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A look at how teams played against Alabama in season openers (and how they responded the rest of the season)

ByDavid Lake 13 hours ago

The Miami Hurricanes will open the 2021 college football season against the biggest juggernaut in the sport: the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Alabama has run the sport since 2009, which was Nick Saban’s third season at UA and his first National Championship there. 

Saban has now won six National Championships at Alabama, including one at the end of this most recent 2020 season. 

Since 2008, Alabama is averaging 12.5 wins per season and the Crimson Tide have never lost fewer than ten wins in a single season. 

Alabama has been a model of consistency at an elite level. 

Miami, on the other hand is trying to build its program to a point of consistent respectability. The Hurricanes haven’t won at least nine games in three consecutive seasons since 2003-05. 

UM also hasn’t been the most consistent team when facing Power Five opponents in season openers, either. From 2010-19, the Hurricanes posted a 1-4 record against Power Five opponents in season openers. 

The one victory over the past decade was against Boston College in 2012. Miami was 0-2 against ranked opponents in openers during that period. 

Now the Hurricanes will be tasked with building on a solid 2020 season that finished with an 8-3 record by opening the 2021 season against Alabama. 

Good luck. 

This article attempts to take a quick look at how Alabama performed in all of the openers during the Nick Saban era and the impact that game had on the opponent for the rest of the season. How did opponents fair and how did they bounce back the rest of the season and how did their season opening with Alabama compare to the previous season? 

How many times did losing to Alabama in a season opener derail the rest of a season for an opponent? 

How many times was a team able to dust itself off after that loss and improve from the previous year? 

Read on for a closer look. 


(Photo: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 52-6

Note: The first game of the Nick Saban era was against a FCS opponent and it went as expected with the Crimson Tide cruising to a comfortable victory at home. This is the only FCS opponent Alabama has opened a season with during the Nick Saban era at Alabama. 

2008 VS. No. 9 CLEMSON (neutral)

C.J. Spiller (Jim R. Bounds/AP)C.J. Spiller (Photo: 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 34-10

Previous Year’s Record For Clemson: 9-4

The Clemson Record For 2008: 7-6

Note: This was a strong indication of what was to come with the Alabama dynasty under Nick Saban’s direction. Alabama entered this neutral site season opener against Clemson as an underdog, ranked as the No. 24 team in the country while the Tigers entered the game as a top ten team. Clemson entered the game with a dynamic duo at running back in James Davis and C.J. Spiller along with an explosive receiver in Jacoby Ford. The Crimson Tide absolutely shut down Clemson’s rushing attack, limiting the Tigers to zero net rushing yardage on 14 carries. Ford caught two passes for 53 yards. Alabama exposed that Clemson team as a pretender that year as the Tigers parted ways with Tommy Bowden and named a young assistant named Dabo Swinney the interim head coach. 

2009 VS. No. 7 VIRGINIA TECH (neutral)

(Photo: Scooter Waller, 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 34-24

Previous Year’s Record For Virginia Tech: 10-4

The Virginia Tech Record For 2009: 10-3

Note: Virginia Tech entered this game as a top ten team that was led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide frustrated Taylor during that game, forcing him to go an inefficient 9-of-20 for 91 yards as a passer. With nine minutes left to go in the game, Virginia Tech cut into Alabama’s lead, 27-24, but the Crimson Tide answered with a touchdown on their next possession. The Hokies played the game close and went on to have a successful season that ended with a win over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They finished the season ranked No. 10 in the final AP Poll. 


(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 48-3

Previous Year’s Record For SJU: 2-10

The SJU Record For 2010: 1-12

Note: San Jose State isn’t a FCS level program, but they weren’t that far off in 2010. The Crimson Tide dominated this game with ease. 


Title/Alt Text(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 48-7

Previous Year’s Record For Kent State: 5-7

The 2011 Record For Kent State: 5-7

Note: This was the last of the non-Power Five season openers that the Crimson Tide played against in the Nick Saban era. This Alabama went on to win the National Championship and is regarded as one of the best defenses in college football history. 

