By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
It’s not like Nick Saban’s former assistants-turned-head coaches haven’t heard all the numbers before.
They’ve taken 19 shots at No. 2 Alabama’s head coach and their onetime boss, and still have a goose egg. Next up Saturday: No. 13 Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban underling at LSU who has tried and failed to beat him three times.
Then it’s Lane Kiffin, Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt. Four straight games where current head coaches try to finally get over the hump against their former boss.
“It’s obviously challenging for me because you like to see your team play well against people that you know, but I’m sure that they all feel the same way about that as well,” the Alabama coach said.
A 19-0 record indicates it hasn’t been too big of a challenge, but upcoming games against the Aggies, Mississippi, No. 4 Georgia and No. 21 Tennessee present a formidable gauntlet.
The Aggies did struggle to a 17-12 opening win over Vanderbilt, largely because of three lost fumbles including a pair by veteran quarterback Kellen Mond. Alabama rolled to a more comfortable 38-19 win at Missouri.
The Tide has won the last seven meetings with the Aggies and is a 16-1/2-point favorite this time. But Fisher doesn’t expect his team to back down from the challenge.
“Our guys will definitely be up to the challenge,” he said. “They’ll compete and play their tails off. I feel that 100 percent. I love our guys.
“We had a good camp. We have to play better than we did last week, but at the same time, those things happen.”
He knows they can’t happen often against Alabama.
Alabama didn’t struggle like Texas A&M in the opener but did fizzle some on both sides of the ball in the second half. Asked for takeaways on the game, Saban cited Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State.
“Their players probably responded a little bit better, because they have negative consequences,” the Alabama coach said. “Our players — the worst thing you can do is play poorly and win, and we played poorly in the second half and I don’t think anybody’s immune from that.”
Alabama’s No. 2 ranking marks the 200th consecutive week the Tide has been ranked, easily the longest active streak in college football, ahead of Clemson (89). … The Tide has won 18 straight home openers and is 13-0 under Saban, whose personal winning streak in home debuts is at 19 games.
Alabama is set to play its first game at Bryant-Denny Stadium since extensive renovations that cost more than $100 million, albeit with likely fewer than 20,000 fans to enjoy the accommodations because of COVID-19. The changes include new video boards, luxury boxes, press box and team locker room.
“I really do think it’s absolutely first-class and as nice a facility and stadium to play in as anybody’s in the country,” Saban said. “And we’re glad to have that.”
Sure, Alabama has been hard to beat at home over the years. But that’s often with 100,000-plus fans creating a hostile environment. The Aggies won’t have to contend with that this time.
“A place like Alabama with a lot of fans, it reminds me a lot of Texas A&M, but it’s not better than Texas A&M,” Aggies defensive tackle Jayden Peevy said. “Not that many fans, it’s going to be a blessing for us.”
Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller made the most of his eight carries against Vanderbilt, gaining 117 yards. But Spiller also remembers struggling against Alabama last season. He produced just 27 yards on 10 carries and his strongest memory was a second quarter fumble.
“I felt like I really didn’t do well that game, but I’d like to change that this year,” Spiller said.