Alabama’s Nick Saban and Middle Tennessee State’s Rick Stockstill have been running football programs just 250 miles down the road from each other for the past eight years. But Saturday afternoon’s matchup (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network) will be the first time they square off as head coaches.
If the game is anything like their first battle, fans will get their money’s worth at Bryant-Denny.
Back in 1981, Saban was in his second year coaching defensive backs at Ohio State, and the No. 7 Buckeyes were 3-0 with Bobby Bowden’s unranked Florida State team coming to town.
Stockstill was the Seminoles’ starting quarterback, and he lit into Saban’s back four. Down 21-17 with 8:25 left in the second quarter, he lofted a 13-yard touchdown pass, and then added a seven-yard TD to begin the third.
Later in the quarter, Stockstill led a 99-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run for Ricky Williams. Florida State went up 15, and held on for a 36-27 upset win at the Horseshoe.
The Seminoles’ senior quarterback finished 25-of-41 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He went on to earn honorable mention All-American honors that year.
Ohio State fell under a temporary “Stockstill Curse,” failing to re-enter the Top 10 until 1983. Saban skipped town after the ‘81 season to take a defensive assistant job at Navy.
More than three decades later, they will meet in Tuscaloosa.
Saban made headlines earlier this week after blowing up on a reporter who asked about creating a “game within a game” against MTSU.
“Here’s the one thing that everybody’s got to keep in mind: Everybody’s got good football players, and everybody needs to respect the opponent,” Saban said (via AL.com video). “I don’t care if we’re favored in a game or not favored in a game … We respect who we’re playing, and I suggest everybody else does, too.”
Several Las Vegas oddsmakers say Alabama is favored to win Saturday’s game by five touchdowns or more.