2012 VS. No. 8 MICHIGAN (Neutral)

Title/Alt Text(Photo: 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 41-14

Previous Year’s Record For Michigan: 11-2 

The 2012 Record For Michigan: 8-5

Note: Truthfully, this game was not very close at all as No. 2 Alabama raced out to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter. That Michigan team featured athletic quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw for 200 yards along with one touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 27 yards and one touchdown. The Crimson Tide were able to run the ball all over Michigan as they totaled over 200 yards on the ground. 

2013 VS. VIRGINIA TECH (neutral)

(Photo: 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 35-10

Previous Year’s Record For Virginia Tech: 7-6

The 2013 Record For Virginia Tech: 8-5

Note: Alabama entered this season opener ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and the Crimson Tide suffocated the Hokies, forcing quarterback Logan Thomas into a performance in which he completed 5-of-26 passes for 59 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. Once again, the Alabama defense rendered an opposing offense one dimensional in a season opener. This Alabama team ripped off 11 straight wins to open the season before falling 34-28 to Auburn in 2013 in the infamous ‘kick six’ ending. That Virginia Tech team rebounded from that season opener loss to have a solid 8-5 campaign, which was an improvement from the previous year. 

2014 VS. WEST VIRGINIA (neutral)

(Photo: 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 33-23

Previous Year’s Record For WVU: 4-8

The 2014 Record For WVU: 7-6

Note: This was a match-up in which West Virginia went toe-to-toe with Alabama for all four quarters. Quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards and one touchdown with future first round pick Kevin White catching nine passes for 143 yards and one touchdown. Alabama’s defense was able to stuff the run game for West Virginia, however, limiting the Mountaineers to just 28 rushing yards on 24 carries. Alabama running back duo T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined to run for 239 and three touchdowns on 40 carries while Amari Cooper caught 12 passes for 130 yards. This West Virginia team went on to have a better season than the year before after the season opening loss to Alabama. 

2015 VS. No. 20 WISCONSIN (neutral)

(Photo: Elliott Connor, 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 35-17

Previous Year’s Record For Wisconsin: 11-3

The Wisconsin Record For 2015: 10-3

Note: Running back Derrick Henry had a dominant performance for then No. 3 Alabama in this game, rushing for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. Kenyan Drake also totaled 77 rushing yards and a touchdown on ten carries. Henry scored on touchdown runs of 37 yards and 56 yards while Kenyan Drake scored on a 43-yard touchdown run. Alabama put the game out of reach in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns during that quarter to take a 28-7 lead. After that loss, Wisconsin responded with a very strong season, losing one-score games to Iowa and Northwestern, but still finishing the season with ten wins and a final ranking at No. 21 overall in the country. This Alabama team went on to win the National Championship over Clemson. 

2016 VS. No. 20 Southern California (neutral)

Title/Alt Text(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 52-6

Previous Year’s Record For USC: 8-6

The 2016 Record For USC: 10-3

Note: This is an example of a program that took a beating from Alabama, dusted itself off and managed to close the year with a strong showing, ripping off nine straight wins, including a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State to finish the season. USC got absolutely smoked in this match-up with the Trojans unable to get anything going offensively as they totaled 194 yards of total offense and went 4-of-18 on third down. USC opened the game with a field goal to take a 3-0 lead and Alabama then scored 38 unanswered points. Max Browne got the start at quarterback and later in the year, the Trojans transitioned to Sam Darnold. This USC team ended the year ranked No. 3 in the final AP Poll. Alabama fell to Clemson in the National Championship Game.

2017 VS. No. 3 FLORIDA STATE (Neutral)

Title/Alt Text(Photo: Greg Oyster, 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 24-7

Previous Year’s Record For FSU: 10-3

The 2017 Record For FSU: 7-6 

Note: This game is an example of how losing to Alabama in the season opener can be deflating for a team the rest of the year. This game was pretty competitive until FSU quarterback Deondre Francois sustained a season ending leg injury that essentially ended the game (and season) for the Seminoles. Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the country going into this game and the difference turned out to be the turnover battle and field position as neither team found much consistency on offense. FSU lost the next game on the schedule to N.C. State and the Seminoles went on to finish with a 7-6 record. The loss to Alabama was the start of a downfall for the Seminoles that still has not been resurrected. Alabama went on to win the National Championship. 

