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Ranking Alabama's 16 National Championship Teams

Christopher WalshCollege Football National ColumnistJanuary 25, 2016

Ranking Alabama's 16 National Championship Teams

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    Alabama loves nothing more than winning national championships, including this season's 16th.
    Alabama loves nothing more than winning national championships, including this season's 16th.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to historical significance, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t slowing down and trying to put the 2015-16 team’s accomplishments into perspective, at least not yet.

    Maybe he’ll do some of that later.

    “I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree,” he said. “I look back to 1998 when we were 4-5 at Michigan State and we were going to Ohio State to play the No. 1 team in the country, if somebody would have told me then that this would have happened, I would have said, I think you're crazy.

    “But you remember those times, and you remember all the lessons that you learned in terms of developing a process that works for young people to have a chance to be successful, a team dynamic that gives you a chance to be successful, and right now as long as I'm going to continue to do this, I'm going to keep things in perspective and look forward and not backward.”

    It may be a long time before Saban takes a step back as the coach has shown no signs of slowing down. For example, when ESPN interviewed him on the flight back from Phoenix, the coach was going over game film of the 45-40 title victory against Clemson when most people on the plane were sleeping.

    Since then, he’s been recruiting almost non-stop, although did take time to enjoy the Crimson Tide’s championship celebration that included a parade over the weekend.

    Nevertheless, while he’s zeroed in on what’s next and adding to what might already be the strongest coaching legacy in college football history, the 2015-16 team’s place can already be evaluated.

    It wasn’t the most successful team or the most polished, but Saban called it the most special team to him due to its resiliency and determination.

    Here’s a look, in order, at the 16 national championships Alabama claims, based on record, accomplishments, place in history and statistical prowess respective to its era of college football:

16. 1941

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    Frank Thomas, shown here arriving for the 1945 Rose Bowl,  headed Alabama's most controversial national champion.
    Frank Thomas, shown here arriving for the 1945 Rose Bowl, headed Alabama's most controversial national champion.Ed Widdis/Associated Press

    Coach: Frank Thomas

    Record: 9-2

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 2; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason NR; postseason 20.

    Total points: 234-64

    All-Americans: First team—Holt Rast, End. Second team—Jimmy Nelson, halfback.

    All-SEC (first team): Jimmy Nelson, back; Holt Rast, back; John Wyhonic, guard.

    When critics claim that Alabama has padded its number of national championships, this is the one they often point to first.

    After an early-season loss to Mississippi State, it recorded impressive victories against Tennessee (9-2), Georgia (27-14) and Georgia Tech (20-0) to hover near the top of the rankings, even with a late-season 7-0 loss at Vanderbilt.

    Alabama concluded the regular season by defeating the Miami Hurricanes 21-7 in the first meeting between the schools and, aided by 12 turnovers, defeated Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, 29-21.

    Although the majority of polls had Minnesota No. 1 at season's end, Alabama and Texas, neither of which won its conference title, were able to claim a share of the national championship. Plugging the Crimson Tide was the Houlgate System (1927-58), a mathematical rating system developed by Dale Houlgate of Los Angeles, which was syndicated in newspapers and published in Illustrated Football and Football Thesaurus (1946-58).

15. 1973

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    Alabama claims the 1973 national title despite losing to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
    Alabama claims the 1973 national title despite losing to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 11-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 3; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 6; postseason 4.

    Total points: 477-113

    All-Americans: First team—Buddy Brown, tackle; Woodrow Lowe, linebacker; Wayne Wheeler, split end. Second team—Mike Washington, cornerback; John Croyle, defensive end; Mike Raines, defensive tackle. Academic—Randy Hall, defensive tackle.

    All-SEC (first team): Buddy Brown, tackle; Greg Gantt, punter; Wilbur Jackson, halfback; Woodrow Lowe, linebacker; David McMakin, safety; Mike Raines, defensive tackle; Steve Sprayberry, tackle; Mike Washington, cornerback; Wayne Wheeler, split end.

     

    Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s most controversial national championship was 1973, when the United Press International coaches' poll still held its final voting at the end of the regular season.

