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.
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.