John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Football: How Many National Championships Should the Crimson Tide Claim?


The topic of national championships and the Alabama Crimson Tide is talked about on a daily basis these days in several different contexts. Alabama has dominated the discussion of late, as they defeated Notre Dame last Monday night to capture their third crystal football in the last four years, and the program’s 15th overall.

There isn’t any dispute over Alabama’s national championships under Saban, other than the sad Texas fans who continue to cry “If Colt hadn’t got hurt… .” But Alabama’s claim of 15 national titles has drawn the ire and mockery of opposing fanbases.

Alabama’s accomplishments in football are often derided by those who aren’t fans of the team. Articles such as this one on Deadspin pop up all the time as media outlets try to discredit the Crimson Tide’s long and storied football history.

That Deadspin article doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, because it tries to go back and pick out one team from every year since 1950 as the national champions, ignoring the many years of split championships. What’s done is done. In the system we have in place now, and the systems we have had in place since the beginning of the sport, crowning one legitimate champion every year is tough to do without some sort of playoff.

At the end of some years, a split is best, as in 2003 when LSU captured the BCS National Championship and USC won the AP crown.

So how many championships should Alabama claim? Is 15 the right number, or should they claim a smaller number? We are going to go back through every year the Tide claims a championship and tell you whether or not that claim is legit.

2012

Record: 13-1
Selected By: AP, BCS, Coaches, FWAA, NFF
Also Claimed By: None
Conclusion: Legit

We’ll start with the most recent, as Alabama finished a 13-1 season by demolishing Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS Championship Game last Monday night in Miami. One BCS computer, Colley Matrix, still had the Irish No. 1 despite the four touchdown loss to Alabama, but the rest of the BCS computers voted Alabama on top.

Alabama’s one loss this season came to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, but Alabama got back into the title race after that loss, thanks to Baylor beating Kansas State and Stanford knocking off Oregon. Alabama went on to beat Georgia in a thrilling SEC Championship Game, and then crushed Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship.

2011

Record: 12-1
Selected By: AP, BCS, Coaches, FWAA, NFF
Also Claimed By: None
Conclusion: Legit

Many people were upset with Alabama getting a mulligan last year after losing to LSU in overtime in Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide proved all the doubters wrong with a dominating 21-0 win over LSU in New Orleans in the rematch. The Tigers crossed midfield once the entire evening, as Alabama got their revenge over the Bayou Bengals.

Oklahoma State has a legitimate gripe, but nobody who watched Alabama’s destruction of LSU can say that they weren’t the best team in the country. Not even T. Boone Pickens.

2009

Record: 14-0
Selected By: AP, BCS, Coaches, FWAA, NFF
Also Claimed By: None
Conclusion: Legit

The first of the Saban titles had absolutely zero controversy, as Alabama steamrolled through their SEC slate other than having to survive close calls against Tennessee and Auburn, and then blew out Florida in the rematch of the previous year’s SEC Championship Game. Alabama went on to beat Texas 37-21 in Pasadena to win their first national title since 1992.

1992

Record: 13-0
Selected By: AP, Coaches, FWAA, NFF/UPI
Also Claimed By: None
Conclusion: Legit

Led by one of the most dominating defenses in college football history, Alabama went 13-0 to win their first national championship since Bear Bryant. Alabama had a couple scares early in the season against mid-majors in Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, and they had to survive close games against Tennessee and then Florida in the inaugural Southeastern Conference Championship Game at Legion Field.

Alabama’s ticket to New Orleans for the championship game wasn’t clinched until Antonio Langham picked off a Shane Matthews pass in the fourth quarter to give Alabama a 28-21 victory over the Gators.

Then, as heavy underdogs against the mighty Miami Hurricanes, Alabama steamrolled the ‘Canes and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Gino Torretta for the 34-13 win.

This was the first and only national championship won by Gene Stallings.

