December 7, 2022

Even by the seldom-threatened requirements of Alabama’s dynasty, September shouldn’t be historically a difficult month for the Crimson Tide. Since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Bama has averaged a 29-point margin of victory within the month of September and misplaced simply three video games in 61 tries.1 No Soccer Bowl Subdivision group has misplaced much less usually than Alabama within the first full month of the faculty soccer calendar over that stretch. For context, archrival Auburn, a program with a nationwide championship and a number of double-digit-win seasons to its credit score since Saban’s arrival, has misplaced 5 September video games up to now seven seasons.

So it was a shock, then, to see 21.5-point favourite Alabama on Saturday require a nine-play, 61-yard scoring drive within the ultimate 90 seconds of the fourth quarter to eke out a 1-point win over the unranked Texas Longhorns. The bizarrely undisciplined effort, wherein the Tide set a single-game document for whole penalties beneath Saban, marked the primary time in 15 years that Alabama had been pushed to a one-score final result by an unranked non-conference opponent,2 and instantly fueled hypothesis that the Tide won’t be fairly as dominant as all of us anticipated.

Is that truthful, although?

Corners of the web collectively shuddered on the considered what Alabama’s subsequent apply would possibly entail as Saban, a person obsessive about the eradication of complacency, places his group via its paces after an early season scare. However nail-biters within the opening weeks off a season haven’t been unusual for playoff contenders in recent times. Twenty of the Faculty Soccer Playoff’s 32 bids have been secured by groups that received at the least certainly one of their first 4 video games by 8 factors or fewer.3 And three of the previous 4 nationwide champions — and each of final 12 months’s nationwide title individuals — skilled a one-score final result earlier than the fourth week of the season.

Early nail-biters aren’t uncommon for future champs

Scoring margins and variety of video games determined by one possession* for eventual faculty soccer nationwide champions’ first three video games, 2010-2021

Season Champion Common PPG margin Video games determined by 1 poss.
2021 Georgia 27.7 1
2020 Alabama 20.7 0
2019 LSU 36.7 1
2018 Clemson 24.7 1
2017 Alabama 22.0 0
2016 Clemson 23.7 2
2015 Alabama 13.0 1
2014 Ohio State 23.0 0
2013 Florida State 43.7 0
2012 Alabama 38.0 0
2011 Alabama 32.7 0
2010 Auburn 10.7 2

*With a successful margin of 8 factors or fewer.

Supply: ESPN Stats & Info Group

In different phrases, not all future champions sail via the early schedule and not using a care on the planet. However does an early check sign {that a} given group is much less prone to fulfill its championship aspirations? To search out out, we regarded on the first three video games (primarily, the primary quarter of the season) for every preseason top-five group within the AP Ballot since 2005.4 We then broke them into two teams — ones who had early season scares and ones who didn’t — and in contrast the groups’ end-of-season win percentages and whole effectivity scores to see if people who skilled extra early adversity carried out worse over the remainder of the season. 

An early scare may be a pink flag for a contender

Distinction in rest-of-season successful share, PPG margin and effectivity scores for preseason AP top-five groups that did or didn’t have an early shut recreation, 2005-2021

Crew Sort Win% PPG Diff. Complete Offense Protection Spec. Tms
Had early scare 79.0% +14.9 79.3 72.9 75.3 54.1
No early scare 81.8 +18.0 85.3 80.9 77.7 54.5
Distinction -2.7 -3.1 -5.9 -8.0 -2.3 -0.3

Early shut video games have been outlined as being determined by 8 factors or fewer in a group’s first three video games of a season. Statistically vital variations are in daring.

Supply: ESPN Stats & Info Group

Admittedly, lots of the train offers with the extent of competitors confronted.5 However the information means that groups that have early season nail-biters do fare worse than people who keep away from them, as the common group that experiences a one-score final result is worse off in successful share, points-per-game margin and whole effectivity over the rest of the season.

That doesn’t imply Alabama is doomed, nevertheless. Whereas some era-defining groups from faculty soccer historical past went via whole seasons with nary a problem — Tom Osborne’s 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers (38.7-point common margin of victory), Larry Coker’s 2001 Miami Hurricanes (32.9) and Ed Orgeron’s 2019 LSU Tigers (26.5) come to thoughts — these groups are few and much between. Many extra championship-level groups went via a bump alongside the way in which to the nationwide title recreation. 

For Alabama, a near-loss at Texas would possibly later be remembered because the spark of a dominant closing stretch to solidify Saban’s record-setting eighth nationwide title. In reality, the Tide can take consolation in what occurred the final time the group misplaced early on, in 2015 in opposition to then-No. 15 Mississippi. In a recreation that included two fumbled kickoff returns by Alabama and a slapstick 66-yard landing move by Rebels QB Chad Kelly, a late Tide comeback wasn’t sufficient to keep away from an eventual 43-37 defeat. Just a few months later, they rebounded to win the sixteenth nationwide championship in program historical past. If that sort of ending is feasible, possibly a detailed win at Texas isn’t actually trigger for concern in any respect.

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