College Football: How Many National Titles Do the Alabama Crimson Tide Deserve?
The AP. The UPI. The Bowl Alliance. The BCS.
What do they all have in common?
None utilize a playoff. Therefore, since the beginning of polling, many a team has been robbed of the opportunity to fairly win national championships.
What is a fan to do?
Well, one might have a little fun and start a project. Using the College Football Data Warehouse and past polling systems (see below for details), I have sifted through the declared end-of-season No. 1 teams and decided which teams I feel have earned the accolade.
Bo Schembechler of Michigan, among others, believed that a true national champion could never be crowned in football (via the New York Times). In some cases, due to the large avoidance of first- and second-ranked teams meeting in postseason games, I will sometimes crown more than one national champion per season.
Of course, this article is meant to get your voice heard, so feel free to comment. Since fans deserve to know why their schools have been awarded certain titles, I present my methodology for each team's case.
This series will encompass eventually all the BCS teams. This summer, in honor of the impending Alabama-Michigan matchup, we will cover only SEC and Big Ten teams. Today we start with the crown jewel of college football's preeminent conference, the SEC, and the current national champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The explicit purpose of this game is to show how the polls and bowls prevent a necessary college football playoff. By examining how confusing it has been to determine a champion, we can observe which way not to choose the best team.
Polls considered include: Alderson System, Anderson & Hester, AP, Berryman (QRPS), BCS, Billingsley Report, Boand System, Caspar Whitney, Colley Matrix, Congrove Computer Rankings, DeVold System, Dickinson System, Dunkel System, Eck Ratings System, Houlgate System, Litkenhous, Massey College Football Ratings, Matthews Grid Ratings, NY Times, Poling System, Rothman, Sagarin Ratings, Williamson System, and Wolfe Systems.
1925 Alabama Crimson Tide
Here is where things get dicey. Alabama has been awarded 14 national titles by various organizations. Here I will counter and offer my support or disapproval of titles the Crimson Tide has been given, in addition to other titles I believe 'Bama is worthy of.
Alabama went 10-0 in 1925 under Wallace Wade. I think an perfect season deserves a national title, especially considering the pounding they put on undefeated Washington as they became the first Southern team to play in college football's Rose Bowl—the only bowl at the time.
(Note that for the first couple of slides, this video series will be used to analyze the Tide. As football progresses into the modern era, I can give you more diverse videos.)
1926 Alabama Crimson Tide
Wade's crew had a dominant second-consecutive season with no losses—but one tie.
While Lafayette finished with an unblemished record, Alabama garnered a tie with Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Fortunately, Stanford had no losses and only tied with Alabama.
It's unfair that two teams who fought for a draw each be denied a claim at the national titles they deserve—thus, I support this second title as well.
1930 Alabama Crimson Tide
Wallace Wade went out with a bang in the form of an undefeated and un-tied season. To cap off his career in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide shut out their Rose Bowl opponents Washington State, 24-0.
1934 Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama just kept on rolling with Frank Thomas as head coach, and yes, they went undefeated and won the Rose Bowl.
An important fact is that Bear Bryant was an end on the 1934 championship squad. He was a varsity letter winner alongside Don Hutson.
1961 Alabama Crimson Tide
Bear Bryant's first championship team was one of his best—and that's saying something.
The Crimson Tide's defense posted six shutouts, including five in a row. Fortunately for Auburn haters, the War Eagle was shot down 34-0.
Alabama would go on to beat future Southeastern Conference opponents Arkansas (who were coached by fellow Hall of Fame coach Frank Broyles), 10-3 in the Sugar Bowl.
1964 Alabama Crimson Tide
I have trouble awarding Alabama this national championship.
Bear Bryant and company lost the Orange Bowl to Texas—and the Longhorns weren't even in the Top Two. Fortunately for Alabama, UPI polls awarded teams national championships based only on regular-season performance.
1966 Alabama Crimson Tide
Three undefeated teams came into the 1965 bowl season. Michigan State of the Big Ten, Arkansas of the Southwest Conference, and Nebraska of the Big 8 all were a perfect 10-0-0. All three teams lost, including Nebraska, which fell to Alabama.
Despite their resounding Orange Bowl victory, it is difficult to argue that an 8-1-2 team should win a national championship when multiple un-tied and one-loss teams had better overall records. The conclusion of a confusing year brings us to 1966.
No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State had tied 10-10 in the "Game of the Century." While this tie could have helped Alabama, each foe recovered and finished the year with no losses.
