Alabama vs. Texas: Nick Saban resurrected Steve Sarkisian’s career

Alabama vs. Texas: Nick Saban resurrected Steve Sarkisian’s career

National Pregame: A year ago, Sarkisian’s Longhorns nearly toppled Saban’s Crimson Tide. Sarkisian gets another shot at beating Saban at 6 p.m. Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 8, 2023, 9:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 8, 2023, 9:00am CDT

Steve Sarkisian is head coach of the University of Texas. He can thank Nick Saban for that lofty position.

Sark is an offensive mastermind, we most all agree, but his career was in tatters after he was fired as head coach at Southern Cal while struggling with alcoholism.

Saban long has been running a halfway house at Alabama for coaches whose careers are in distress. Saban brought Sarkisian to Tuscaloosa in 2015 as an offensive analyst, made him offensive coordinator at the end of that season and brought Sark back in 2019 as offensive coordinator after his two-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Alabama-Texas game leads off our weekly National Pregame package.

A year ago, in his second Texas game, Sarkisian’s Longhorns nearly toppled Saban’s Crimson Tide, before a last-play field goal gave Bama a 20-19 victory in Austin. And Saturday, Sarkisian gets another shot at beating Saban. Alabama hosts Texas at 6 p.m. in Tuscaloosa.

“I like giving people second chances,” Saban said this week.

Most of Saban’s reclamation projects have been fired coaches. Butch Jones, Mike Stoops, Charlie Strong, Mike Locksley. Many more. But Sarkisian wasn’t fired for failure to produce. He was fired by USC over personal issues.

“I think that their willingness to do the right things and whatever their mistakes were, they’re trying to fix it and look for an opportunity,” Saban said. “Geez, when Sark was here the first time, he did such a good job, there was no question about the fact that we’d love to have him back a second time. He represented the program well, he’s first class in every way, so I was glad I gave him a second chance.”

Sarkisian was offensive coordinator on Alabama’s 2020 national title team. A year later, Texas fired head coach Tom Herman for the sole purpose of giving the job to Sarkisian.

Sark’s first ‘Horn team went 8-5. Hopes are higher in 2023, starting with Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

“I think Sark is one of the best coaches we’ve ever been around when it comes to offense,” Saban said. “He’s got a great disposition with players, he’s a great teacher. He’s got a great understanding of the game, really understands defense and how to attack defenses.

“Sark did a great job here for us. He’s doing a great job in Texas and it’s gonna be a very challenging game.”

If Texas indeed knocks off the Crimson Tide, Saban has only himself to blame.

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher (Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports)

Coach on the hot seat: Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher is paid a lot of money to coach Texas A&M — $9.15 million this year, and Fisher’s contract has nine years remaining, worth about $85 million total.

If the Aggies fire FIsher before New Year’s Day, he is owed $76.85 million. And don’t dare A&M not to do it.

The Aggies’ 5-7 record last season exasperated a fan base that wants to win big and wants to make sure the hated Longhorns don’t pass A&M on the food chain when Texas joins the Southeastern Conference next season.

Fisher is 40-21 over five-plus seasons in College Station. That’s a winning percentage of .656 that frankly is about the standard in Aggieland.

Fisher’s predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, had a winning percentage of .662. Jackie Sherrill won at a .648 clip. Emory Bellard was at .640. Bear Freakin’ Bryant was at .634.

R.C. Slocum, whose teams cleaned up in the dying days of the Southwest Conference, is the Cadillac of Aggie coaches, at .721. Others won less – Dennis Franchione .525, Tom Wilson .525, Mike Sherman .500.

So A&M isn’t a place of historic runaway success. It just pays like it is.

And a losing record is not acceptable. Saturday, the Aggies play at Miami, a team A&M beat 17-9 last season. Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal has problems of his own (the U. was 5-7 itself in Cristobal’s maiden season as the ‘Cane head coach).