    With Alabama scoring a school-record 477 points and averaging 480.7 yards per game, it had already locked up its claim to the national title before facing Notre Dame for the first time, at the Sugar Bowl.

    The game lived up to the billing, with the lead changing hands six times and featured a wild 90-second span with three turnovers at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

    The deciding points came with 4:26 left on the clock, when Notre Dame's Bob Thomas, who had missed two attempts earlier in the game, kicked a 19-yard field goal to complete the 24-23 victory.

    Not surprisingly, Notre Dame was No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, and soon after the coaches' poll announced that it too would hold its final voting after all bowl games had been played.

14. 1964

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    Alabama's Joe Namath poses at practice before facing Texas in the Orange Bowl.
    Alabama's Joe Namath poses at practice before facing Texas in the Orange Bowl.Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 10-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 4; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 6; postseason 1

    Total points: 250-88

    All-Americans: First team—Wayne Freeman, guard; Dan Kearley, defensive tackle; Joe Namath, quarterback; David Ray, halfback. Second team—Mickey Andrews, back. Academic—Gaylon McCollough, center.

    All-SEC (first team): Steve Bowman, back; Wayne Freeman, guard; Dan Kearley, defensive tackle; Joe Namath, quarterback; David Ray, end.

     

    Four games into the schedule, prize quarterback Joe Namath sustained a knee injury against North Carolina State that would limit him for the rest of the year.

    Steve Sloan replaced him and led victories against Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU, but against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Namath entered the scoreless game late in the second quarter. By halftime, it was 14-0, en route to a 24-7 victory.

    When Namath had a similar performance against Auburn on Thanksgiving Day, with a touchdown pass to end Ray Perkins along with Ray Ogden's 108-yard kickoff return sparking a 21-41 victory, his legendary status really began to really take hold.

    Combined with Notre Dame's loss to Southern California, Alabama vaulted to No. 1 in the final Associated Press Poll (voted before the postseason) and received an invitation to face Texas in the first Orange Bowl played at night.

    Namath again was the spark plug off the bench, completing 18 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. However, in the closing seconds, Alabama was down 21-17 and had the ball inches away from the goal line. The call was a quarterback sneak behind center Gaylon McCollough, who with the snap plowed into the end zone. One official signaled touchdown, but another overruled. Namath said afterward: "I'll go to my grave knowing I scored."

13. 1926

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    Wallace Wade, here pictured in 1939 when he coached Duke, led Alabama to its first national titles.
    Wallace Wade, here pictured in 1939 when he coached Duke, led Alabama to its first national titles.Uncredited/Associated Press

    Coach: Wallace Wade

    Record: 9-0-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: Pre-poll era

    Ranking (AP): Pre-poll era.

    Total points: 249-27

    All-Americans: First team—Hoyt "Wu" Winslett, end; Fred Pickhard, tackle.

    All-Southern Conference: Emile Barnes, Back; Herschel Caldwell, back; Gordon Holmes, center; Fred Pickhard, tackle; Hoyt Winslett, end.

     

    Coming off its breakout season in terms of national exposure, Alabama continued to discredit its naysayers and critics with another undefeated regular season that included six shutouts, with the only close game a 2-0 victory against Sewanee decided by a blocked punt that went out of the end zone. 

    Similar to the previous year, the Southern Conference championship came down to a season-ending showdown with Georgia, and for the third straight year Alabama left with the title in tow thanks to a convincing 33-6 Thanksgiving victory.

    Alabama didn't have to wait long for a return invitation to play in the Rose Bowl. Eager for an opportunity to both defend its accomplishments and prove that the previous year was not a fluke, it accepted and was again considered an underdog.

    Alabama was outplayed, but Stanford, coached by the legendary Glenn "Pop" Warner could never put the game away. In the closing minutes the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown for a 7-7 standoff

    Because most services at the time held their final rankings at the conclusion of the regular season, both teams along with Lafayette and Navy had already been declared national champions.

12. 1965

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    Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's bowl choice gave his team a shot at winning the 1965 national title.
    Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's bowl choice gave his team a shot at winning the 1965 national title.Joe Holloway Jr./Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 9-1-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 1; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 5, postseason 1

    Total points: 256-107

    All-Americans: First team—Paul Crane, center; Steve Sloan, quarterback. Second team—Steve Bowman, fullback. Academic—Dennis Homan, end; Steve Sloan, quarterback.