1979

Record: 12-0
Selected By: AP, FWAA, NFF, UPI
Also Claimed By: None
Conclusion: Legit

The last of Bear Bryant’s national championship teams was one of his best. Alabama’s defense was an immovable object as they allowed only two teams to score double digits against them and recorded five shutouts.

The Crimson Tide had to survive three close calls in 1979. For starters, they had to rally from down 17-0 to beat Tennessee in Birmingham. Then, the offense sputtered against LSU in Baton Rouge as all they could manage was one Alan McElroy field goal as he converted from 27 yards out late in third quarter. That’s all the defense needed as Alabama ground out a 3-0 victory.

Finally, in the Iron Bowl Alabama trailed Auburn 18-17 in the fourth quarter before Steadman Shealy led the Crimson Tide on a late touchdown drive that he capped by running it in to the endzone, and then a two point conversion to give Alabama the 25-18 win to clinch a perfect regular season.

Alabama then went on to defeat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl to the tune of a 24-9 win to give Coach Bryant his sixth and final championship.

1978

Record: 11-1
Selected By: AP, FWAA, NFF
Also Claimed By: USC
Conclusion: Legit

Here’s the first national championship people like to try and discredit. Alabama went 11-1, but USC went 12-1 and beat Alabama head-to-head in Birmingham that September. USC’s lone loss came a few weeks later to unranked Arizona State on the road, but they went on to win the rest of their games that included wins over No. 19 Washington, No. 14 UCLA, and No. 8 Notre Dame. They then beat Michigan by a touchdown in the Rose Bowl, and were awarded the national championship by the UPI Coaches Poll.

Alabama, on the other hand, won their final nine games after that loss to the Trojans. Not to mention that the Tide opened the season by beating No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Missouri by double digits in their first two games.

Then, as the No. 2 team in the AP Poll, the Crimson Tide beat No. 1 Penn State 14-7 in the Sugar Bowl thanks to the famous goal line stand.

You can’t argue with Alabama claiming this title, despite the loss to USC in their head-to-head matchup. The Crimson Tide was awarded the national championship by the AP, and beat the No. 1 team in the country to get there.

1973

Record: 11-1
Selected By: UPI
Also Claimed By: Notre Dame
Conclusion: Legit

In 1973, Alabama enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in school history led by one of the best offenses in school history. Alabama’s wishbone offense was virtually unstoppable as the Tide scored at least 35 points in all but three regular season games, and won each game by at least two touchdowns.

They scored 60+ twice as they throttled California 66-0 in the season opener, and dominated Virginia Tech 77-6 in October. Alabama capped the regular season by blowing out Auburn 35-0, and three days later they were voted national champions by the UPI Coaches Poll.

At this point in time, the Coaches Poll voted before the bowl games. Alabama went on to lose to Notre Dame by a single point in a thrilling Sugar Bowl as the Fighting Irish captured the AP Title. Obviously, this championship is discredited because of Alabama’s loss to unbeaten Notre Dame in New Orleans, but you can’t fault the Crimson Tide for claiming a championship given to them by the Coaches.

It’s not Alabama’s fault that the Coaches voted for the national champion prior to the bowl game, so this title is 100 percent legitimate to claim. The UPI Coaches Poll changed their system to vote after the bowl games following this season.

1965

Record: 9-1-1
Selected By: AP, FWAA
Also Claimed By: Michigan State
Conclusion: Legit

Alabama opened the 1965 season with a one-point loss to Georgia in Athens, but then won 9 of their final 10 games while tying Tennessee 7-7 in Birmingham. Alabama went into their bowl game against No. 3 Nebraska ranked 4th in the country and only an outside shot at an AP National Title.

The Coaches had already awarded the title to Michigan State before the bowl games. The Spartans, however, lost 14-12 to UCLA in the Rose Bowl as the Crimson Tide beat Nebraska 39-28 in the Orange Bowl.

The AP voted Alabama No. 1 after their win over the Huskers.