But a Fisher loss in Miami Gardens would raise all kinds of consternation in College Station. The Aggies have only three road games the rest of the season, but they are at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Louisiana State. Plus Alabama and assorted SEC earthlings come to Kyle Field.

That buyout looks ominous for Aggies who will want Fisher gone if A&M has another horrid season. But this is Texas A&M, a school with more money than sense. A university crazy enough to give Fisher that kind of buyout is crazy enough to buy him out.

Upset special: Washington State over Wisconsin

Oregon State is getting a lot of run as a potential ultimate Cinderella — a contender in the Pac-12, a league that literally is disintegrating after this season, because 10 of the 12 members have bolted for other conferences starting next season.

Fewer people remember that Washington State also is part of the Pac-2. Oregon State and Washington State are expected to join the Mountain West Conference next season, though nothing certain yet.

But it’s not just Oregon State capable of making Pacific waves.

Washington State has been a solid program since the late Mike Leach got things going in 2015. WSU is 59-37 since the start of 2015.

A year ago, the Cougars went to Wisconsin and upset the Badgers 17-14.

Now Wisconsin makes the return trip, and while Pullman, Washington, is no Madison, Wisconsin, and Martin Stadium is no Camp Randall, it’s not easy to win at Washington State.

WSU lost three home games last season, but among those defeats were Oregon (44-41) and Utah (21-17).

Wisconsin looked OK against Buffalo last week in Luke Fickell’s coaching debut, but Washington State has a solid program and is playing for Pac-2 pride. Let’s go with the Cougars in the upset.

Top Ten Games

Ranking the top 10 games in college football this week:

  1. Texas at Alabama, 6 p.m., ESPN: Rats. If OU-Georgia had been scheduled a year earlier, that series could have been completed, like this Texas-Alabama series of 2022 and 2023. But OU-Georgia was set to be played in 2023 and 2031, which meant it would be a conference game in ‘31. Not doable.
  2. Notre Dame at North Carolina State, 11 a.m., ABC: The battle of transfer quarterbacks with long histories in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman has been superb, after coming over from Wake Forest, where he was a four-year starter. The Wolfpack counter with Brennan Armstrong, in his first season after being a three-year starter at Virginia.
  3. Nebraska at Colorado, 11 a.m. Fox: The Deion Sanders Train is a runaway express. Colorado-Nebraska matters again for the first time in 20 years. And if Deion’s Buffaloes beat the Cornhuskers, the bandwagon is going to get only more crowded.
  4. Wisconsin at Washington State, 6:30 p.m. ABC: It’s going to be more difficult to attract name brands to Pullman, with Washington State out of the Pac-12. Under contract for future non-conference games are Kansas State, Kansas and Mississippi State.
  5. Ole Miss at Tulane, 2:30 p.m. ESPN2: The Green Wave has become a mid-major power, with a Cotton Bowl victory over Southern Cal, and this is the first SEC team to play at Tulane since Ole Miss in 2010. OU, of course, would have been there in 2021 if not for a game moved because of Hurricane Ida.
  6. Texas A&M at Miami, 2:30 p.m. ABC: Win this game, and the Hurricanes should be 5-0 when going to North Carolina in October.
  7. Oregon at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. Fox: Tech’s hype was built off an 8-5 season, which was built off three overtime wins. That kind of fortune isn’t sustainable, and the Red Raiders lost in overtime at Wyoming last week.
  8. Central Florida at Boise State, 6 p.m. FS1: Wonder if Boise State can motivate its players by pointing out that UCF got the Big 12 slot that the Broncos thought worthy of themselves.
  9. Appalachian State at North Carolina, 4:15 p.m., ACC Network: The Mountaineers have made a name for themselves with occasional upsets – Texas A&M in 2022, North Carolina in 2019.
  10. UCLA at San Diego State, 6:30 p.m. CBS: Underrated game. This is the Bruins’ stiffest non-conference test, and an Aztec upset would pin San Diego State as a Fiesta Bowl contender.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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