Does the Nick Saban Era Compare to Bear Bryant's Alabama Dynasties?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2012

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanDerick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

It's not impossible for Alabama head coach Nick Saban to eclipse Paul W. "Bear" Bryant as Alabama's most accomplished head coach.

But it's close.

Comparisons to Bryant seemed lofty when Saban took over in 2007, and even more so after Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe that November.

But since then, Alabama has established itself as the nation's premier college football program.

BCS National Championships in 2009 and 2011, an SEC Championship in '09 and SEC West titles in '08 and '09 have solidified this era of Alabama football as one of the most successful in its history.

Had Tim Tebow not led Florida to 14 fourth-quarter points to beat previously undefeated Alabama in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, Alabama would have gone on to play Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game and perhaps could have won three of the last four titles.

The Tide wouldn't be on the brink of a dynasty; they'd already be a dynasty.

But where does this era, which has seen Saban post a 51-6 record over the last four-plus years, stack up with the rest?

Bryant's teams in the '70s were among the best in college football history.

During a seven-year period from 1971-77, Alabama compiled an overall record of 74-10, but it managed only a share of the 1973 title, which was awarded to the Crimson Tide by United Press International (UPI) before its 24-23 Sugar Bowl loss to No. 3 Notre Dame. 

Alabama fans can claim that title if they want, because those were the rules at the time, but the fact that UPI changed its rules to award its title after the bowl games starting in 1974 is a clear indication that its methods were faulty.

Semantics aside, the prolonged success in the '70s culminated with the ultimate glory to close out the decade.

The 1978 squad dropped a game to USC, but it tore through the rest of the schedule to finish the season with a No. 2 ranking and secure a meeting with No. 1 Penn State in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide held onto a 14-7 lead on the heels of a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter to topple Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions and claim the No. 1 spot in the final Associated Press (AP) poll.

The 1979 Crimson Tide team was one of the best ever, shutting out five opponents and winning five games by 30 or more points. That squad completed the regular season undefeated and topped No. 6 Arkansas 24-9 in the 1980 Sugar Bowl to claim the AP and UPI national titles.

The '70s were great to the Tide, but the '60s weren't so bad, either.

During a six-year period from 1961-66, Alabama went 60-5-1 and won shares of three national titles.

The 1961 squad ran the table, claimed the AP and UPI titles and toppled No. 9 Arkansas, 10-6, in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide allowed only 25 points all season and shut out six opponents.

Alabama finished the 1964 season undefeated and earned the national championship from the AP and UPI before its appearance in the Orange Bowl, which it lost to No. 5 Texas. Arkansas finished the regular season and bowl game undefeated, with a victory over Texas included. As a result of the controversy, the AP awarded its title after the bowls on a trial basis in 1965 and permanently in 1968.

The Crimson Tide went back-to-back the following year, after finishing the regular season 9-1-1, beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and claiming the AP title.

Bryant's team nearly made it three in a row in 1966, finishing the regular season 10-0 and beating Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. But Notre Dame and Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in mid-November in East Lansing, Mich. Neither team played a bowl game, and Notre Dame was awarded the titles by the AP and UPI.

Do either of those decades sound familiar?

National titles, conference titles, defenses that don't give up many points...sounds a lot like what Nick Saban is doing now at Alabama.

Given the current landscape of scholarship limitations, increased power in the SEC and challenge of keeping continuity on the coaching staff, Saban's current streak of success is absolutely comparable to those that Bryant enjoyed during his glory days.

That era looks like it's going to continue for the foreseeable future.