Column: Enjoy a few months away from Bama and Nick Saban

The Alabama Crimson Tide will be playing a football game Saturday, which means…well, absolutely nothing.

Don’t be cruel.

That’s how things work in Tuscaloosa.

The Southeastern Conference championship is out of reach. All hope of a place in the College Football Playoffs is gone. That means Bama hasn’t stood a chance of winning his seventh national title since Nick Saban arrived 15 years ago.

This is of course the end of the season for the tide.

How significant is this for the greatest dynasty in college football history?

One has to go back to November 13, 2010, when Alabama last played a regular-season game without affecting the national championship race.

Since that day more than a dozen years ago, The Tide has hoarded five national titles, finished runners-up three more times and lost in the semifinals in the first year of the playoffs. In the other two seasons, painful losses to rival Auburn eliminated Bama from the title race in the final of the regular season.

With two defeats – wheeze! — Already this season, Alabama will trot onto the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium to beat Austin Peaybased on motivational goals generally reserved for the common people.

Things like pride and a better bowl bid.

“We still have goals that we want to achieve,” emphasized linebacker Jalen Moody, without naming them. “We have to go out there and prepare every day so we can go out the way we came in. We can’t win a championship now, but we still have to go the right way.”

Alabama’s departure is good news for the rest of the nation, who were tired of spending most of each January watching Saban’s behemoth win or at least fight for championships.

Then again, it seems like a good time to add some perspective to what an amazing run this has been for the Tide:

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular-season game, Saban’s fellow SEC coaches were Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Gene Chizik, Les Miles, Bobby Petrino, Houston Nutt, Dan Mullen, Joker Phillips, Derek Dooley and Robbie Caldwell. Texas A&M and Missouri coaches need no mention; Those schools were two seasons away from joining the SEC.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless game in the regular season, Barack Obama was nearing the halfway point in his first term and less than two weeks away from a epic Democratic midterm election defeat.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular-season game, the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — got off to a slow 5-4 start in their first season together.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular-season game, people were still using BlackBerry phones, calling a cab when they needed a ride, reading a newspaper to find out what was going on in the world, and shopping in places , which were known as shopping malls.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular-season game, Tom Brady was a 33-year-old kid and the Buffalo Bills were 8-0 at halftime in the NFL season.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular season game, Ke$ha had the No. 1 song in the country with “We R Who We R” and “Megamind” was the most successful film.

— The last time Alabama played a meaningless regular-season game, Donald Trump hosted “The Apprentice,” and most of us had never heard of Elon Musk.

Some are wondering — hope is perhaps a better word — that this slight drop in a season is a sign that Saban’s control of the game is waning.

He just turned 71. Nothing is forever.

Sorry, that’s just wishful thinking. While it was undoubtedly a disappointing season by Alabama’s standards, the two losses in Tennessee came from a last-second field goal and a 2-point conversion at LSU in overtime.

The Tide is just four points away from going unbeaten and is back in the thick of it. In 2023, there’s no reason to believe the school won’t be one of the leading contenders for the title again.

For now, Alabama has next week’s regular season finale — the Iron Bowl vs. Auburn — to stoke its competitive fire.

Depending on how things play out, The Tide could end up in a Major Bowl, although it’s hard to imagine future NFL players like quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson risking injury to play in a postseason game, that doesn’t really matter.

These days, Saban sounds more like a motivational speaker than a soccer coach. He reckons the last few games, hollow as they really are, will go a long way in determining whether this is just a blip in his dynasty or the first hint of a more significant decline.

“You know, we talk a lot about culture, we talk a lot about identity, but what really motivates you – what creates an identity for all of us? We all strive for self-respect, but how do we do that?” Saban mused this week.

“To play this game for what we want to achieve, what we want to do, to restore the identity that we want in Alabama football,” he continued. “That’s what we’re going to try to finish and do and it’ll be interesting to see how the players decide to do that.”

Never bet against Nick Saban.

Just enjoy this rare chance to spend the next few months without him.

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AP sportswriter John Zenor of Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.

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Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org.

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