lose one to one of the former assistants who certainly did a great job for us.”
Saban also didn’t make excuses for losing star receiver Jameson Williams, who left the game with a knee injury after a 40-yard reception in the second quarter. Alabama has already lost John Metchie III, its other 1,000-yard receiver, to a torn ACL in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4. Saban did not use Williams to promote a win-at-all-costs mentality.
“He has a knee injury,” Saban said. “We won’t know the extent of the knee injury until we get an MRI. He actually wanted to play in the second half and the medical staff wouldn’t let him, which I think was smart because he has a future as a football player.”
Then Saban, who was flanked by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and All-American linebacker Will Anderson, drew out the final sequence so his returning stars could hear it. Alabama was down 26-18 in the final two minutes with a chance to tie before Kelee Ringo’s 79-yard interception started the Georgia celebration with 54 seconds remaining.
“That’s what happened,” Saban said. “I assume you watched the game, but that’s really what happened. That’s what it felt like. That’s what it felt like for Will and that’s what it feels like for Bryce, who feel really poorly that they couldn’t do better to try to not let that happen.”
At the end of Alabama’s press conference, Nick Saban held back Bryce Young and Will Anderson so he could praise them.
“These two guys that are sitting up here, they’re not defined by one game.”
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 11, 2022
Saban made it a point to single out those team leaders before the exited the podium and said, “They’re not defined by one game.” Young hit 35 of 57 passes for 369 yards and a touchdown, but the two second-half interceptions were part of the Georgia comeback story. Anderson had four tackles Those two have become Saban clones of sorts.
“We didn’t execute,” Young said. “At the end of the day that’s on me. For us not finishing drives like we want to, it’s just not executing.”
“Nobody hung their head low,” Anderson added. “It was the same with the Auburn game and this whole year, everybody has been so positive,” Anderson said. “It took us a while to get to playing to the Alabama standard.”
That standard won’t change in 2022, even in a landscape that will challenge Saban’s continual ability to adapt.
The transfer portal has helped Alabama, too. It delivered Williams from Ohio State and linebacker Henry To’o To’o from Tennessee this season. Williams was a consensus All-American and To’o To’o led the Crimson Tide in tackles. LSU cornerback Eli Ricks, a Freshman All-American in 2020, and Georgia Tech’s Jahmyr Gibbs, who had 1,216 yards from scrimmage this year, are on the way for 2022.
Saban made his most-pointed comments at the CFP championship press conference on Sunday on the topic of Name Image and Likeness.
“I think what is a little concerning is how that is used to get players to decide where they go to school, because I don’t think that was the intention,” Saban said. “I don’t think that would be the NCAA’s intention.”
Saban does not say something like that unless it carries an underlying message. After all, Alabama has had the top recruiting class according to 247Sports.com nine times since 2010. The Crimson Tide’s lowest class ranking in that stretch is No. 5.
“I think we probably need some kind of national legislation to sort of control that to some degree, because I think there will be an imbalance relative to who can dominate college football if that’s not regulated in some form or fashion,” he said.
This could be construed as sour grapes or Saban protecting that blue-chip pipeline to Tuscaloosa, but there is more to it than that. Saban isn’t talking about another school taking Alabama’s place. He’s talking about Alabama keeping its place in the pecking order.
Monday was a reminder that the Crimson Tide can do all that and still run into the better team. Alabama lost 42-35 to Ohio State in the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinals. The Crimson Tide lost CFP championship games to Clemson in 2016 and 2018. Alabama was back on top within two years after each of those losses, but Georgia is a suitable foe for years to come given their recruiting success under Smart. After Monday’s CFP committee meetings, playoff expansion is not imminent, and Saban’s contract runs through 2028-29.
“Yellowstone” and “Succession” might not be must-see TV by then, but Alabama will be in the national championship hunt as long as Saban is on the sideline. After all, the Saban era began in 2007, when “The Sopranos” was in its final season. We still don’t really know what happened to Tony Soprano, but Saban, again, is real life.
We know what to expect now. “The Process” begins again.
“Congratulate Georgia for the job that they did, but nobody can take the SEC Championship away from this team, the Cotton Bowl championship,” Saban said. “I’m extremely proud of everything that this team had to overcome to get to this position to have an opportunity to win the national championship. We just didn’t finish the way we needed to finish.”