1964

Record: 10-1
Selected By: AP, UPI
Also Claimed By: Arkansas
Conclusion: Legit

Here’s another national title the media and opposing fanbases get mad at Alabama for claiming, even though the AP and Coaches voted the Tide as the national champions. Both the AP and Coaches voted for the National Champion before the bowls in 1964, with the AP moving it to after the bowls following this season.

Alabama went 10-0 in the regular season and was voted No. 1 after their 21-14 win over Auburn to close out the regular season. They then went on to lose to Texas by four in the Orange Bowl while Arkansas completed a perfect 11-0 campaign by beating Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl. The Hogs were awarded the championship by the FWAA following the bowls.

This is another year where the system is at fault. Any other program in the country that was voted No. 1 by the AP and UPI during this time would claim it.

1961

Record: 11-0
Selected By: AP, UPI, NFF
Also Claimed By: Ohio State
Conclusion: Legit

No controversy here. The FWAA voted 8-0-1 Ohio State No. 1 even though the Buckeyes skipped the Rose Bowl. Still, the major polls gave the title to Alabama, who had quite possibly the best defense in the history of the sport. Bear Bryant’s first national title team recorded six shutouts, including five in a row. From October 28 through December 2, the Crimson Tide didn’t allow a single point as they shutout Houston, Mississippi State, Richmond, Georgia Tech, and Auburn all in a row.

In 11 games, Alabama allowed only 25 points. The Crimson Tide beat Arkansas 10-3 in the Sugar Bowl for Bryant’s first title with the Tide.

1941

Record: 9-2
Selected By: Houlgate System
Also Claimed By: Minnesota
Conclusion: Crap

I have no idea why the University claims the national title in 1941. It’s an absolute joke and it makes the rest of Alabama’s championships before Coach Bryant look less than legitimate. Alabama went 9-2 and finished third in the SEC in 1941, losing to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt by a combined 21-0.

The final AP poll had Alabama ranked 20th, and they were at best the third-best team in the SEC that season. Alabama went on to beat Texas A&M 29-21 in the Cotton Bowl, but that didn’t magically make them 19 spots better than the AP vote had them.

Undefeated Minnesota was the national champion in 1941, with every recognized system outside of Houlgate voting the Gophers No. 1.

Alabama shouldn’t claim this one.

1934

Record: 10-0
Selected By: DuS, HS, PS, WS
Also Claimed By: Minnesota
Conclusion: Legit

Alabama claims a share of the 1934 national championship with Minnesota as both schools were voted No. 1 by various selectors. The AP Poll released their first poll in 1934, but it wasn’t used continuously until 1936. Both Minnesota and Alabama have legitimate claims to the crown in 1934. Minnesota went 8-0 and didn’t play in one of the three bowl games at the end of the year.

Alabama went 10-0 and beat Stanford 29-13 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

1930

Record: 10-0
Selected By: CFRA, PD, SR
Also Claimed By: Notre Dame
Conclusion: Legit

Alabama claims a split of this title with Notre Dame as both schools were selected champions by various selectors in 1930.  Both teams went 10-0, with the Irish not playing in a bowl while Alabama pounded Washington State 24-0 in the Rose Bowl.

Alabama recorded 8 shutouts in 1930 as they allowed only 13 points in their 10 games. Tennessee scored 6, and Vanderbilt scored 7 points on the Crimson Tide in 1930 and that was it.

1926

Record: 9-0-1
Selected By: BR, CFRA, HAF, NCF, PS
Also Claimed By: Lafayette, Navy, Stanford
Conclusion: Legit

Alabama went 9-0 in the regular season before tying Stanford 7-7 in the Rose Bowl. Stanford also claims this National Championship along with Lafayette and Navy.

The 1926 Crimson Tide team didn’t allow more than 7 points in a single game the entire year.

