Alabama beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl last year and was the No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff. And yet, the Tigers will be ranked ahead of the Tide in a lot of preseason polls.
Scott Ferrall didn’t know that was allowed.
“Yeah, I guess there’s probably a lot of people in the state who would agree with you,” Alabama Media Group Crimson Tide beat writer Michael Casagrande said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I think maybe the reasons would be there’s a little bit more stability there at quarterback for Auburn. Alabama’s still trying to figure out who’s going to be their quarterback. This is the biggest part of that puzzle. They’re still trying to figure it out. The guy who would be penciled in as the No. 1, (Jacob Coker), hurt his foot this week is not practicing right now, so there’s some questions with that. But you don’t know who’s going to be leading that offense. It’s hard to have 100 percent confidence. But yeah, I think the stability at quarterback has a big thing to do with that. They think the defense will be a lot better at Auburn this year. It was pretty bad last year, but bringing in (Will) Muschamp adds a lot of confidence that they’ll be able to turn that around defensively.”
Muschamp, who went 29-21 in four seasons as head coach at Florida, will make $1.6 million this season. That means he’s making more money than most head coaches in America – just to be a coordinator.
“I think it’s kind of the model,” Casagrande said. “You look at Lane Kiffin. He came to Alabama. He’s not getting that kind of money, but that’s mostly because he’s still getting buy-out money from USC. But some coaches might be better off as coordinators and they can just focus on that one side of the ball instead of trying to be the CEO. I think that’s where Kiffin got caught up and where I think Muschamp may have too. They can just focus on football, and there’s great value to that. Kirby Smart is making $1.3 million a year to be the Alabama defensive coordinator. He hasn’t even been a head coach. It’s an important role. (It keeps) them from (taking) a head-coaching job (elsewhere). A smaller head-coaching job won’t pay them nearly as much as they would get paid to be the coordinator at Alabama or Auburn. So there’s value in it, and they see that they need to keep those kind of guys.”
And then there’s Saban, who makes around $7 million a year. Casagrande has been covering the Tide since 2009, the year Saban won his first national title at Alabama.
Needless to say, Casagrande’s experience covering Saban and the Tide hasn’t been the typical beat writer experience.
“At some point, I started realizing, ‘Yeah, this is a special time. It’s something that 20 years down the road people are going to look back on in somewhat the same vein as the Bear Bryant years,’” Casagrande explained. “But I’m not from Alabama. I don’t have that native experience and everything. But it feels like it’s a special time the way the Alabama/Auburn rivalry has gone back and forth with the Cam Newton game (and) the kick-six game two years ago. It is a time that’s going to be remembered for what it was.
“But covering him every day, it’s interesting,” Casagrande continued. “There are definitely those moments where he’ll chew me out. He’s chewed out every beat writer. It’s part of the experience. It’s nothing anyone takes personally, but it’s been an enjoyable time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, to be honest. You want to cover college football at its highest level, and this is exactly what I’ve been able to do. So it’s been a pretty cool experience.”