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Clemson keeps rolling, Saban outlasts Kiffin in college football’s wild Week 6

We’re trained to root for the hero in stories because we all want to believe we’re the good guy, too. But if we’re being honest, the villains make a story fun. Superman has the powers, but Lex Luthor has the personality.

And so it is with Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin, the stoic hero (Saban) pitted against his former protégé turned diabolical usurper (Kiffin). Marvel has nothing on this story.

In a year in which movie theaters went dark, Alabama and Ole Miss gave us our blockbuster. The Tide won 63-48 on Saturday, and the two teams piled up an SEC-record for yardage. A nation on the edge of its seat wondered if Kiffin had somehow accumulated a fistful of infinity stones this offseason.

There were other stories Saturday, of course, with their own heroes and villains. At Clemson, a ferocious defense reminded Miami that being back on top also requires having at least one receiver who can get open. Miami’s Keontra Smith also delivered a nasty hit on Trevor Lawrence that resulted in a targeting flag and forced the Clemson QB to the sideline. Limited attendance made it easy to hear what the socially distanced Clemson fans thought of the play, too. Lawrence returned and teamed with Travis Etienne to lay waste to yet another would-be ACC contender in a 42-17 win.

Etienne and Clemson dominated Miami and proved they’re still the team to beat in the ACC. Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson’s win — as messy as it was at times — including Dabo Swinney’s unfortunate decision to try to kick a 61-yard field goal at the end of the first half — offered a sense of normalcy on a day that had plenty of other drama.

At LSU, Bo Pelini’s defense imploded again, with Ed Orgeron furious about a performance so embarrassing that Nebraska called to ask if it could fire Pelini again. In College Station, Jimbo Fisher finally got his signature win, $75 million well spent. At Georgia, there was Stetson Bennett — definitely the name of a superhero alter ego — leading the Bulldogs to another big win over Tennessee and assuming firm command of the SEC East. Mike Leach’s Air Raid amounted to two points, and he said after the game that some players might need to walk the plank.

But those were all sideshows.

In Oxford, Mississippi, we watched the best kind of drama.

Aside from Saban and Kiffin, there were plenty of other plot points worth following. Mac Jones continued to prove he is a worthy successor to Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama defense showed signs that it is a long way from its glory days. Ole Miss looked, again, like a team that’s going to hit the over in Las Vegas on a weekly basis. But the backdrop for it all was an X’s-and-O’s battle — and maybe a little subterfuge, too — between two coaches with a shared history and a completely divergent approach to the job.

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Earlier this

Lane Kiffin on College Gameday Talking Nick Saban, Ole Miss and More

“I don’t know, maybe like an ex. There’s some good and some bad.”

The Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban Dynamic is so fascinating. 

As the Ole Miss Rebels take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, it’ll be the first on-field meeting between Kiffin and Saban since the now-Rebel coach was the Alabama offensive coordinator from 2014 to 2016.

Ahead of the matchup in Oxford on Saturday night, Kiffin sat down with the ESPN College Gameday team for a really good feature story on the relationship between the two coaches and his first year at Ole Miss. 

You can watch the full feature story here.

More on Ole Miss vs. Alabama:

Alabama vs. Ole Miss: How to Watch Saturday’s Matchup

Opinion: Bizarre, Hurricane Filled Randomness Benefits Ole Miss against Alabama

How Lane Kiffin Helped Nick Saban Embrace Modern Offensive Philosophy

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Nick Saban, Lane Kiffin and the Best, Strangest Relationship in College Football | Bleacher Report

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin stand next to each other before an NCAA college football game against Louisiana Monroe in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin are incredibly different people. Yet college football brought them together, continued a dynasty and split them in bizarre fashion.

The sport is better because of it. Professionally, so are Saban and Kiffin. In their three seasons together, Alabama posted a 40-4 record with a national title, three SEC championships and a Heisman winner while Kiffin modernized the offense as the coordinator. He left to coach Florida Atlantic after (during?) the 2016 season.

On the other hand, the personal relationship between the former colleagues is a strange mix of conflicting feelings.

There is no perfect word to describe it.