    All-SEC (first team): Steve Bowman, fullback; Paul Crane, center; Creed Gilmer, defensive end; Bobby Johns, defensive back; Tommy Tolleson, split end.

     

    Alabama was coming off a controversial national championship in which it had finished the regular season undefeated and had already been voted No. 1 in the final polls prior to narrowly losing to Texas in the Orange Bowl, 21-17.

    Consequently, the Associated Press decided that for the first in its history it would hold its final poll after all the bowl games had been played instead of the conclusion of the regular season.

    Amazingly, the change worked to Coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's advantage.

    After defeating LSU 31-7 and Auburn 30-3, Alabama (8-1-1) was ranked No. 4 behind No. 1. Michigan State, No. 2. Arkansas and No. 3 Nebraska.

    Instead of accepting an invitation to play in the Cotton Bowl, Bryant agreed to face Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. His thinking was if Michigan State lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and Arkansas was defeated by LSU in the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl would determine the national champion.

    That's exactly what happened.

    Despite being outsized, Alabama out-gained Nebraska 518 to 377 yards while pulling off a masterful 39-28 victory.

    As Bryant foresaw, when the final Associated Press poll was released, the top five was: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 4 UCLA No. 5. Nebraska.

    In contrast, the final coaches' poll, conducted before the bowls, read: No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 UCLA.

11. 2012

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    It's good to be the king ... of college football.
    It's good to be the king ... of college football.Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Coach: Nick Saban

    Record: 13-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 6; Top 5: 3

    Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 2; postseason No. 1

    Total points: 542-143

    Major awards: Barrett Jones: William V. Campbell Trophy; Rimington Trophy.

    All-Americans: First-team—Barrett Jones, center; Dee Milliner, cornerback; C.J. Mosley, linebacker; Chance Warmack, offensive lineman. Second team—D.J. Fluker.

    All-SEC (first-team): Chance Warmack, offensive lineman; D.J. Fluker, offensive line; Barrett Jones, center; Eddie Lacy, running back; C.J. Mosley, linebacker; Dee Milliner, cornerback.

     

    After surviving against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and crushing Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS Championship Game, Alabama became college football’s first back-to-back consensus national champion since Nebraska in 1994-95, as well as the first school to win three national titles in the BCS era—never mind in four years.

    Outside of the Cornhuskers, one had to go all the way back to Notre Dame in the late 1940s to find a comparison, and those Irish teams didn’t play postseason games.

    It was also the Southeastern Conference’s seventh straight championship, continuing an incredible run that was unprecedented in the sport.

    Saban added another ring to his already jaw-dropping ring collection despite having just nine scholarship seniors on the roster.

    “I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at,” he said.

    “Thank God he’s on our side,” Director of Athletics Mal Moore said.

10. 1978

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    Alabama's defense held up against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.
    Alabama's defense held up against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 11-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 5; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 1; postseason 1

    Total points: 345-168

    All-Americans: First team—Barry Krauss, linebacker; Marty Lyons, defensive tackle. Second team—Dwight Stephenson, center.

    All-SEC (first team): Mike Brock, tackle; Jim Bunch, tackle; Wayne Hamilton, defensive end; E.J. Junior, defensive end; Barry Krauss, linebacker; Murray Legg, safety; Marty Lyons, defensive tackle; Dwight Stephenson, center.

     

    Alabama’s near-miss for the 1977 national title, when the Crimson Tide finished second in both the final Associated Press and coaches' polls, served as prime motivation, but the schedule was nothing short of brutal.

    The Crimson Tide were set to play Nebraska, Missouri, Southern California, Washington, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, LSU and Auburn, followed by the presumably difficult bowl opponent.

    The chances of finishing undefeated appeared slim, and sure enough Alabama did stumble after cruising through both Nebraska 20-3 and Missouri 38-20. When USC pulled out a 24-14 victory in Birmingham, it not only knocked Alabama from the top ranking, but would come back to haunt the Crimson Tide.

