NFL refugee Saban gives Alabama advantage

Criticized for being a flake and a liar after executing his escape plan from the NFL, Nick Saban widely was portrayed as a real-life bad guy. He was the worst character to hit Miami since Tony Montana.

Saban never was an underworld gangster straight out of "Scarface." He’s just another football coach with an oversized ego in search of more money and power.

And who can blame him for deserting the Miami Dolphins? He left behind a mediocre team crippled by a bunch of bad quarterbacks.

Much of the animosity that followed Saban — referred to as Satan by some of his former assistants — to Alabama has faded. The NFL is doing business without him, and he will make a bigger impact on the college game.

Stick any blame on the greedy, win-starved Crimson Tide boosters for throwing $4 million per year at Saban and turning the salary structure for college coaches into an irreversible mess.

The bottom line is Saban, 15-17 with the Dolphins, must win big at Alabama to justify his eight-year, $32 million contract. His first big-money game arrives Saturday, when the Tide hosts Arkansas.

As expected, Alabama is 2-0 after easily handling Western Carolina and Vanderbilt — and another job perk is that Saban no longer game plans for the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.

Saban inherited a Tide team with nine returning starters on offense, including solid junior quarterback John Parker Wilson.

The Razorbacks feature Darren McFadden, the best running back in the Southeastern Conference. But you can bet Saban, who undoubtedly can coach a defense, has a scheme prepared to slow McFadden.

Alabama also is out for revenge after last year’s 24-23 overtime loss to Arkansas in which the Tide missed three field goals and an extra point. In that game, Wilson completed 16 of 20 passes for 243 yards.

After outplaying the Razorbacks last year, and with a rowdy crowd ready for Saban’s SEC home opener, Alabama looks like a winner as a 3-point favorite.

Five more plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

NORTH CAROLINA (-3) over Virginia: In two years, new Tar Heels coach Butch Davis will have a team loaded with talent. But the young team he has is capable of beating the punchless Cavaliers, who scored three points in a loss at Wyoming and labored to put away Duke. Virginia is 2-9 straight up and 1-10 against the spread in its past 11 road games.

Tennessee (+8) over FLORIDA: Erik Ainge, the Volunteers’ senior quarterback, gets the edge against the Gators’ inexperienced defense and their sophomore quarterback, Tim Tebow. Florida was lucky to top Tennessee 21-20 last season. Expect another exciting finish.

WASHINGTON (+41/2) over Ohio State: The Buckeyes, who led Akron 3-2 at halftime last week, are out of synch offensively behind new quarterback Todd Boeckman. Redshirt freshman Jake Locker has passed the test in leading the Huskies to victories over Syracuse and Boise State. Ohio State’s defense might be great, but it has not been challenged by a team with legitimate speed.

Hawaii (-17) over UNLV: Are the Rebels a lot better than expected, or was the close loss to Wisconsin a mirage? The Badgers’ slow-paced offense has a way of keeping weaker opponents in games. The Warriors are much more explosive, ranking second in the nation in total offense at 585 yards per game. Colt Brennan passed for 58 touchdowns last season, when Hawaii jumped on UNLV 42-0 before letting off the gas.

New Mexico (+10) over ARIZONA: Lobos coach Rocky Long knows a few defensive tricks, and the Wildcats’ new spread offense has yet to click. New Mexico QB Donovan Porterie is showing progress and should give his team a shot to pull an upset.

Last week: 3-4 against the spread

Season: 6-6

Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans can be reached at 387-2907 or myoumans@reviewjournal.com.

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