2018 VS. LOUISVILLE (Neutral)

Puma PassPuma Pass (Photo: Jody Demling, 247Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 51-14

Previous Year’s Record For Louisville: 8-5

The 2018 Record For Louisville: 2-10

Note: Alabama made Louisville one-dimensional, limiting the Cardinals to just 16 rushing yards on 26 carries. UL quarterback Jawon Pass finished the game with 252 passing yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was an efficient 227 yards with two touchdowns while completing 12-of-16 passes. Alabama’s running backs also combined for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Alabama jumped out to a 34-0 lead and cruised to a comfortable victory. That Louisville team had a disastrous season in which the team quit on coach Bobby Petrino and the program parted ways with him after a 2-8 start. Alabama went on to lose to Clemson in the National Championship Game. 

2019 VS. DUKE (Neutral)

Duke quarterback Quentin Harris (Photo: Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire, Getty)

Score: Alabama win, 42-3

Previous Year’s Record For Duke: 8-5

The 2019 Record For Duke: 5-7

Note: This was an easy victory for Alabama as the Crimson Tide allowed a field goal just before halftime and that was it. Tua Tagovailoa threw for 336 yards with four touchdowns in the game while Duke quarterback Quentin Harris was limited to 97 passing yards and two interceptions. The 42 points that Alabama scored against Duke in that game sounds like a lot, but the Crimson Tide scored more than that in eight games the rest of the season.  


(Photo: Kent Gidley, USA TODAY Sports)

Score: Alabama win, 38-19

Previous Year’s Record For Missouri: 6-6

The 2020 Record For Missouri: 5-5 

Note: The 2020 Alabama team was hungry and their path to a National Championship started against Missouri. This has been the only true away game Alabama has played to open a season during the Nick Saban era. The victory was comfortable, but the 19 point margin was better than the average margin of victory (+29) Alabama tallied during the course of the entire season. During the regular season, only Ole Miss played Alabama closer than Missouri. Alabama jumped on Missouri early to build a 35-3 lead before the Targets clawed their way back to make the final score more respectable. 


(Photo: Cheez-It Bowl media)

From a mentality and mindset point of view, opening the season against Alabama is a tough balancing act. 

In order to compete against Alabama, a team can’t let the aura and intimidation of the Crimson Tide set in before the ball is kicked. When that happens, the game has been lost before it has even started. 

On the other side of the coin, a team can’t let a loss (and potentially a lop-sided loss) to Alabama ruin the rest of the season. There are still 11 to 12 games to be played and if you want to lose any game, falling to Alabama to open a season is understandable. 

Here are some interesting takeaways from looking at Alabama’s performances in season openers during the Nick Saban era…

– Alabama is undefeated (14-0) in season openers under Nick Saban. 

– All of Alabama’s victories have been by a double-digit margin.

– The average margin of victory by Alabama in season openers is 29 points.

– The average margin of victory by Alabama in season openers against Power Five opponents is 25 points. 

– The average margin of victory by Alabama in season openers against ranked opponents is 23 points. 

– Six opponents were ranked in the season opening match-up against Alabama. Three of those opponents finished the season ranked. 

– Six teams that faced Alabama over the past 13 years went on to have either the same or better win total that season than the year before. 

– Against the Power Five opponents, Alabama’s defense does a tremendous job of making offenses one dimensional. In these match-ups, the Crimson Tide have yet to allow an opposing team feature a 200-yard passer AND a 50-yard rusher in the same game…that’s insane. 

Alabama has been straight up dominant in season openers during the Nick Saban era. Just based on the history, keeping the game within a double-digit margin would be encouraging. 

How far has Miami come in the third year of the Manny Diaz era? We will find out with the performance against Alabama in the season opener—and how the Hurricanes respond from the result. 

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