1925

Record: 10-0
Selected By: BR, BS, CFRA, HAF, HS, NCF, PS, SR
Also Claimed By: Dartmouth
Conclusion: Legit

The 1925 Crimson Tide did a lot for the future of football in the south as they were the first team from the region ever invited west to play in the Rose Bowl, which was college football’s only bowl game at this point. Nobody thought much of southern football at the time until Alabama went to Pasadena and beat Washington 20-19 to cap a perfect 10-0 season. All but three of the various selectors of the time voted Alabama as the best team in the country in 1925.

It’s unfortunate that some college football fans like to pretend that the game didn’t exist before the poll era, which isn’t fair to the players, coaches, and fans who were a part of the game during this time. 25-30 years from now, people will act like college football didn’t exist in the pre-playoff era as well.

In my opinion, Alabama should claim only 14 national championships, and if they wanted to claim 15 then they should claim 1945 or 1966 instead because those seasons are way more legit than their claim in 1941.

14 is still a big number, and one of which fans of the team should be extremely proud. Alabama’s rich tradition doesn’t need the claim of 1941 to be one of the most storied programs in the history of the game.

Plus, with the way things have been going under Nick Saban, I don’t think Tide fans will have to wait much longer for the legitimate 15th national championship anyway.

Follow John on Twitter.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Featured Football Popular

  • http://twitter.com/vikinghorse vikinghorse

    Isn’t there another one that is attributed to Bama by some but we don’t claim? I’ve seen somewhere (and forgotten now) an argument that we should claim year 19xx rather than 1941.

    • BamaHammer

      Historians differ, but if counting every single rag that ever awarded Alabama their version of a national title, the Tide would have about 18, I believe.

      • John Mitchell

        Along with the 15 the University claims, they were named National Champions by some system four other times in 1945, 1966, 1975 and 1977, which would give Alabama 19 if they claimed them all.

  • Chip

    Yup, that 1941 kinda sticks in my craw too.

    • BamaHammer

      I do think it’s our substitute for 1966.

  • Kelly Goeman

    agreed, how about 1966 when we didn’t get anything due to the Mich.State / Notre Dame claims, we got screwed that year

    • BamaHammer

      We settled that one a couple weeks ago, in my opinion.

  • Old School

    The only correct answer is more than anybody else. End of story.

  • Michael Wanninger

    15. 9 are in the poll era – so no question. 4 are undefeated seasons – no question there. Every one listed is legit except 1941. However, Alabama won the championship in 1966. This was not a case of say Auburn with 3 undefeated teams (but with the USC penalty, Auburn could claim that year) or say a team like a Boise State not playing anyone. Alabama was the ONLY undefeated team and even worse was Notre Dame going for the tie to win the championship knowing they were not going to have to risk it in a bowl. Alabama was the 1966 Champion, won the game on the field but lost the politics. So claim 1941 – we just all know that it really means 1966. (I honestly believe when Alabama come up with the 12 number some years back that 1941 was used as a substitute so claim the legit 12.)

    • BamaHammer

      That’s not a bad theory at all.

  • disqus_xjWocWFGU8

    You don’t mention 1945. I have a plague that has 1945 listed and not 1941. Do you know anything about that?

    • BamaHammer

      Here’s a bit from the Bryant Museum website on that:

      “In 1945, the 10-0 Tide was recognized as champions with Army by the National Championship Foundation.”

      This is one UA doesn’t claim, although it has more merit than 1941.

  • phuckembuckey!

    1964 the polls were done and not changed after the bowl games! Hell most of these early years they only played five games. Imagine no media coverage but a news paper and maybe a radio Tough to really know much about all teams nation wide and Big Ten teams were not allowed by the Big Ten to play in bowl games in the early years. Other than the most recent wins would I truly accept any school claims to these as championships that compare to real bracketed play downs.

    • BamaHammer

      There are some that are dubious, and others that are obviously politically motivated. I’d be happy to stop recognizing 1941 in exchange for the 1966 title, which Alabama clearly should have been awarded. But ultimately, until the university decides to tear up the stone on the Walk of Champions, 1941 is considered claimed.