Notre Dame proceeded to pound 10th-ranked USC on the road, shutting the Trojans out 51-0! The Fighting Irish had also pounded then-eighth ranked Purdue 26-14 and shut out No. 10 Oklahoma 38-0 in Norman! Michigan State had proven its mettle as a national championship contender by being the only team that was a threat to Notre Dame all year.
Undefeated Alabama was left out in the cold, despite thrashing No. 6 Nebraska by a score of 34-7. Some say it was Alabama's weak strength of schedule, Notre Dame's dominance, or the stupidity of the pollsters for not giving Alabama at least a share of the national championship.
In reality, many were chagrined that the previous year's 8-1-2 Tide team had been awarded a title, and active segregation in the South did not help with public relations. With the defense giving up only 37 points all season, the 1966 Crimson Tide team may be the best football team to be deprived of a championship...
Which is why I gave them one.
1973 Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide really lucked out in this one.
Presented the UPI Service National Championship after a dominating regular season performance, the Tide lost a nail-biter Sugar Bowl classic to Ara Parseghian's Notre Dame team.
When the Crimson Tide experienced a similar situation in 1974, it cost them the national championship—so thank goodness for 1973!
This team stands out in Alabama history as being perhaps the most prolific on offense. Though the defense recorded four shutouts, the offense averaged nearly 40 points per game. The most merciless results came in home games against Cal and Virginia Tech, 66-0 and 77-6. Yowch!
1977 Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama does not claim a share of the 1977 national championship, which seems unfair to me.
The 1977 season left four teams with one loss—making it almost as difficult as the 2003 season to declare a national champion. Quarterback Joe Montana and Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas and Heisman Trophy-winner Earl Campbell by a score of 38-10. Such a resounding victory propelled the Irish to the top the polls.
However, Alabama clobbered Big Ten champions Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, winning 35-6. Though the Buckeyes were ranked ninth, making 'Bama's Sugar Bowl victory pale compared to Notre Dame's Cotton Bowl blowout, it is essential to compare the two winning teams' losses on the year.
Alabama lost early in the season to Nebraska, a team that was nearly invincible at home. The Cornhuskers, led by famous head coach Tom Osborne, defeated the Crimson Tide in a close game. A 21-20 upset of top-ranked USC, though, thrust 'Bama back into the national title race.
Notre Dame also had an impressive selection of scalps, playing more ranked teams than the Crimson Tide. The Fighting Irish pulverized USC in South Bend 49-19. This demolition is why I recognize Notre Dame as a co-champion with Alabama.
The Achilles Heel for Joe Montana came early in the season. Playing at Ole Miss, the Irish lost 20-13. The Rebels finished 5-6, a very unflattering blemish on an otherwise flagship season. Interestingly, Alabama beat Ole Miss 34-13. As you can see, these respective team's losses negate each other.
While Notre Dame wouldn't win another championship for 11 years, it was the start of what I call the "Alabama Three-Peat."
1978 Alabama Crimson Tide
1978 brought another controversial championship for the Crimson Tide.
The Tide, whose only loss came to Southern California at Legion Field, ended up winning the AP Poll. USC, on the other hand, won more votes in the UPI Poll, 496 to 491. The five-vote margin of victory was the smallest to have decided a national champion in the previous 12 seasons.
USC easily deserved a share of the national championship—coach John Robinson's Trojans had beaten Alabama in Birmingham! Unfortunately, a loss to Pac-10 newcomer Arizona State had cost the Trojans an unblemished season.
Nevertheless, USC running back Marcus Allen helped mow over three Top 20 opponents in three consecutive weekends. A closer than expected win over a mediocre Hawaii team likely cost the Trojans, as they finished the regular season third in the nation. A blowout would've given the necessary exclamation point to the voters, showing that USC was consistently able to thrash weaker opponents.
Bear Bryant capitalized. The houndstooth-hatted man made an excellent case for his home base—the Tide had creamed 10th-ranked Nebraska and 11th-ranked Missouri before falling to the then-No. 7 Trojans.
The team regrouped, capturing another SEC Championship and destroying the 10th-ranked LSU Tigers 31-10. Ultimately ranked second, the team faced off against undefeated Penn State in a rare No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game.
When the Alabama defense prevented Penn State from scoring on 4th-and-goal in the Sugar Bowl, they essentially beat the best team in the country. The victory itself proved why Alabama deserved the national championship. It was (in my opinion) Bear Bryant's sixth title with the team, and the Crimson Tide's second in a row.
