It’s December 2011. Thanks to Iowa State’s late November upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, Alabama, 11-1 and runner-up in the SEC West, has been granted a second shot at No. 1 LSU in the BCS National Championship, to be played in New Orleans the following month. A month prior, the Tigers had come to Tuscaloosa and beaten Alabama, 9-6 in overtime. Nick Saban did not intend on letting that happen again.
So, with a month to prepare for his second chance with LSU, Saban did something that, depending on your viewpoint, fell somewhere on the spectrum from “genius” to “underhanded.” He brought in Gary Crowton, fresh out of a job as Maryland’s offensive coordinator, for a job interview that wasn’t really a job interview. Before his one-season stint at Maryland, Crowton was LSU’s offensive coordinator from 2007-10. Crowton didn’t get the job, but Saban got to pick the brain of one of the most educated subjects on his next opponent’s attack.
“I don’t know if he was interviewing me or trying to get information on LSU,” Crowton told Sports Illustrated.
Whatever information Saban did or did not glean from Crowton, it worked. LSU didn’t cross midfield as Alabama rolled 21-0, handing Saban his second of five (and counting) national championships in crimson.
Fast forward to August 1 of this year, and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is at a pre-season luncheon in Baton Rouge. Before the gathering of purple-and-gold Tiger faithful, Orgeron revealed a juicy tidbit of information.
“After we played our enemy a couple of states over, one of my friends was on that staff, and he sent me their scouting report,” Oregon said, via the Baton Rouge Advertiser.
Alabama had won that game, 24-10, and the proof that Alabama had scouted LSU was not revelatory — every team scouts its opponents, from high school on up — but the depth to which Saban had unleashed his army of scouts astonished Orgeron.
“To see the detail in which they had scouted us, and they had worked on us for a year, and to see the things that they had on us, I felt like I wasn’t giving our team a fair chance to compete,” Orgeron said.
Of course, there is a backstory here. LSU isn’t just Alabama’s co-chief competition (next to Auburn) in the SEC West, it’s personal for Saban, who was LSU’s head coach from 2000-04 and created the monster he now battles today. Saban is 9-3 against LSU as Alabama’s head coach — 2-3 up through that 9-6 Game of the Century loss in 2011, and 7-0 since.
Orgeron’s job security rests on his ability to close the gap between LSU and Alabama. To that end, Orgeron used his copy of Alabama’s LSU scouting report to beef the Tigers’ roster of analysts up to Alabama levels. Orgeron now has 11 full-time analysts, to Saban’s 13.
But that’s the thing about competing with Nick Saban. As soon as you think you’ve caught up with him, you learn he’s another five miles down the road. While LSU spent its offseason hiring analysts to study Alabama inside and out, Saban was developing his latest super-weapon in the form of sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — whose his 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions have piloted an offense that averages 54.1 points per game — making the 2018 Crimson Tide outfit perhaps Saban’s most unbeatable team ever.