    Led by the defense, Alabama didn't suffer another setback, closing the regular season with a 34-16 victory against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It set up what appeared to be a natural national championship game between No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

    It’s a game they still regularly talk about in Tuscaloosa thanks to the famous goal-line stand, with linebacker Barry Krauss and the swarming defense stopping Mike Guman at the goal line on fourth down.

    As expected, was Alabama voted No. 1 by the Associated Press, but United Press International voters promoted USC up from No. 3, claiming the Trojans deserved to be ahead of the Crimson Tide after their regular-season victory, even though both teams had one loss. The result was a split national title.

9. 2015

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    Alabama's 2015 national championship was Nick Saban's fifth.
    Alabama's 2015 national championship was Nick Saban's fifth.Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Coach: Nick Saban

    Record: 14-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 9. Top 5: 3

    Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 3; postseason No. 1

    Total points: 526-227

    Major Awards: Derrick Henry, Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Doak Walker Award; Ryan Kelly, Rimington Award; Offensive line, Joe Moore Award.

    All-Americans: First team—Derrick Henry, running back; Ryan Kelly, center; Reggie Ragland, linebacker; A’Shawn Robinson, defensive line. Second team—Eddie Jackson, safety.

    All-SEC (first-team): Jonathan Allen, defensive line; Derrick Henry, running back; Eddie Jackson, safety; Ryan Kelly, center; Reggie Ragland, linebacker; A’Shawn Robinson, defensive line; Cam Robinson, tackle.

     

    An early-season loss to Ole Miss, thanks in part to five turnovers, threatened to derail Alabama’s season, but what may have been Nick Saban’s most talented team yet rallied despite facing an unbelievably difficult schedule.

    For the first time in college football history every team in a division, the SEC West, was ranked at some point of a season, and Alabama played the top three teams in the SEC East as well. Overall, it faced nine teams that were ranked when they played, the most of any national champion.

    Alabama was particularly known for its stingy defense and powerful running game even after having to replace nine offensive starters. Derrick Henry set both the school single-season and rushing records while winning the program’s second Heisman Trophy, and quarterback Jake Coker never lost as a starter, going 14-0.

    Alabama extended its streak of being No. 1 at some point in a season to an incredible eight years, and the victory against Clemson in the national championship game was Saban’s sixth against an opponent ranked No. 1. No one else in college football history has more than four (Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Mollenkopf).

    No opponent could match Alabama’s depth among the defensive front seven, which heavily rotated players despite the 85-man scholarship limit, and the Crimson Tide ended up leading the nation in both rushing defense and sacks.

    To give an idea of the Crimson Tide’s remarkable talent level, 18 players had been rated as 5-star prospects by 247Sports as recruits. Tight end O.J. Howard, who went into the title game eighth in team all-purpose yards with 335, had 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers to be named the game’s offensive MVP.

    “To face 12 straight elimination games after the Ole Miss [loss]. The resiliency, the competitive character that this team showed at being able to do that, and even coming back from behind in the national championship game really shows the spirit that made this team something special.”

8. 2011

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    Alabama celebrates defeating LSU 21-0 in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans.
    Alabama celebrates defeating LSU 21-0 in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Coach: Nick Saban

    Record: 12-1

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 5; Top 5: 2

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 2; postseason 1

    Total points: 453-106

    Major Awards: Trent Richardson: Doak Walker Award; Barrett Jones: Outland Trophy, Wuerffel Trophy.

    All-Americans: First team—Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker. Second team—William Vlachos, center. Academic All-American—Barrett Jones,

    All-SEC (first team): Mark Barron, safety; Dont’a Hightower, linebacker; Barrett Jones, offensive lineman; Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback; DeQuan Menzie, cornerback; Trent Richardson, running back; Courtney Upshaw, linebacker; center William Vlachos. SEC Offensive Player of the Year: Trent Richardson. Jacobs Award: Barrett Jones.

     

    If the disappointment of not returning to a BCS bowl wasn’t enough motivation for the University of Alabama football team, it got an overdose of tragedy during the months building up to the 2011 season.

