Here's what we know about Alabama football, Nick Saban, COVID-19 and the Iron Bowl

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

This time, Nick Saban won't make a miraculous return to the sidelines.

Alabama football's coach has been through the COVID-19 protocol once, in the days before UA's game against Georgia, with what proved to be a false positive test. Saban was mildly symptomatic when the positive test came back on Wednesday, meaning his protocol for returning to the team is different.

Here's what we know about Saban's COVID-19 case and what it means for Alabama football.

Saban's symptoms are mild

Saban said on the SEC teleconference shortly after his positive test that the extent of his symptoms was "maybe a runny nose." 

Nov 21, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban coaches against Kentucky at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

He added he did not have any "cardinal symptoms" of COVID-19, his phrase for symptoms such as fever and loss of taste or smell.

However, that symptom is all Saban needed to prolong his absence.

When Saban received a false positive in October, being asymptomatic made him eligible to test negatively three times, each test separated by at least 24 hours, to deem the initial test a false positive and clear for an immediate return.

Because he is not classified as asymptomatic, he enters a different protocol.

Saban will be away at least 10 days

The SEC requires 10 days of isolation for symptomatic infections, but return to play takes more than those 10 days.

The SEC protocol requires at least 24 hours since the last fever or other symptom reduction. Saban's 10-day period ends in time for him to return for UA's scheduled Dec. 5 game against Arkansas, but if Saban's symptoms persist near the end of the isolation period, he would have to wait for more than 10 days to return to activity.

Steve Sarkisian stepping in

Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is stepping into the head coach role in Saban's absence. Saban is adamant he can maintain his preparation routine from home, as he did for the final days of the Georgia week, but gameday decisions will come from Sarkisian, who will continue his role as the offensive play caller.

Saban is placing faith in Sarkisian as a former head coach, having held the job at Washington from 2009-13 and at USC from 2014 through the first month of the 2015 season.

Will it impact the title race?

If UA is able to beat Auburn, it will need just one win or one Texas A&M loss in the final two weeks of the season to clinch the SEC West and a spot in the SEC Championship Game, likely against Florida.

It is tough to project how Saban's absence, if UA is to lose, will impact its standing with the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

The Crimson Tide was No. 1 in the initial rankings released Tuesday evening. The committee, led by Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, noted the absence of Trevor Lawrence and some defensive starters in Clemson's loss to Notre Dame, possibly impacting the Tigers coming in at No. 3 ahead of No. 4 Ohio State.

No team near the top of the rankings has played a game without its head coach, leaving no precedent for how the CFP Selection Committee approaches a team that lost without its head coach.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson