Last January I wrote a piece on my favorite 14 Alabama Crimson Tide victories overseen by Coach Nick Saban. I enjoyed writing it, and in the piece noted that I hoped to update it this year and add a 15th win to the list. Thanks to the Tide’s absolute decimation of Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game I am able to do just that.
After reflecting on last year’s piece I see some of those games differently; some have become more important in my opinion, while others have faded a bit to make way for new entries to the list. This is one fan’s opinion, so please share your thoughts in the comments.
15. 2008 Georgia: The Blackout
Georgia came into the season as one of the frontrunners to make it to the national championship game and the Bulldogs were ranked No. 3 when the Tide rolled into Athens. Alabama had risen to No. 8 in the polls, and as a testament to the game’s importance Georgia coach Mark Richt announced that the Dawgs would wear special black uniforms. Fans were encouraged to wear black as well, and the game was nicknamed a “blackout”. When Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran caught wind of this he eloquently and enthusiastically explained to his charges that Georgia’s sartorial choice of black would be appropriate because the Tide would be visiting Athens for a funeral. Coach Cochran’s words were prescient, as Alabama raced to a 31-0 halftime lead, burying Georgia and their national title hopes along the way.
14. 2012 Michigan
Defense is always the hallmark of any Nick Saban team, but the 2012 team faced questions on that side of the ball as the season dawned, due to massive losses of talent to the NFL Draft. In addition to losing defensive stars like Dre Kirkpatrick, Donta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the Tide also lost superstar running back Trent Richardson to the pros. Dual-threat quarterbacks were also thought to be the Tide’s Achilles heel, so Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson would try to test that theory. Any questions about how Alabama would reload to defend their title were answered that day in Arlington, Texas as the Tide systemically destroyed the Wolverines and reinforced just how wide the gap is between the SEC and the rest of the country.
13. 2007 Arkansas
This was arguably the first big SEC win of Saban’s tenure at Alabama. It was the first of many to come and it set a precedent: since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Saban has not lost a game to the Razorbacks. While the 2007 season was largely Saban playing the hand he was dealt by the previous regime, it gave us a small glimpse of what was to come.
12. 2009 South Carolina
The game that won the first Heisman trophy in Alabama history has to be included somewhere on the list, in my opinion. Breaking a team’s will by sheer force late in the fourth quarter is one of the things I love most about Crimson Tide football. The Mark Ingram Wildcat drive was simply beautiful in its simplicity and efficiency, and it was a joy to watch him run over the Gamecocks on the way to a national championship.
11. 2012 LSU
My ritual before each Alabama football season is to buy a nice bottle of bourbon that only comes out on game day. Before kickoff I pour myself a nice big dram which typically lasts through the first half. More weeks than not, the Tide has the game comfortably in hand by the half, so there is no need to pour a second drink. This particular game featured a first half glass, a third quarter glass, and a fourth quarter glass. Just when I had almost resigned myself to another regular season loss to LSU, AJ McCarron started completing passes for what seemed like the first time all night. By the time T.J. Yeldon slipped a tackle and broke for the end zone, the kids were sound asleep. I couldn’t cheer loudly so I snapped off a few hundred silent fist pumps, and the last of my glass of Van Winkle Special Reserve slid down the hatch. Victory seldom tastes so sweet.
10. 2009 Tennessee
This game remains the only time I can remember enjoying the sound of Verne Lundquist’s voice. “Blocked! Cody! Again!” set of a thunderclap of cheering in my den that scared every child and pet within a quarter-mile radius. The game before the bye week always seems to be a tough one for the Tide, and 2009 was certainly no exception. Alabama was tired and worn down coming into this game and came dangerously close to losing to a Lane Kiffin-coached team. I must take a break now as the thought of that has caused my to vomit all over my keyboard.
9. 2009 Iron Bowl
Auburn’s kitchen sink gameplan put the Tide in an early hole, but Alabama fought back each time they needed to. Late in the fourth quarter Greg McElroy hoisted the team onto his back and starting throwing passes to Julio Jones and marching the Tide down the field and towards a rematch with the Florida Gators in Atlanta. A goal line strike to Roy Upchurch not only won the game, it started to shift the paradigm of the Iron Bowl. For Alabama, the Auburn Tigers ceased to be the biggest game of the season and started to become a speed bump on the road to bigger and better things.
8. 2008 Iron Bowl
For six unbearable years Auburn had been able to claim football supremacy in the state of Alabama. All outliers eventually revert to a mean however, and Coach Saban’s first full year of recruiting was the catalyst that helped correct this particular outlier. Finally up was up again, the sun began to set in the West again, and Alabama thumped Auburn 36-0, as it should be.
7. 2008 Clemson
This game started the current Golden Age of Crimson Tide football. An opening-night national TV appearance against a Top 5 opponent would either confirm that Alabama still had a ways to go until they could be declared “back” or announce to the world that Saban’s plan was on track and ahead of schedule. The Tide offense ran over, around and through the Clemson defense, and the defense completely suffocated and neutered the over-hyped Tiger offense. We got our first true glimpse of what would be the norm under the Saban Process: the Tide physically dominating an opponent, shattering their will to fight and sending them running for the buses.
6. 2012 SEC Championship
This game is what a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather would have in all likelihood been, if they had ever agreed to fight while both were in their primes. Two big, strong, physical teams launching haymaker after haymaker trying to knock the other out. Things looked dire for Alabama early in the second half following a blocked field goal which was returned for a Georgia touchdown. Thankfully the Tide has a wealth of experience in big games that they were able to draw upon. Alabama took a page out of fictional All-American alumnus Forrest Gump and they started run-NING. The dedication to the ground game allowed for a late-game play-action touchdown bomb to Amari Cooper which should have been the nail in the coffin. However, in a sequence of events which no doubt took a few years of all of our lives, Alabama needed a great play from the real best linebacker in the country, C.J. Mosley, to escape with a victory and move on to the national title game.
5. 2011 Capital One Bowl
I can imagine that many readers may question ranking a mid-tier bowl win following a three-loss season so high, but let me explain. I truly believe that this game was the catalyst for the 2011-2012 run and the back-to-back national championships. After 2009, it seemed that many Tide players had forgotten what the pain of losing felt like. Although the talent level of the 2010 team was arguably the highest of the Saban era, the season was a resounding disappointment. This is not the place to rehash the gory details, but instead to focus on the shot in the arm that the complete and total annihilation of Michigan State provided. The Capital One Bowl seemed to be the only time that season that Alabama played complete football for 60 full minutes. It showed the team what they were capable of if they played up to their high standards, and soon the nation would see just how good Alabama could be as well.
4. 2009 SEC Championship
While you would never get a player on a Saban team to admit it, the Crimson Tide played the 2009 season with this game in mind; a rematch with the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game. As would become a hallmark under Saban, Alabama made the most of a second chance. Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and company narrowly got the best of Alabama in 2008, and the Tide made sure that the first time that happened would be the last time. Greg McElroy played the game of his life and carried Alabama out of the desert after a 17-year exodus from the national championship game.
3. 2012 BCS National Championship
This game was probably the finest performance we have seen from a Nick Saban/Kirby Smart defense. The fact that LSU did not even cross the 50-yard line until well into the fourth quarter still boggles the mind. A complete and total domination of an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team is something that doesn’t come along very often. Scratch that; it would happen again twelve months later.
2. 2013 BCS National Championship
I hope Coach Bryant enjoyed watching this game from above with a Chesterfield and a sour mash. For once it was the offense that did the heavy lifting in a national title game, something Alabama fans aren’t very accustomed to. McCarron, Lacy and company had free reign all night to do whatever they wanted to a Notre Dame team that had absolutely no business being on the same field with the Tide. The balanced offensive attack was brutally effective and completely embarrassed the Irish, so credit must be given to offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier for his superb play calling. The evisceration of Notre Dame cemented dynasty status for Alabama and undoubtedly sent business book authors sprinting to translate “The Process” into something like Six Sigma or Agile to sell to middle managers and strategy consultants nationwide.
1. 2010 BCS National Championship
The trip back to the mountaintop was long and arduous at times. Coaches came and went but it never seemed like there was a true sense of stability and direction after Coach Stallings retired. Nick Saban finally brought the leadership that Alabama fans had been craving. The game itself was a bit of a roller coaster, with most of us in full celebration mode by halftime only to see Texas mount a furious comeback. When Eryk Anders sacked Garrett Gilbert and forced a fumble, the feelings of concern faded and when Trent Richardson scored the last touchdown the sheer elation set in. While it’s true that some parts of the game, such as the failed fake punt and the entire third quarter were not the Tide’s best performance, the magnitude of the outcome puts this game at the top of my list.