TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When the University of Alabama football team holds its home opener on Sept. 9, it will be the first time the Crimson Tide has faced Fresno State.
There aren’t too many connections between the schools. Nick Saban and former Fresno State coach Pat Hill were assistant coaches together with the Cleveland Browns from 1992-94 under Bill Belichick. Saban hired Jim McElwain away from there, and former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin played quarterback for the Bulldogs.
Most of the programs in the Bowl Subdivision that Alabama hasn’t faced hail from the Group of 5 conferences, especially from the western half of the continental Unites States as it makes little sense for one of the teams to travel so far. For example, it didn’t play Colorado State until McElwain became the Rams’ head coach.
However, a few stand out.
With honorable mentions to Miami (Ohio), Wake Forest, San Diego State, Virginia, Indiana, Kansas, Oregon State and Boise State, here are 10 programs we’d like to see Alabama play for the first time.
10. Air Force
The Falcons might play in the Mountain West, but sadly Alabama doesn’t have much of a history against the military schools. For example, the Crimson Tide have only played Army once, a 29-28 victory at the 1988 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
New Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne has set up a home-and-home in men’s basketball with his former school. However, the chances if doing so in football seem slim at best as Rich Rodriguez probably isn’t too interested in getting a close-up look at the program he turned down before Saban was hired.
Who wouldn’t want to go to a neutral-site opener in Soldier Field? Better yet, how about Wrigley Field? When Northwestern and Illinois played there in 2010 it was the first football game at Wrigley Field since 1970, and the first college game since 1938.
7. Kansas State
The chances of this happening with Bill Snyder at the helm for the Wildcats aren’t good, unless they meet in a playoff or major bowl. Stranger things have happened.
Saban actually has a losing record against the Boilermakers from his days at Michigan State, primarily because of a quarterback named Dree Brees. It would take a home-and-home to even things up for the coach, but with a capacity of 57,236 and located in an area that isn’t rich in recruits, Ross-Ade Stadium isn’t enough of a destination venue for the Crimson Tide.
5. Arizona State
Alabama got a taste of why the Fiesta Bowl is such a popular postseason destination when the Crimson Tide played for the 2015 national championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. It’s a long way to go for a game, even if a championship is on the line.
Believe it or not, Pitt and Alabama have never played. The Crimson Tide have faced Penn State 15 times and Penn even once (in 1922), but not the Panthers. It seems long overdue.
Saban’s final game with LSU probably still stings. Iowa won the Capital One Bowl, 30–25, when quarterback Drew Tate connect with wide receiver Warren Holloway for a 56-yard touchdown as time expired. Then again, Iowa probably isn’t interested in a rematch.
Did you know that Saban coached Navy’s defensive backs during the 1982 season? He left to be the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. Gary Tranquill’s first year leading the Midshipmen resulted in a 6-5 record, but they did beat rival Army, 24-7.
The programs finally appeared to be on a collision course during the inaugural College Football Playoff following the 2014 season, when both made the field of four. However, while Oregon defeated Florida State at the Rose Bowl, 59-20, Alabama was stunned by Ohio State at the Sugar Bowl. The fourth-seeded Buckeyes went on to win the title.