    Mere days after the annual A-Day scrimmage, and unveiling of Nick Saban’s statue for winning the 2009 national title, a series of horrific tornados struck the state on April 27, killing 52 people in Tuscaloosa alone, including long-snapper Carson Tinker’s girlfriend Ashley Harrison. He barely survived with a concussion, broken wrist and an ankle injury.

    In May, offensive lineman Aaron Douglas was found dead on a balcony the morning after attending a party in Jacksonville.

    Despite all that, and a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 5, Alabama managed to reach the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, where it dominated the rematch with a 21-0 victory against the Southeastern Conference-rival Tigers.

    Although running back Trent Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist and set the Alabama single-season rushing record, and after moving from right guard to left tackle Barrett Jones became the third Crimson Tide player to win the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman), the defense put itself on the short list for best-ever consideration.

    Alabama finished the season by leading the nation in pass-efficiency defense (83.69 rating), pass defense (111.46 yards per game), rushing defense (72.15), scoring defense (8.15 points), and total defense (183.62 yards per game)—in addition to third-down defense, red-zone defense, first downs allowed and three-and-outs—and all by a wide margin.

    It pulled off the only shutout in BCS history, never mind the title game.

7. 1934

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    Physical Alabama was too much for Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl.
    Physical Alabama was too much for Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl.Anonymous/Associated Press

    Coach: Frank Thomas

    Record: 10-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: Pre-poll era

    Ranking (AP): Pre-poll era

    Total points: 316-45

    All-Americans: First team—Millard "Dixie" Howell, back; Don Hutson, end; Bill Lee, tackle.

    All-SEC (first team): Dixie Howell, halfback; Don Hutson, end; Bill Lee, tackle; Charlie Marr, guard.

     

    The University of Alabama football team was coming off a 7-1-1 season and won the inaugural championship of the new Southeastern Conference, which included Sewanee, Georgia Tech and Tulane.

    But it was easily the best team Coach Frank Thomas had ever had. After opening with a 24-0 victory against Howard, which was coached by former Alabama All-American center Clyde "Shorty" Propst, the Crimson Tide blew through the SEC schedule, with the lone close game a 13-6 victory against Tennessee.

    The wins kept piling up, with an impressive season-ending stretch of 40-0 against Clemson, 40-0 at Georgia Tech, and 34-0 vs. Vanderbilt in Birmingham. Consequently, Alabama was headed back to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl, but for the first time without Wallace Wade. Thomas pushed all the right buttons to motivate his players including making sure that they knew many sportswriters had said Minnesota would have been a better choice to face Stanford, and again the West Coast team was expected to win.

    Alabama dominated, 29-13. Dixie Howell scored two touchdowns, one on a 67-yard run, and passed 59 yards to Don Hutson for another. He passed for 160 yards and ran for 111 more to be named the game's most valuable player.

    Thomas called Howell's performance the "greatest I've ever seen."

    "That boy has ice water in his veins, if ever a competitive athlete had. I've never seen him nervous before, but that morning he couldn't look at his breakfast, let alone eat it. And he couldn't eat lunch."

    Alabama had won its fourth national championship by averaging 31.4 points per game while yielding just 4.5.

    Noted Will Rogers, "Stanford made a mistake in scoring first. It just made those Alabama boys mad."

6. 1979

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    The 1979 national championship was Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's last.
    The 1979 national championship was Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's last.Lodriguss/Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 12-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 3; Top 5 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 2; postseason 1

    Total points: 383-67

    All-Americans: First team—Jim Bunch, tackle; Don McNeal, cornerback; Dwight Stephenson, center. Second team—E.J. Junior, defensive end; Byron Braggs, defensive tackle. Academic—Major Ogilvie, halfback.

    All-SEC (first team): Thomas Boyd, linebacker; Byron Braggs, defensive tackle; Mike Brock, guard; Jim Bunch, tackle; David Hannah, defensive tackle; Jim Bob Harris, safety; E.J. Junior, defensive end; Don McNeal, cornerback; Major Ogilvie, halfback; Steadman Shealy, quarterback; Dwight Stephenson, center.

     

    Alabama fans felt they had been robbed by voters in the final polls of 1977 (when Notre Dame leapfrogged past the Crimson Tide from No. 5) and 1978 (when Alabama won a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup vs. Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, only to split the national title with USC) seasons, but in both cases a loss left the door open for another team to sneak into the top spot.