1979 Alabama Crimson Tide
The 1979 season featured Alabama always ranked in the Top Two. That shows just how consistent the Crimson Tide were on the gridiron. Unlike many previous seasons, the crew did not lose a single game. Perhaps it had to do with Bear Bryant's motivational speaking.
Bear Bryant's final and indisputable national championship came with some Rose Bowl drama.
Third-ranked USC had also not lost a game all year, but had tied Stanford in the middle of their slate. Ohio State, led by first-year head coach Earle Bruce, was ranked first and had no losses or ties. USC's 17-16 victory over the Buckeyes paved the way for Alabama's third-consecutive championship.
(On the bright side for Trojan fans, USC running back Charles White did bring home the Heisman Trophy.)
1992 Alabama Crimson Tide
Older Alabama fans know how much change occurred in the '80s.
After Bear Bryant's retirement and passing, the athletic director went through several coaches who delivered inconsistent seasons. Ultimately, Alabama alumnus Gene Stallings was hired as head coach in 1990. By 1992, the Crimson Tide had returned to the college football elite.
What separated this team from the other champions of lore was the new SEC Championship Game. The SEC, having expanded to 12 teams, could now stage a championship game.
The idea was foreign to SEC coaches, and most people were against such a game that would discredit the regular season. In the words of Alabama coach Gene Stallings (from SECDigitalNetwork.com), "We were 11-0 and had won nothing." CBS was hesitant about airing the game, and only signed a one-year contract to televise the game.
Alabama had plenty of motivation, as their only loss over the past two seasons had come against Florida, the SEC East champions. The Gators, with their revolutionary coach Steve Spurrier, had employed a passing game the SEC had never seen (the "Fun 'N Gun"). Alabama felt its sting in 1991, when the Tide were decimated 35-0.
The game was tense, but Alabama escaped the jaws of death with an Antonio Langham interception. By sticking to its traditional powerhouse defense, the team actually revolutionized the sport.
Alabama was actually more prepared to faced defending national champion Miami. After clobbering the 'Canes and Heisman-winning quarterback Gino Torretta 34-13, other conferences adopted the 12-team format and installed championship games.
It was the catalyst for the massive conference realignment still going on 20 years later in college football.
But for Alabama, 1992 was vindication. It proved that the Crimson Tide hadn't died with the Bear. The revenge game victory over Florida was satisfying, as was the Sugar Bowl victory over Miami. Alabama's seniors had actually lost a national championship to Miami four years earlier in the 1990 Sugar Bowl.
While the victories over college football's newborn Sunshine State powers were big, what mattered most was a national championship trophy coming back home to Tuscaloosa.
2009 Alabama Crimson Tide
In 2007, you could say that "The Stars Fell On Alabama" when they landed coaching superstar Nick Saban. By 2009, the Tuscaloosa faithful were singing "Sweet Home Alabama."
After Gene Stallings retired, Alabama football became slovenly again. Some seasons, such as 2005, saw the Tide in title contention until November, but years with high expectations usually brought losing seasons.
While the Tide's record didn't improve much during Saban's first year (6-7 to 7-6), Alabama's losses all came by only a touchdown at most. The 2008 team roared through the regular season, before collapsing against Florida and Utah.
2009 was the next step. Like Stallings, Saban's third year at the helm brought the Coaches' Trophy back to Tuscaloosa.
After winning the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff against seventh-ranked Virginia Tech, the Tide stuck to their running game. Mark Ingram, Jr., who'd set the Alabama scoring record for a freshman running back, led the Tide on the ground in tandem with freshman Trent Richardson. Combined with Greg McElroy, their Rhodes Scholar quarterback who hadn't lost a game since eighth grade, the Tide cruised through the majority of their SEC slate.
That all changed on The Third Saturday of October. It was the perfect trap game. Tennessee's coach, the boisterous Lane Kiffin, had made glorious predictions for the Volunteers' 2009 season. As of game time, Tennessee's season had been insignificant, so few took his team seriously. But Kiffin's prediction for success almost occurred.
Ingram fumbled for the first time in his career, and Greg McElroy was in a midseason slump. Leigh Tiffin, the son of legendary Alabama kicker Van Tiffin, made four field goals to keep the Tide alive. But entering the end of the fourth quarter, Tiffin's team had a precarious 12-10 lead—and Tennessee had the football in field goal range.
