The 25 Most Humiliating Defeats of Nick Saban’s Coaching Career

Nick Saban has lost a lot of football games in his coaching career, dating back to his graduate assistant days at Kent State. Below, we count down Nick Saban’s 25 most humiliating losses.

(Did we forget a humiliating defeat or is our ranking out of whack? Let us know by posting a comment below!)

#25: Nick Saban Tastes Defeat for First Time

Louisville 34 – Kent State 0
September 16, 1972 · Cardinal Stadium · Louisville, KY

Although only a graduate assistant at the time, Nick Saban was certainly instrumental in this loss. Legend has it that he spilled his Gatorade-flavored wine cooler on head coach Don James’ playcard just prior to kickoff, effectively nullifying the entire week’s game-planning. The result? Not a single point scored by the Golden Flashes on that day.

#24: Something Bruin in Columbus

#11 UCLA 17 – #2 Ohio State 0
October 4, 1980 · Ohio Stadium · Columbus, OH

As a DB coach for the 1980 Ohio State football team, Nick Saban was on the Buckeyes sideline when UCLA came in and shut out the second-ranked home team, 17-0.

#23: Pounded in the…

#23 Penn State 51 – Michigan State 28
November 28, 1998 · Beaver Stadium · University Park, PA

With the Land Grant Trophy at stake, Nick Saban’s Spartans failed to get much of anything going in a 51-28 defeat at the hands of Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and sex offender Jerry Sandusky, giving up over 50 points to the Lions in the process.

#22: Wildcat Romp

Northwestern 24 – Michigan State 21
November 15, 1986 · Ryan Field · Evanston, IL

Defensive coordinator Nick Saban may not have been 100% responsible for this loss, but we can assume he was at least somewhat instrumental in the loss to the lowly Northwestern Wildcats, who entered the game 0-6 in Big Ten play.

#21: Wildcat Romp, Part Deux

Northwestern 19 – #11 Michigan State 17
October 18, 1997 · Ryan Field · Evanston, IL

Eleven years after Saban’s first taste of defeat against Northwestern, it happened again, an unthinkable loss in Evanston. This time, the Saban was the head coach and the Spartans entered the game ranked 11th in the country riding a 5-0 record. Northwestern (2-5 entering the game) blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game to secure the win for the Wildcats.

#20: Sparty Boiled

#20 Purdue 52 – #5 Michigan State 28
October 16, 1999 · Ross-Ade Stadium · West Lafayette, IN

That’s right: Nick Saban once gave up 52 points to Purdue. Purdue, for crying out loud! OK, Drew Brees was the Boilermakers’ quarterback in 1999, but still… 509 passing yards and 52 points surrendered by Saban’s defensive unit is indeed humiliating, especially considering that the Spartans entered the game as the fifth-ranked team in the country at 6-0.

#19: Rockets Sunk

Navy 14 – Toledo 10
November 10, 1990 · Glass Bowl · Toledo, OH

In Nick Saban’s only season as Toledo’s head coach, all the Rockets had to do to secure a bowl bid was to defeat Navy at home. Up 10-0 going into the fourth quarter, it seemed like a sure thing. That is, until Navy scored 14 unanswered points. Navy was not exactly a powerhouse in 1990, finishing 5-6 on the year.

#18: Skinned on the Ground

Washington Redskins 42 – Cleveland Browns 17
October 13, 1991 · RFK Memorial Stadium · Washington, DC

In Nick Saban’s first season as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, his squad surrendered 208 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns en route to being trounced by the Washington Redskins, 42-17.

#17: Shut Out by the Browns

Cleveland Browns 22 – Miami Dolphins 0
November 20, 2005 · Cleveland Browns Stadium · Cleveland, OH

In his first season as the Miami Dolphins head coach, Nick Saban’s team was thoroughly beat by the Cleveland Browns, failing to score a single point during the contest. The Browns would go on to finish 6-10 on the season, not exactly a world beater.

#16: Time to Pay Da Bills

Buffalo Bills 21 – Miami Dolphins 0
December 17, 2006 · Ralph Wilson Stadium · Buffalo, NY

In his second year as head coach in the NFL, Saban’s Dolphins were once again shut out by a middling team, this time the Buffalo Bills, who finished the year third place out of four teams in the AFC East. (You guessed it: Nick Saban’s Dolphins finished fourth!)

#15: Trouble in Paradise

Washington 51 – Michigan State 23
December 25, 1997 · Aloha Bowl, Aloha Stadium · Honolulu, HI

Down 38-17 in the third quarter of the Aloha Bowl, Michigan State was prepared to receive a punt that never came. Instead, Washington caught Nick Saban completely unprepared for a fake punt that went 64 yards for a touchdown. That effectively ended any chance that the Spartans had of making this a competitive game.