    Alabama slammed that door shut in 1979 to cap arguably the most dominating decade in college football history.

    Thanks to numerous starters returning it was the preseason No. 2 team in the national polls and lived up to the high expectations by outscoring its first five opponents 219-9.

    But like most championship seasons, Alabama did have its share of close calls and scares, including a 3-0 victory at LSU, and, led by backup quarterback Don Jacobs, stormed back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat Tennessee, 27-17.

    Turnovers nearly did in Alabama against Auburn, but quarterback Steadman Shealy led an 82-yard drive on 13 plays for a 25-18 victory. Prior to the game, Bryant made comments that he would have to go back to Arkansas and plow if the Tide lost to its biggest rival, prompting Auburn fans to yell "Plow, Bear, Plow!"

    "Our winning drive was one of the finest I've ever seen," Bryant said. "We had to have it. I'm just thrilled to death with the win. We've got some mighty fine plow hands on his team."

    Once again the national championship would be settled at the Sugar Bowl, but Arkansas was no match, losing 24-9.

    For the 1970s, Alabama compiled an incredible 103-16-1 record with eight Southeastern Conference titles and three national championships. When LSU fired Charles McClendon in 1979 for not being able to beat Alabama, Auburn's Shug Jordan said: "You go by that and they'll have to fire us all."

5. 1930

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    An estimated 60,00 fans saw Alabama rout Washington State at the Rose Bowl,  24-0.
    An estimated 60,00 fans saw Alabama rout Washington State at the Rose Bowl, 24-0.Associated Press

    Coach: Wallace Wade

    Record: 10-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: Pre-poll era

    Ranking (AP): Pre-poll era

    Total points: 271-13

    All-Americans: First team—John Henry Suther, halfback; Fred Sington, tackle. Second team—Johnny Cain, halfback.

    All-Southern Conference: Fred Sington, tackle; John Henry Suther, back; John Miller, guard; Johnny Cain, back.

     

    Alabama's breakthrough years of 1925-26, which resulted in Rose Bowl appearances and celebrated national championships, were difficult to reproduce over the subsequent three seasons, much to the chagrin of fans who had become accustomed to the program's winning ways.

    The 1927 season ended with losses to Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt for a disappointing 5-4-1 record. That was followed by 6-3 years in 1928, and 1929, when the first game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham while Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa was dedicated September 28, 1929. Its initial seating capacity was 12,000.

    Growing increasingly discontent, while simultaneously being targeted by other schools offering a significant raise in salary, head coach Wallace Wade turned in his resignation near the end of the 1929 season but agreed to stay on for the final year of his contract before heading to Duke. 

    Clyde Bolton of the Birmingham News called it the "greatest swan song in the history of football."

    Alabama opened the season with a 43-0 victory against Howard and backed it up with two more shutouts, 64-0 against Ole Miss and 25-0 vs. Sewanee. An 18-6 win against Tennessee and a 12-7 victory vs. Vanderbilt had the Crimson Tide 5-0, and having already yielded the only points of the season.

    A 13-0 victory against Georgia meant both a perfect regular season and another Southern Conference championship, resulting in the third Rose Bowl invitation, this time to play Washington State.

    Even though the national championship was at stake, Wade started his second-stringers, like he had done previously that season, leaving his best players on the bench until the second quarter when the opposing players began to wear down (it was as much a psychological ploy as physical).

    Washington State held its own against the backups, but not against the Crimson Tide starters and Alabama easily won 24-0. Wade was carried off the field by his players having concluded his Alabama career with a 61-13-3 record and third national title.

4. 1925

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    Johnny Mack Brown, who went on to become a film actor, was one of the leaders of Alabama's 1925 national championship team.
    Johnny Mack Brown, who went on to become a film actor, was one of the leaders of Alabama's 1925 national championship team.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    Coach: Wallace Wade

    Record: 10-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: Pre-poll era

    Ranking (AP): Pre-poll era

    Total points: 297-26

    All-Americans: First team—A.T.S. "Pooley" Hubert, quarterback. Second team—Johnny Mack Brown, halfback.