Practicing sound football strategy, Lane Kiffin waited until the last second to make a kick that would upset the top-ranked team nationally. But Terrence "Mount" Cody, the Tide's veteran nose tackle, blocked Tennessee's field goal to secure the Tide victory.
The '09 year wasn't only remembered for "The Block." The regular-season finale against Auburn was a game for the ages. Trailing 14-0 on the road at the end of the first quarter, the Tide regrouped and McElroy led a long, clock-draining drive that ultimately put the Tide on top 26-21.
The Tide were paired against Urban Meyer's Florida Gators for the second year in a row. And for the second year in a row, the first and second ranked teams were playing each other for the SEC Championship. Whoever lost not only missed out on the conference title, but a chance to win it all.
Alabama surprised Florida, utilizing more of a spread offense. The Gators were demolished that day, ending their 22-game win streak. To crown the perfect season, Mark Ingram became Alabama's first Heisman Trophy winner, beating out quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida and Colt McCoy of Texas.
As of the Heisman Presentation, the Tide had bested Florida, but would face a Texas-sized nemesis in the championship game.
|Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Texas Longhorns All-Time Results (Prior to 2009)|
|1902||10-0, Texas triumph in Tuscaloosa|
|1915||20-0, Longhorns shutout 'Bama in Austin|
|1922||19-10, Texas win in Austin|
|1948||27-7, Longhorn victory in the Sugar Bowl|
|1960||3-3 tie in the Bluebonnet Bowl|
|1965||Texas defeated national champion Alabama 21-17 in Orange Bowl|
|1973||Texas wins Cotton Bowl 17-13 over the fourth-ranked Tide|
|1982||Longhorns beat third-ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, 14-12|
Bear Bryant, perhaps the best football coach ever, went 0-3-1 against the Longhorns. Texas, now led by veteran coach Mack Brown, was one of the program's few Achilles heels.
A tenacious defense, after an injury to Texas's Colt McCoy, feasted off of Garrett Gilbert's four interceptions to prevent a fourth-quarter comeback for Texas in the national championship game. A forced fumble and interception in the final 3:17 made the final score look like a blowout, but the 16-point margin of victory didn't matter. By beating Texas for the first time ever, the program won its first national title in 17 seasons.
2011 Alabama Crimson Tide
"We should not need a tragedy to inspire us to try and help others. We should serve other people all the time. You cannot be a leader and affect other people if you're not willing to serve other people."
This might be Alabama's most controversial title.
It's the one it needed most.
A series of tornadoes demolished the state in the offseason. Many Alabamians looked for hope in their football leaders, and Nick Saban and company did not let them down.
After losing the "Game of the Century" at home to Les Miles and LSU, the Tide proceeded to destroy every other opponent in its path. Since teams like Boise State and Oklahoma State unexpectedly lost, Alabama was invited to play LSU again in the BCS National Championship.
The move angered some football fans, as Alabama hadn't even won its own conference division or played for an SEC Championship. Much opposition was silenced, though, when Nick Saban's team thrashed the Tigers 21-0. At the same time, the Yellowhammer State learned to take advantage of second chances and hope continues to bloom from where wreckage once laid.
2011's defense will be forever in college football lore. The defense allowed only 106 points on the season (8.2 points per game). They have a better defense than most of the teams in the modern era. SportsRatings calls this year's Alabama defense the best in nearly 30 years! The Crimson Tide also led all major statistical categories on defense. They were the first team to accomplish this feat since 1986!
Additionally, Saban's high-scoring offense (roughly 35 points per game) created separation between the Tide and their rough slate, as they demolished 23rd-ranked Penn State, 14th-ranked Arkansas, and No. 12 Florida. The separation helped the Tide beat every opponent (excluding LSU) by at least 17 points.
While their schedule wasn't as strong as the Tigers, their players were. Trent Richardson finished third in Heisman voting, and eight Crimson Tide players were selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
It also seemed fitting that 20 years after their monumental first SEC Championship Game triumph, the Tide again changed football's landscape. The loss has left other conferences clamoring for an expanded competition to decide a national champion. In other words, Alabama's national championship victory proved the viability of the long-wanted college football playoff.
If you don't believe me, then (again) listen to Nick Saban.
Needless to say, Nick Saban has done an excellent job so far. Two national championships in three years have earned him his statue in the pantheon of Alabama coaches.
'Bama football has brought up questions about college football playoffs. But your everyday Crimson Tide fan has a far more important question...How long until No. 15?
Be sure to check out next week's team: Auburn! How many more titles do the Crimson Tide have than the Tigers?