#14: Cornhusked Once Again

#1 Nebraska 55 – Michigan State 14
September 7, 1996 · Memorial Stadium · Lincoln, NE

For the second time in as many years (see #8 below), Nick Saban’s team got trounced by Nebraska, this time by a 41-point margin. (Arizona State managed to shut out Nebraska just two weeks later.)

#13: 17-Game Winning Streak Snapped

Minnesota 19 – Michigan State 18
October 24, 1998 · Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome · Minneapolis, MN

Minnesota had lost 17 consecutive games to Michigan State, until Adam Bailey nailed a 37-yard field goal against Nick Saban’s Michigan State squad with just seconds remaining in the game.

#12: A Bit Too Cocky

#19 South Carolina 35 – #1 Alabama 21
October 9, 2010 · Williams-Brice Stadium · Columbia, SC

Riding high as the #1 team in the nation, the Crimson Tide were summarily pounded by South Carolina to end their hopes of a national championship in 2010.

#11: Gator Bait in the Swamp

#12 Florida 41 – LSU 9
October 7, 2000 · Ben Hill Griffin Stadium · Gainesville, FL

In a clear sign of a poorly-coached football team, Nick Saban’s LSU squad turned the ball over four times en route to being humiliated by Florida, 41-9.

#10: Tigers Rolled

#10 Alabama 31 – #14 LSU 0
November 16, 2002 · Tiger Stadium · Baton Rouge, LA

Nick Saban’s future team got the better of him, shutting out his LSU Tigers, 31 to zip. The defeat marked the first time LSU had been shut out since 1996.

#9: Hawkeye Hail Mary Dooms LSU in Saban’s Finale

#13 Iowa 30 – #11 LSU 25
January 1, 2005 · Capital One Bowl, Citrus Bowl · Orlando, FL

In Nick Saban’s last game as a college football coach (or so he must have thought!) before ducking out of Baton Rouge for the Miami Dolphins job, his LSU Tigers were upset by Iowa, 30-25, in the 2005 Capital One Bowl on a 56-yard Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play. Thus, LSU became the first defending BCS national champion to lose a non-BCS bowl game in the following season.

#8: Welcome the New Head Coach!

#2 Nebraska 50 – Michigan State 10
September 9, 1995 · Spartan Stadium · East Lansing, MI

In Nick Saban’s first game as head coach of Michigan State, his Spartan team was thoroughly routed by Nebraska, 50-10, Michigan State’s largest losing margin in 12 years.

#7: Blown Out by Tyrone Willingham

Stanford 38 – Michigan State 0
December 31, 1996 · Sun Bowl, Sun Bowl Stadium · El Paso, TX

Nick Saban’s Michigan State team managed just 68 rushing yards against Tyrone Willingham’s Stanford squad. That’s right: Nick Saban got shut out thirty-eight to zero by Tyrone Willingham. The same Tyrone Willingham who singlehandedly set back the Notre Dame football program 10 years. The same Tyrone Willingham who went 0-12 in his final season of coaching in 2008.

#6: Johnny Football Strikes

#15 Texas A&M 29 – #1 Alabama 24
November 10, 2012 · Bryant-Denny Stadium · Tuscaloosa, AL

Nick Saban’s 2012 national championship winning team was not without a blemish. This loss came at home and at the hands of a freshman quarterback, no less. The Tide started slow, gifting the Aggies a 20-0 lead after the first quarter, and were never able to recover.

#5: The Camback

#2 Auburn 28 – #11 Alabama 27
November 26, 2010 · Bryant-Denny Stadium · Tuscaloosa, AL

Leading 24-0 early in the second quarter and seemingly on his way to a big upset victory over #2 ranked in-state rival Auburn, Nick Saban got Cam Newton’d in the final 40 minutes of the 75th Iron Bowl and became the only coach in the history of Alabama football to blow a 24-point lead. Final score: 28-27 Tigers. Auburn went on to win the SEC Championship and the BCS National Championship, while the Tide settled for an Outback Bowl win over perennial Big Ten also-ran Michigan State.

#4: Utah Pounds Tide in Their Own Backyard

#7 Utah 31 – #4 Alabama 17
January 2, 2009 · Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Superdome · New Orleans, LA

Alabama has seen its fair share of Sugar Bowl losses to the likes of the biggest powers in college football: Texas (1948), Notre Dame (1973), Miami (1990). A 10-point favorite coming into the game, Alabama was spanked up and down the field by the Utah Utes, who jumped out to a 21-0 lead after one quarter, and never looked back in felling the oh-so-mighty Tide.

