Will Oct. 2’s game between Alabama and Ole Miss be the game of the year in college football? One CBS Sports writers projects as much when Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban clash in Oxford, Miss.
“When it comes to the game of the year, the tendency is to look for the games between the teams expected to compete for national titles,” Tom Fornelli wrote. “In that aspect, maybe a game between Alabama and Ole Miss comes as a surprise. I mean, considering that Alabama opens the season with Miami, makes an early-season trip to Florida and has standard division games against Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn, you could argue that Ole Miss is the sixth “biggest” game on its schedule.
“But it might prove to be one of the most challenging, too. You’ll remember last season when the Rebels put up 647 yards of offense against Alabama in a 63-48 loss. While Alabama has few weaknesses defensively, its most significant problems have been explosive offenses like the one Lane Kiffin has put on the field in Oxford, Mississippi. You have to outscore Alabama to beat it, and Ole Miss is one of the few offenses in the country capable of making the Tide sweat. That provides the opportunity for chaos and the potential for one of the more exciting games of the season, no matter the result.”
Heading into the 2021 season, Saban is a perfect 24-0 all-time against previous staffers-turned-head coaches and he’ll have an opportunity to add to that record this season. Earlier this spring, BamaOnline’s Kirk McNair tallied Saban’s career wins vs. former assistants. The list is impressive:
Four wins over Jimbo Fisher (Florida State 2017; Texas A&M 2018-20); three over Derek Dooley (Tennessee 2010-12), Jim McElwain (Colorado State 2013; Florida 2015-16), Will Muschamp (Florida 2011 and 2014; South Carolina 2019); Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee (2018-20)), and Smart (Georgia, 2018 CFP National Championship Game and 2018 SEC Championship Game, 2020), two over Mark Dantonio (Michigan State, 2010 and 2015) and Kiffin (Tennessee 2009 and Ole Miss 2020), and one victory over Billy Napier (Louisiana 2018).
Kiffin is one of the more recent coaches who has taken part in Saban’s “rehab clinic” at Alabama for coaches and came out on the positive end.
“It was perfect,” Kiffin said in an interview with CBS Sports, describing his three seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2014-16). “There wouldn’t have been a better job in the NFL. I say [it’s] the ‘rehab’ stamp. You go there, spend some time, all the sudden you can coach again.”
Kiffin previously said he learned to have more a CEO-type role under Saban and that has benefited him over his last two stops as a head coach with the Owls and Rebels.
“(I learned) really to be more of a CEO,” Kiffin said last season on the Pat McAfee Show. “You know, I was always X’s and O’s, always worried about that, and spent all my time on that and recruiting, obviously. But (Saban) does everything. Nothing happens in that building, nothing happens on offense, defense, special teams that he doesn’t know about.
“And he just does a phenomenal job of, you know, getting everybody on the same page and, you know — every day, no matter whether it’s July or whatever it is, is about Alabama football and how he can make it better.”
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Brad Crawford contributed to this report.