While frivolous, it’s unendingly curious. The public tone is a blend of distaste and appreciation. Now that Kiffin is coaching at Ole Miss in the SEC Westthe same division as Saban and Alabamayearly matchups add a new dynamic.

From an outside perspective, it’s fun! Saban will occasionally rant about something but is mostly measured, guarding himself and his team. Kiffin, conversely, is outspoken and open. That clash of personalities is rare in college football.

Who else could joke about Saban being “elderly” and elicit a response?

But “fun” is probably not entirely accurate.

From a literal sense, Kiffin himself has agreed that particular word isn’t part of the vocabulary at Alabama. When on The Colin Cowherd Show (h/t Mark Heim of AL.com) in April, Kiffin responded to a question about whether he had fun there.

“Yeah, like 14 times a year. Fourteen days a year when we had way better players than everyone else we lined up against. That was fun. That’s not a shot at Nick Saban. He’d say the same thing.”

Fair enough. Outside of this instance, however, Kiffin has taken plenty of troll-worthy shots at Sabana different kind of fun.

In 2017, Saban famously used “rat poison” as a way to describe the positive media coverage of his then-undefeated team. Since then, Kiffin has featured “rat poison” in numerous social media posts, including a few involving Saban himself.

But is Kiffin poking Saban akin to one friend jabbing another? Mean-spirited? Little bit of both? Given that he’s thanked Saban in a very public, genuine way, it feels like relatively harmless jabsmore of Kiffin living up to his personality and knowing Saban will rarely respond.

Besides, the rehab of Kiffin’s reputation is a product of his time in Tuscaloosa. He has acknowledged as much.

Before his first year at FAU, Kiffin told reporters he’s better prepared to run a program after learning from Saban and grateful for the experience. When leaving FAU for Ole Miss, Kiffin said he wouldn’t be here without Saban.

Saban reiterated his appreciation for Kiffin’s impact and football

Tennessee and Miami aim for a return to glory, Saban faces Kiffin and more to watch in college football’s Week 6

To suggest that success in college football is cyclical only understands half the picture. Yes, even the great programs such as Alabama and USC have endured their lean years. But getting back? That part isn’t guaranteed. For every Nick Saban (at Alabama) or Pete Carroll (USC) resurrecting a program from seemingly infinite mediocrity, there’s a Randy Shannon (Miami) and a Derek Dooley (Tennessee) who simply steered into the skid.

Which brings us to Saturday, when No. 7 Miami visits top-ranked Clemson and No. 14 Tennessee, winner of eight straight games, visits No. 3 Georgia. In both Coral Gables, Florida, and Knoxville, Tennessee, the phrase is well worn and, at this point, largely meaningless, but this weekend, we’ll dust it off once again.

Tennessee is back.

Miami is back.

Maybe.

“I hear the phrase constantly,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “You heard people saying it quite a bit during our run in 2017 after we won some big games. … The question when we’re not doing well is, ‘When is Miami going to be back?’ The reality of it is, I don’t think we ever left. Have we had the success our program and our fans wanted? Not always. But there’s never been any less commitment to being at that level.”

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Look around college football, and the list of blue bloods committed to scripting their own narrative arc, the long awaited return to glory, is a long one. Texas isn’t back. Nebraska could go to Uzbekistan but still not arrive at its 1990s glory days. Michigan, UCLA, Florida State — they’re all still somewhere on a curve that’s trending in the wrong direction.

But if F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested there are no second acts in American life, Saban proved there can be in college football, so here we get Miami and Tennessee — boats against the current, hopelessly drawn into the past.

“What we’re trying to do is get to a position where playing these games is not extraordinary for Miami anymore,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “This is how you build a program to be in these positions and have it feel natural and normal, as it does for Clemson.”

Indeed, these big games are the norm for ascendant programs like Clemson or consistent winners like Georgia.

For Tennessee and Miami, however, these moments in the spotlight represent a rare glimmer of a better time when these programs enjoyed a view from the mountaintop.

From 1980 through 2005, Miami won 82% of its games. It won 14 bowls. It finished in the AP top 10 in 15 different seasons.

Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and No. 14 Tennessee have won eight straight games going into Saturday’s matchup with No. 3 Georgia. Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Through roughly the same time frame, Tennessee won nearly 80% of its games. It went to 25 bowl