You hear the naysayers about the University of Alabama football program after it just missed winning its third straight national championship, and fourth in five seasons.
Who’s to say they’re wrong?
Perhaps the Crimson Tide have peaked under Nick Saban. Although oddsmakers have Alabama as one of the favorites to qualify for the first national playoff, no one is projecting it to be the team to beat this season.
Auburn won the Iron Bowl and Oklahoma won the Sugar Bowl, resulting in a relatively long offseason in Tuscaloosa.
Only there aren’t any vultures circling Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Steve Spurrier is still taking verbal shots at Nick Saban, recently reminding everyone that he’s won only won two Southeastern Conference titles with the Crimson Tide.
Those who have been around the league for a while know that those kind of comments are not only a good sign for South Carolina, but Alabama as well. They also know that Saban won’t be taking Spurrier’s suggestion of slowing down a little.
“Travel doesn't wear on me as long as I get home at a decent hour,” Saban said about recruiting in December. “I guess the only tough night I had is I didn't get home til ... (Alabama’s) plane broke down in St. Louis and I didn't get home one night until two in the morning.”
While the Crimson Tide will go into training camp with uncertainly at quarterback, at least seven new defensive starters and everyone from Arkansas to Texas A&M still looking to take them down, history says it’ll be anything but an easy task.
Since The Associated Press poll came into existence in 1936, there had been 10 programs to finish No. 1 in back-to-back years, including Southern California (which has since vacated the 2004 championship), before Alabama in 2011-12.
While none successfully pulled off a three-peat, hardly any saw a significant slide either—at least immediately.
Here’s how well the other nine, minus the Trojans, managed to rebound:
1940-41 Minnesota: Coach Bernie Bierman hadn’t lost a game in two years when he left the program to serve as a Marine during World War II (he served during World War I as well). In his absence, George Hauser took the Gophers to a 5-4 finish in both 1942 and 1943. Bierman returned in 1945, but never won another title.
1944-45 Army: Both the 1944 and 1945 teams went 9-0 and allowed just 35 and 46 points, respectively. Earl Blaik had the program on the edge of a three-peat, but a scoreless tie against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium snapped a 25-game winning streak and eventually led to a controversial title for the Fighting Irish. The Black Knights went 5-2-2 in 1947, but were a combined 25-1-1 over the subsequent three seasons.
1946-47 Notre Dame: Both Fighting Irish titles were controversial, especially 1947 when a non-binding poll taken after the bowl games had Michigan at No. 1. But after finishing 9-0-1 and second to the Wolverines in 1948, Frank Leahy’s team responded with a perfect 10-0 season to claim the 1949 championship.
1955-56 Oklahoma: The back-to-back titles came during Oklahoma’s incredible 47-game winning streak that was eventually snapped by Notre Dame in 1957. Bud Wilkinson’s program still managed to finish the season 10-1, a record it matched in 1958.
1965-66 Alabama: The 1966 season is still a sore point with Crimson Tide fans who refer to it as the “lost” championship. After getting breaks to finish No. 1 in 1964 and 1965, when the AP switched to holding its final poll after the bowl games instead of before, Alabama went a perfect 11-0 only to finish third in the rankings. Instead, Notre Dame and Michigan State, which had played to a lackluster tie, finished 1-2. The Tide finished 8-2-1 in 1967, but after coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant changed the direction of the program, claimed three more titles in the 1970s.
1970-71 Nebraska: Bob Devaney’s title teams combined for a 24-0-1 record, and Nebraska went 9-2-1 during his final season of 1972. Following the promotion of assistant coach Tom Osborne, the Cornhuskers remained a powerhouse and won at least nine games every season until 2002.
1974-75 Oklahoma: After a 10-0-1 and No. 2 finish in 1973, Barry Switzer’s teams lost just one game over the two championship seasons before posting a 9-2-1 record in 1976. Nevertheless, the Sooners remained a perennial power until the coach stepped down in 1988 due to numerous scandals.
1978-79 Alabama: After a controversial finish in 1977, when voters leapfrogged No. 5 Notre Dame over No. 3 Alabama in the final poll (after the Irish beat No. 1 Texas, 38-10, No. 2 Oklahoma lost and the Crimson Tide topped No. 9 Ohio State, 35-6, in the bowls), it won back-to-back titles. Alabama followed with a 10-2 finish in 1980.
1994-95 Nebraska: Osborne’s teams absolutely destroyed the competition while combining for a 25-0 record, and the 1995 team won its regular-season games by an average of 38.7 points. Arizona State stopped the winning streak at 26, as Nebraska went 11-2 in 1996, but it rebounded with a 13-0 season. While AP voters preferred Michigan for the 1997 title, the coaches’ poll rewarded the retiring Osborne, resulting in a controversial split championship.
Under Saban, Alabama is already in rare territory, but history dictates that the Crimson Tide probably aren’t going anywhere from the top of the college football world for a while.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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