Ranking the Best Alabama Teams in the Last 10 Years

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2021

Ranking the Best Alabama Teams in the Last 10 Years

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Love 'em or hate 'em, no college football program has defined the last decade more than the Alabama Crimson Tide.

    From the 2011 season through the 2020 campaign, the SEC powerhouse earned six division and conference titles. And, most notably, the Nick Saban-led teams brought five national championships back to Tuscaloosa during this incredible stretch.

    While waiting to determine where the 2021 squad fits, we're looking back at the last 10 years of Alabama football.

    The order is subjective, but team accomplishmentsSEC and national titles, win-loss records, etc.are the most important factors. Statistical performance is also considered.

10. Escape Artists of 2014

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    Jamie Martin/Associated Press

    First of all, let's consider the absurdity of this situation. The program's worst team of the decade finished 12-2 with a 5-2 mark against Top 25 competition, won a conference title and made the College Football Playoff. That would be a near-legendary season at about 95 percent of other programs.

    But the 2014 Tide didn't completely dominate. What a failure, right?

    Following a road loss to quarterback Bo Wallace and Ole Miss in October, Alabama edged Arkansas 14-13. Then in November, the Tide survived LSU in overtime, held off top-ranked Mississippi State and needed a fourth-quarter surge to dispatch Auburn.

    Alabama smoked Missouri 42-13 to win the SEC, but the defensewhich saved an inconsistent offense three times during the seasonfaltered in a 42-35 loss to Ohio State in the CFP semifinals.

9. The What-If 2019 Team

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    What if Tua Tagovailoa avoided his season-ending injury?

    Yes, the Crimson Tide had already lost to LSU, the eventual national champions. Forced to make a choice, I'd say Joe Burrow and that offensive juggernaut would've won a rematch with Alabama too.

    But if Tagovailoa were healthy, perhaps the Tide wouldn't have lost to Auburn. Maybe the CFP selection committee would've chosen an 11-1 Alabama over 12-1 Oklahoma, which ended the season with four one-score victories in the last five gamesincluding an overtime win over Baylor's third-string quarterback in the Big 12 championship. Beyond the loss to LSU, the Tide had at least a 19-point margin of victory in every win.

    We'll never know what could've been, though.

    Tagovailoa's dislocated hip ended his season two weeks before the Iron Bowl. After falling to Auburn, the Tide wrapped up the season at 11-2 thanks to a Citrus Bowl rout of Michigan.

8. Kick-Six Cloud of 2013

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Alabama entered the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. And for 11 games, basically one program tested the Crimson Tide.

    They survived an early trip to face Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, surrendering 628 yards but winning 49-42. Otherwise, the Tide's first 10 opponents combined to score 60 points. Only one of those teams (Tennessee) even managed to crack 300 offensive yards.

    But then, Auburn happened.

    While the rival Tigers rushed for 296 yards to keep it competitive, they provided a legendary moment in college football history. After throwing a game-tying touchdown in the final minute, Auburn won on Chris Davis' immortal runback when Alabama's potential winning field goal as time expired fell short.

    Alabama closed the season with a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, dropping to an 11-2 record.

7. Title-Winning 2017 Team

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    The good news? Alabama boasted the country's top-ranked defense and won a national championship!

    Compare the 2017 team to 2016 and 2018, though, and the Crimson Tide had a far more uncomfortable journey to the College Football Playoff. They struggled in road victories over Texas A&M and Mississippi State before losing at Auburn. Alabama sneaked into the CFP instead of two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State.

    The bright lights of the CFP further exposed Bama's limited offense, which navigated the semifinal because the defense overwhelmed Clemson as expected. But the Tide saw their lack of explosiveness lead to a quarterback change in the national title game.

    Fortunately for Saban, the switch from Jalen Hurts to Tua Tagovailoa against Georgia hardly could've worked better. Tua overcame an early interception and threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

    Nevertheless, the 2017 squad overcame a glaring flaw to secure the fifth championship of Saban's tenure.

6. The Greatest Team That Never Was in 2018

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Alabama seemed destined for legendary status in 2018.

    More than anything, we'd never seen an Alabama offense of this caliber. Tua Tagovailoa, who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, guided the Crimson Tide to the program records in yards per play, points and yards per game and many others.