    All-Southern Conference: Johnny Mack Brown, back; Bill Buckler, guard; A.T.S. Hubert, back.

     

    Alabama’s first national championship wasn’t just important for the school, but the region as Southern football had always been considered inferior to the rest of the nation.

    After it got off to an 8-0 start while giving up just one touchdown, people began to notice. A pounding 7-0 victory against Georgia Tech set up a showdown with Georgia for the Southern Conference title, which was dominated by Alabama, 27-0.

    On hand for that victory were representatives of the Rose Bowl Committee, who left unimpressed and instead extended invitations to Dartmouth, Yale and Colgate, which were all under pressure from the American Association of University Professors to decline.

    Finally, Alabama received the offer to play heavily favored Washington, which it eagerly accepted, with the entire region rallying behind the Crimson Tide. Even Auburn president Dr. Spright Dowell sent a telegram wishing the team good luck.

    After falling behind 12-0 in the first half, the third quarter saw a complete momentum shift after Alabama knocked Washington's best player, George "Wildcat" Wilson, who finished with 134 rushing yards and completed five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns, out of the game, and Wade unleashed Pooley Hubert's ground game.

    Hubert punched in one touchdown and Johnny Mack Brown scored on both a 59-yard reception from Grant Gillis and a 30-yard catch from Hubert to give Alabama a 20-12 lead.

    Wilson was able to return and led another scoring drive, but Brown's open-field tackle of him ended the final threat for a 20-19 victory.

    The result shook the very foundation of college football. It was, and still is by some, considered one of the greatest Rose Bowl games ever played, and provided a rare moment of pride in the South, which was in desperate need of something to celebrate.

3. 1961

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    Quarterback Pat Trammell, left, was one of Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's favorite players.
    Quarterback Pat Trammell, left, was one of Paul W. "Bear" Bryant's favorite players.Uncredited/Associated Press

    Coach: Paul W. “Bear” Bryant

    Record: 11-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 1; Top 5 0

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 3; postseason 1

    Total points: 297-25

    All-Americans: First team—Billy Neighbors, defensive tackle. Second team—Lee Roy Jordan, center; Pat Trammell, quarterback. Academic—Tommy Brooker, end; Pat Trammell, quarterback.

    All-SEC (first team): Mike Fracchia, back; Lee Roy Jordan, center; Billy Neighbors, guard; Pat Trammell, quarterback.

     

    When Paul W. "Bear" Bryant was hired in 1958, he told both the incoming recruits and the holdovers from the previous teams (those who survived his brutal offseason-conditioning program) that if they weren't there to win a national championship they were in the wrong place.

    During his first three seasons, Alabama produced no championships and no All-Americans, but in 1961 it was coming off a 8-1-2 season and had key players returning.

    Led by quarterback Pat Trammell, linebacker/center Lee Roy Jordan and lineman Billy Neighbors, Alabama simply destroyed the competition, beginning with a 32-6 victory at Georgia. Opponents scored 25 points the entire season, compared to 297 for the Crimson Tide, with North Carolina State, led by quarterback Roman Gabriel, managing to score the most points, seven.

    "They play like it is a sin to give up a point," Bryant commented.

    After Tennessee managed a field goal in a 34-3 loss, Alabama didn't yield another point during its five final games of the regular season, recording shutouts against Houston, Mississippi State, Richmond, Georgia Tech and Auburn.

    "I don't know if that's a great team, but they most certainly were great against us," Auburn coach Shug Jordan said after the 34-0 loss. "I don't guess anybody has ever hit us that hard."

    After the Georgia Tech victory, Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time that season, which it would maintain through a 10-3 victory against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

    "Regardless of who was coaching them they still would have been a great team," said Bryant, who was also named national coach of the year for the first time. "I said early in the season that they were the nicest, even the sissyist bunch I'd ever had. I think they read it, because later on they got unfriendly."

2. 1992

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    George Teague went high-stepping into the end zone as Alabama ended the Miami dynasty at the Sugar Bowl.
    George Teague went high-stepping into the end zone as Alabama ended the Miami dynasty at the Sugar Bowl.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Coach: Gene Stallings

    Record: 13-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 4; Top 5: 1

    Ranking (AP): Preseason 9; postseason 1

    Total points: 366-122

    All-Americans: First team—John Copeland, defensive end; Eric Curry, defensive end; Antonio Langham, cornerback. Second team—George Teague, safety.