#3: Sun Belted

Louisiana-Monroe 21 – Alabama 14
November 17, 2007 · Bryant-Denny Stadium · Tuscaloosa, AL

Louisiana-Monroe came into the game 4-6 on the season, a middle-of-the-pack team in a fledgling Sun Belt conference, with a 2-29-1 all-time record against SEC opponents, and a 24-point underdog to the Crimson Tide. They were the 2007 version of the traditional creme pie opponent that Alabama usually schedules the week before the Iron Bowl (which they also lost by the way). The Warhawks walked out of the game world-beaters, handing Nick Saban his most humiliating defeat as coach of the Tide, that is until 2013 (see #1 below).

#2: Blazed

Alabama-Birmingham 13 – LSU 10
September 23, 2000 · Tiger Stadium · Baton Rouge, LA

After trailing 10-0 at halftime to the UAB Blazers, Nick Saban, in his first season as a coach in the SEC, was able to guide his LSU football team back to draw even at 10-10 late in the fourth quarter. Alas, the Blazers kicked a field goal on the game’s final play, making tiger bait out of Saban on homecoming, and giving UAB its first ever win over an SEC opponent.

#1: Kick Bama Kick

#4 Auburn 34 – #1 Alabama 28
November 30, 2013 · Jordan-Hare Stadium · Auburn, AL

This is it, the most humiliating loss in Nick Saban’s coaching career. Despite coming into the contest as a 10.5-point favorite, two horrible coaching decisions by Saban sealed Bama’s fate in the 78th edition of the Iron Bowl. The first: up seven and just five minutes away from clinching a berth in the SEC Championship Game and with national title hopes on the line, Coach Saban turned down a chip shot field goal to go for it on fourth and one. Stuffed. Turnover on downs. Auburn ball. Minutes later, Auburn had tied the game at 28. With half a minute to go, Alabama took possession and drove to the Auburn 40. The second: with one second on the clock, Coach Saban opted to attempt a 57-yard field goal. Mind you, this is the same coach that turned down a 30-yard field goal attempt just minutes earlier. The kick fell short, and Auburn returned it 109 yards for a TD, as Alabama’s kicking unit got caught with their pants down on the coverage. This was the first time in the history of college football that a game ended with a missed field goal return for a touchdown. And of course, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, our pal Nick Saban.

(Did we forget a humiliating defeat or is our ranking out of whack? Let us know by posting a comment below!)

17 thoughts on “The 25 Most Humiliating Defeats of Nick Saban’s Coaching Career

  1. The Camback should be #1 I believe. A blown 24 point lead, at home, crowd in a frenzy, and the chance to squash Cam’s chance at heisman. 57 yard field goal was ignorant and he was outcoached all game but Malzahn outcoached him double-time in one half of football in 2010.

  2. Hey tombaka,

    Thanks for your feedback. Obviously, that Camback game was rather humiliating. As you point out, blowing a 24-point lead at home may indeed be worthy of #1 on this list. But with any list like this, there is a good degree of subjectivity involved. I just hope that I got the list mostly right. Camback is definitely top 10.

    Anyway, I think #5 is a good ranking for it. After all, Auburn was the higher-ranked team coming into that game (even though Bama was favored by 4). In the four games I ranked ahead of The Camback on this list, Saban’s team was a double-digit favorite. So that factored into my decision to put it behind those four.

  3. I think the Oklahoma defeat in the Sugar bowl game last year after losing to Auburn ranks in this list – a poor coaching job to not get his team prepared for an team they should have beaten. They were humiliated by Oklahoma 45-31. It reminds me of #4 when Bama fell to Utah . The teams were not prepared – basically have the same MO = if we can’t win it all, we don’t play.

    1. You cant tell me that Saban is going to send out his Alabama team into a Bowl game ‘unprepared’ in front of millions of people? They lost because Oklahoma outplayed them.

  4. What about 9/1/2002 when a cocky Saban and his LSU Tigers went into Lane Stadium at Blacksburg, VA and got hammered by Virginia Tech 26-8. We sat fairly close to the field behind Saban and we thought he was going to blow a gasket. They were not even a little bit prepared for the game.

  5. Ok maybe my earlier comments were out of line. Hows this, Nick Saban is a great guy lets all wish him the best as he leaves Alabama to coach the Usbeckasthan Aquanots

  6. Need an update here – I’d say the loss to Ohio State belongs here, after being up 15 and having OSU drop 42 points on your D.

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