    Heading into November, the college football world wondered if this could be the greatest team ever. Then, the Tide blanked fourth-ranked LSU 29-0 and No. 18 Mississippi State 24-0. Nobody could stop them.

    Not until the final stretch, at least.

    Alabama needed a 14-point comeback to edge Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Although the Tide toppled Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals, they never had a shot in the national title. Trevor Lawrence and Clemson walked all over Alabama 44-16, putting an emphatic end to the conversation of Alabama's place in history.

5. Gut-Wrenching Runner-Up in 2016

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Can you really call it a heartbreaking loss? Alabama won a national title on either side of this last-second lossyou know, along with already having four other championships in the Saban eraso it's not like Crimson Tide fans needed to wait decades to celebrate.

    Still, there's no question this one stung.

    As in 2016, Bama mostly cruised through the regular season. While compiling an 8-0 mark against Top 25 teams through the conference title game, just twoOle Miss and LSUstayed within 18 points of the Tide. They wrecked Florida 54-16 for the SEC crown and shut down Washington 24-7 in the CFP semifinal to set up a rematch with Clemson in the national title.

    Only a last-second touchdown from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow prevented Alabama from becoming the first wire-to-wire national champion since 2004 USC.

4. Repeat Champs in 2012

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Winning a national title is incredibly difficult. Saban has made it appear otherwise, earning six at Alabama through his first 14 seasons in Tuscaloosa. Back-to-back championships, however, have only happened once during this amazing stretch.

    That should tell you everything about the significance of this feat.

    As was typical in the early portion of Alabama's rise to power, defense led the way in 2012. This unit surrendered the fewest yards per game (250.0), fewest points per game (10.9) and second-fewest yards per snap (4.2). Only two teamsTexas A&M when Manziel and Co. pulled off an upset and Georgia in the SEC Championship Gametopped 17 points.

    Alabama hammered Notre Dame 42-14 in the national championship to finish the bid for consecutive titles.

3. Defensive Powerhouse in 2011

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    On the front end of the back-to-back titles, the Crimson Tide had an absolutely suffocating defense.

    Given that Georgia Southern ran back a kickoff, no offense scored more than two touchdowns on the 2011 unit. Alabama ceded a comically low 8.2 points per game.

    While that strength nudges this squad ahead of the 2013 team, a more favorable schedule keeps 2011 behind the next squad.

    Including the national title against LSUa rematch of the memorable slugfest that Bama lost 9-6 during the regular seasonthe Tide only encountered five ranked teams all year. Most importantly, however, they exacted revenge on LSU with a 21-0 win.

2. Heisman-Led 2015 Team

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Although any championship is well-earned, the 2015 Crimson Tide faced a brutal schedule and almost went unscathed.

    The 14-1 record featured an 8-1 mark against Top 25 competition. After downing No. 20 Wisconsin, Alabama fell to 15th-ranked Ole Miss in mid-September, which sent the team plummeting from No. 2 nationally to 12th. But the gauntlet that followed helped the Tide rise again.

    They dispatched No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 4 LSU and No. 20 Mississippi State in the regular season and breezed past No. 18 Florida in the SEC Championship Game—all by at least 14 points. Alabama then shut out No. 3 Michigan State in the CFP semifinals.

    Top-ranked Clemson presented a massive test in the national title game, but a couple of key special teams plays and Derrick Henry's late touchdown iced a thrilling 45-40 victory.

    Henry, who rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns, earned the program's second-ever Heisman Trophy.

1. Offensive Juggernaut in 2020

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    Alabama demanded an extraordinary level of respect in 2020. No matter what a defense did, it couldn't stop this offense.

    Sure, Ole Miss scored 48 in a September matchup. Yes, Florida put up 46 during the SEC Championship Game. But the Crimson Tide amassed 63 points and 723 yards against Ole Miss and hung 605 points with 52 points to navigate Florida.

    In the rest of the regular season, Alabama's defense held each opponent to 24 points or below. Oh, and the Tide never scored fewer than 38 points until the CFP. They set program records in both points and yards per game, among several others. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy, quarterback Mac Jones finished third and running back Najee Harris checked in fifth.

    Dominant victories over Notre Dame and Ohio State in the playoff punctuated a spectacular championship year. And 2020 is the only undefeated season in Saban's 15-year tenure at Alabama.