For the fourth-consecutive season, the College Football Playoff Final will exclusively include teams from the ACC and SEC. The MAC is one of five conferences yet to be represented on college football’s grandest stage, but the conference has plenty of ties to Monday night’s high-stakes clash.
Former Kent State defensive back Nick Saban has led Alabama to a 14-0 record entering the game, pursuing the first 15-0 record in FBS history. The 1970s Golden Flashes standout turned head coach has maintained a No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll throughout the entire 2018 season. Alabama’s offense, anchored by former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos, has dominated all challengers, winning each contest by double-digits with an average scoring differential above 30 points.
For the fourth time in four seasons, Saban’s Crimson Tide will run into perennial powerhouse Clemson in the College Football Playoff. Heading into Act IV, Saban — the only head coach with multiple CFP titles — is 2-1 against Dabo Swinney and the Tigers.
Saban played defensive back at Kent State from 1970-72, selecting to enroll at the university over fellow MAC school Miami (Ohio). During Saban’s time with the Golden Flashes, they earned a berth to the 1972 Tangerine Bowl — one of two bowl appearances in the program’s Division I FBS history (2012 GoDaddy Bowl). The 1972 season is also significant because it is the lone year in Kent State’s long history which resulted in a conference title. Upon graduating, Saban landed a job at Kent State as a graduate assistant from 1973-74 before moving to a role as a linebackers coach from 1975-76.
The longtime head coach has yet to return to his alma mater after a 32-year absence, but Saban briefly returned to the MAC to coach Toledo for one season in 1990. In one highly successful season with the Rockets, Saban garnered a 9-2 record despite not receiving a bowl invite. However, he won his second-career MAC title (and first as a coach) in Toledo before bolting the campus for the professional ranks. Following his 11-game tenure, he moved in-state to serve as the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator for the following four seasons.
Saban never brought a national title to his alma mater nor one to Toledo’s campus, but the 67-year old head coach has achieved the pinnacle success in the SEC. He captained LSU to a national championship in 2003 before winning five titles at Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017).
Saban’s Alabama has never lost to a team from the MAC, but just four years before his arrival, the Crimson Tide fell to Northern Illinois, 19-16 — the team’s only loss to a current MAC member in history. Alabama is the only 2018 CFP finalist to have lost to a current MAC program, but Clemson fell to former conference affiliate Marshall in 1999.
The former Kent State defensive back/former Toledo head coach looks to repeat as CFP champions at 8:00 p.m. ET, taking on the undefeated No. 2 Clemson Tigers in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.