Back at Kent State, Alabama's Nick Saban and Missouri's Gary Pinkel were teammates.
Saban is a year older and was a year ahead in school, as Pinkel seems to enjoy pointing out often, including Monday at his weekly news conference. Saban played defensive back, while Pinkel was a tight end. When asked Monday if Saban ever covered him, Pinkel smiled and wouldn't answer the question directly.
"We played mostly zone coverage," Pinkel said. "I'm not saying he's not very good at man coverage. He's probably great at man coverage."
Then maybe Pinkel decided he shouldn't poke Saban too much: "I don't want to get him upset."
Maybe that's not a bad idea. Pinkel's Missouri team is struggling in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. The once-vaunted Tigers offense has managed only 45 points in three league games — all losses. A loss today against Alabama will eliminate Missouri officially from the SEC East Division race.
Meanwhile, the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide has lost only four regular-season SEC games in the last four years. Alabama is marked down as a 21.5-point favorite today, even though the game is in Columbia, Mo.
As Saban has done all season, he is sticking up for his opponent this week. He pointed this past weekend for an example of how favorites don't always win — nine members of the previous week's Associated Press Top 25 lost.
"There's a lot of parity in college football," he said. "The teams that most of you (reporters) in this room make head and shoulders above other teams, obviously shows you this last weekend how badly you can be mistaken. I know I can be mistaken and get criticized, but you guys are badly mistaken when you make teams that are like so much better than everybody else. This weekend kind of proved that your predictability is not very good."
But Pinkel realizes why his team is such an underdog to Alabama.
"We're just playing a great football team," Pinkel said.
He added that it isn't hard to figure out why Alabama is good.
"They've dominated teams, and there's two reasons: They've got great players, and they're very well coached," Pinkel said.
Near the end of Pinkel's news conference, he cut out the jokes at Saban's expense. Instead, he mentioned a time when Saban helped him in a way that might've changed the direction of his career.
After the 1990 season, Saban left Toledo after one year as head coach to be the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator. Saban called Pinkel and told him he could get him an interview — not the job, but an interview.
Pinkel said that by that point he had interviewed for two other head coaching jobs — Bowling Green and Kent State. He had been an assistant at Bowling Green and played and been a graduate assistant at Kent State. He didn't get either job, causing his wife to joke they never were leaving Washington, where he had been an assistant for 12 years.
Pinkel got the Toledo job and stayed for 10 years before moving to Missouri in 2001.
"Honestly, in this business, I may never have gotten a shot," Pinkel said. "The place that I worked for, I didn't get the job — I must've impressed them. The place that I played for — I must've really impressed them."
And that's probably a good way not to get on the wrong side of the coach of the country's No. 1 team.