Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Hawaii playoff T-shirts sold separately):
ALABAMA’S DECADE OF DOMINANCE
On Dec. 7, 2006, Alabama received the most fortuitous rejection notice in the annals of the sport. West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez turned down the Crimson Tide’s offer to be its next coach, which sent the school scrambling back to its original choice to replace Mike Shula in hopes he would reconsider.
Nick Saban (11) reconsidered.
The rest is history. The greatest run in history. With no end in sight.
After taking one season to get up and running, Saban rocketed Alabama back to elite status in 2008. The Crimson Tide has not left the highest echelon since. In fact, what the program has done from 2008-17 is unmatched. It is the single best decade of work ever.
The only other school and coach that can claim five national titles in a 10-season span is Minnesota and Bernie Bierman in the 1930s and ’40s, but the first two of the Gophers’ championships (1934-35) came before the wire-service poll era. The ability to authoritatively claim national titles began when the Associated Press started its rankings in 1936. Everything before then is subject to murky revisionism.
Thus using results from 1936 onward, The Dash has ranked the five greatest one-decade stretches under a single coach:
Alabama 2008-17. Coach: Nick Saban. Record: 125-14. Winning percentage: .899. National titles: five.
Notre Dame 1942-53*. Coach: Frank Leahy (12). Record: 79-11-6. Winning percentage: .854. National titles: four. (*Leahy missed the 1944 and ’45 seasons serving in the Navy during World War II, then returned in 1946.)
Oklahoma 1948-57. Coach: Bud Wilkinson (13). Record: 97-7-2. Winning percentage: .925. National titles: three.
Nebraska 1988-97. Coach: Tom Osborne (14). Record: 108-15-1. Winning percentage: .875. National titles: three.
Alabama 1959-68. Coach: Bear Bryant (15). Record: 91-13-5. Winning percentage: .858. National titles: three.
SABAN’S GREATEST HITS AT ALABAMA
Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT), Jan. 8, 2018. Tua Bomb (16) provided the most dramatic ending possible to a national title game that seemed for most of the night to belong to the Bulldogs. A walk-off touchdown pass by a backup freshman quarterback left even perma-stoic Saban leaping in the air. Halftime decision to change QBs took some self-confidence — many coaches would have gone down swinging with their struggling starter.
Alabama 32, Florida 13, Dec. 5, 2009. The game that changed ownership of the SEC and broke Urban Meyer. Five-point underdog Alabama — the last time it wasn’t favored in a postseason game — ended the Gators’ 22-game winning streak and repeats national title bid by dominating both lines of scrimmage and throttling Tim Tebow. Payback for disappointing SEC title game loss the year before, and the biggest win in what surprisingly is Saban’s only undefeated season.
Alabama 45, Clemson 40, Jan. 11, 2016. Another tense title game that turned on a bold Saban decision — this one an onside kick in the fourth quarter of a tie game. The play worked perfectly, and ‘Bama scored 21 points in the final 10 minutes to win a shootout over Deshaun Watson and the Tigers.
Alabama 21, LSU 0, Jan. 9, 2012. Any brief claim Les Miles had to being boss of the SEC ended in suffocating fashion in the Superdome. The Tigers had beaten the Tide earlier in the season in Tuscaloosa, but a frenzied ‘Bama defense held them to 92 yards and five first downs in the rematch. To the ongoing angst of LSU fans, this wipeout began the Tide’s current seven-game winning streak in the series.
Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14, Jan. 7, 2013. Especially sweet for older Tide fans who remembered bitter losses Bear Bryant suffered against the Fighting Irish in the 1970s. The game was a colossal mismatch from the opening kickoff, and it gave Alabama its first repeat national championship since 1978-79.
SABAN’S TOUGHEST LOSSES AT ALABAMA
Auburn 34, Alabama 28, Nov. 30, 2013. The Kick Six (17) game was the ultimate gut punch: a 109-yard return of a missed field goal as time expired to derail a three-peat national title bid — and it came at the hands of the Tide’s most hated rival. This was the only season in Alabama’s greatest decade that didn’t feature an SEC championship, a national championship or a loss to the eventual national champion.
Clemson 35, Alabama 31, Jan. 9, 2017. A national title lost at the literal last second. The nation’s No. 1 defense could not hold a two-touchdown first-quarter lead, or a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, and could not stop a last-gasp Tigers drive that ended with a TD pass to a former walk-on receiver. Saban’s stunning decision to part ways with outgoing offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin between playoff games will always be second-guessed.
Auburn 28, Alabama 27, Nov. 26, 2010. “The Camback” will rankle Alabama fans forever. A Crimson Tide team that already was eliminated from SEC and national title contention still had plenty of motivation — to stop rival Auburn and controversial QB Cam Newton’s national championship run. The mission appeared accomplished when ‘Bama jumped out to a 21-0 lead — but Newton led a frenzied rally in Bryant-Denny Stadium on the way to winning it all.
Florida 31, Alabama 20, Dec. 6, 2008. The season that began the Tide’s re-emergence as a national power came to a climax in the SEC championship game — No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Florida, in a fiercely contested classic. Alabama was a whopping 10-point underdog but led going into the fourth quarter. That’s when Tebow took over, pushing back Saban’s title timetable by a year.
Ohio State 42, Alabama 35, Jan. 1, 2015. Alabama’s worst defensive team of the past decade couldn’t stop Ezekiel Elliott or third-string Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones in the first College Football Playoff semifinals. But the Tide still might have won the game — and the national title — if quarterback Blake Sims hadn’t thrown three interceptions, the most costly coming in the red zone in the fourth quarter.
OTHER ABSURD ALABAMA STATS
From 2008-17, Alabama has been an underdog (18) only four times — just once since ’08. The Tide is 3-1 in those games, with victories by 11, 24 and 28 points.
Of the 139 games Alabama has played in the last 10 seasons, it has been ranked in the Top 25 (19) for all of them; in the top 10 for 132 of them; in the top five for 110 of them; and No. 1 for 61 of them.
Saban is the first coach in SEC history (20) to lose one or fewer league games in seven straight seasons (2011-present).