    All-SEC (first team): John Copeland, defensive end; Eric Curry, defensive end; Lemanski Hall, linebacker; Antonio Langham, cornerback; Derrick Lassic, tailback; Antonio London, linebacker; Derrick Oden, linebacker; Tobie Sheils, center; George Teague, safety.

     

    The centennial season of Alabama football resulted in the Crimson Tide’s first national championship since Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, yet few thought it would be UA’s year.

    As the victories started piling up—although many were not pretty—it moved up the rankings. When the defense limited LSU to just 22 rushing yards in a commanding 31-11 road victory, and top-ranked Washington lost to Arizona, Alabama could finally determine its fate by winning its final three games.

    The first was the Iron Bowl, with Auburn coach Pat Dye announcing his resignation the day before the game. The defense allowed 20 rushing yards, had five sacks and Antonio Langham returned an interception 61 yards in the end zone to key a 17-0 victory.

    "Ten to nothing isn't a very big deal unless you've got a defense like Alabama's got, and then it's monumental," Dye said after his only shutout at Auburn. "Alabama may have the best defense I've seen in our conference."

    Langham again returned an interception for a touchdown as Alabama defeated Florida 28-21 in the first-ever SEC Championship Game.

    The third, and final, test was at the Sugar Bowl against No. 1 Miami, which was riding a 28-game winning streak and made sure everyone knew it. Among the numerous boastful things the Hurricanes said before the game was linebacker Michael Barrow's: "We seek, we destroy. We fear no one, but everyone fears us."

    But Alabama didn't, and despite being a heavy underdog made Miami eat its words with an impressive 34-13 victory. 

    "There is a quote I've used before from Sir Isaac Newton," Coach Gene Stallings said in a speech during the on-campus "Salute to Champions" weekend. "It says, 'If I can see farther than most, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.' Ladies and gentlemen, I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

     

1. 2009

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    Alabama's won a lot of awards over the years, but didn't land its first Heisman Trophy until Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009.
    Alabama's won a lot of awards over the years, but didn't land its first Heisman Trophy until Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Coach: Nick Saban

    Record: 14-0

    Number of ranked opponents faced: 6; Top 5: 2

    Ranking (AP): Preseason No. 5; postseason No. 1

    Total points: 449-164

    Major Awards: Mark Ingram, Heisman Trophy; Rolando McClain, Butkus Award

    All-Americans: First team—Mark Ingram, running back; Mike Johnson, guard; Terrence Cody, defensive tackle; Rolando McClain, linebacker; Javier Arenas, cornerback/return specialist; Leigh Tiffin, kicker. Third team—Mark Barron, safety. Academic All-American—Colin Peek, tight end.

    All-SEC (first team): Mark Ingram, running back; Mike Johnson, guard; Terrence Cody, defensive tackle; Rolando McClain, linebacker; Javier Arenas, cornerback/return specialist; Mark Barron, safety; Leigh Tiffin, kicker.

     

    Although Tuscaloosa had been waiting a long time for its 13th national title, the first since 1992 and second in 30 years, no one anticipated the most accomplished team in program history. 

    Not only did the Crimson Tide become the first Southeastern Conference team to finish 14-0 to win the crystal football known as the Coaches Trophy, but also landed college football's most prestigious individual award.

    "I'm a little overwhelmed right now," sophomore running back Mark Ingram said. "I'm just so excited to bring Alabama their first Heisman winner."

    Alabama captured its 22nd Southeastern Conference title, was the first team in history to beat 10 opponents that finished with a winning record and it dispatched the three previous national champions along the way.

    If that wasn't enough, Alabama won the BCS National Championship Game at the site of its first title, the Rose Bowl.

    "What an unbelievable year," athletics director Mal Moore surmised.

    Little did anyone know that Saban was just getting started at Alabama, but 2009 is still his only team that went undefeated.

     

    Quotes and statistics were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer and also the author of “100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.” Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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