Reliving the dynasty: Nick Saban's top 5 games with Alabama football

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from The Tuscaloosa News' commemorative book on Nick Saban and his Alabama football dynasty. The complete top 10 Alabama games from the Saban era with expanded material on each, as well as top players, ranking of all his seasons and much more, can be found in the book. You can order the book online at:

Great coaches produce victories in great games. Here are the top five games from the Nick Saban era of Alabama football.

1. Alabama 32, Florida 13


This was the watershed game that tipped the SEC scale in Alabama’s direction for the first time in the Saban era. Having lost to the mighty Gators in the SEC title game the previous year, the Crimson Tide entered the game as a five-point underdog and pulled off the upset with a stifling defensive effort and a grinding rushing attack.

A Florida team that was the defending national champion and loaded with star power, including Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, entered unbeaten and had knocked off all but one of its opponents (Arkansas) by a 10-point margin or more. The teams’ demeanor in walk-throughs prior to the game were distinctly different, with the Gators taking a loose and jovial approach, while UA — as has been its practice under Saban — was all business. After this victory, Alabama wouldn’t be an underdog again until 2015.

They said it

“He’s a great player, but man, we’re tired of him.” — Alabama receiver Julio Jones on Tebow.

2. Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)


Did Alabama deserve to be in the College Football Playoff? That question hung as a national backdrop in the lead-up to the CFP and following Alabama’s 26-14 loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It was only UA’s first loss of the season, but there were howls about the Crimson Tide joining the four-team field without winning its division or appearing in the SEC title game.

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Only a national title would quiet them, and for much of Alabama’s overtime win over Georgia, it didn’t look as though UA would pull it off. Additionally, there was the much-anticipated first coaching matchup between Saban and his longtime defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, who led the Bulldogs to the brink of a national title in just his second season.

They said it

“I asked Tua (Tagovailoa), ‘Why did you take a sack when we needed a field goal to stay in the game?’ He said he just needed more room to throw the ball. I said ‘That ain’t funny.’” — Saban

Nick Saban retired following the 2023 season.
Nick Saban retired following the 2023 season.

3. Alabama 45, Clemson 40


Nobody knew it that night, but this instant classic was the beginning of a new dynastic rivalry. Alabama and Clemson would meet in the College Football Playoff four straight years, both winning twice. It all started in the 2016 CFP national title game, remembered for some of Saban’s boldest, most brilliant coaching.

“I think I aged a little bit tonight,” he said afterward. Probably because his three previous national title games at Alabama had been blowout wins by 16 or more points. This time, his Crimson Tide trailed 24-21 before scoring 24 points in an action-packed fourth quarter. Alabama ended a three-year championship drought not with defense, but with offense and special teams heroics.

They said it

“We have worked on that (onside kick) every week for 10 weeks. Then we worked on it in practice Thursday and I dropped it.” — Marlon Humphrey, Alabama cornerback

4. Alabama 41, Georgia 30

Sept. 27, 2008

Scott Cochran called it. Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach at the time, Cochran made a proclamation before the Tide’s showdown at No. 3 Georgia that went far beyond the practice field. Cameras caught Cochran saying the Bulldogs would be wearing black jerseys for that season’s blackout game because they’d be going to their own “(expletive) funeral.”

The words were as colorful as they were bold, considering those black uniforms had already served the Bulldogs well. UGA had beaten Hawaii and Auburn while wearing them during the 2007 season, before the mystique died against Alabama. The Tide pummeled the Bulldogs by racing to a 31-0 halftime lead as it rocketed into the national championship race for the first time under Saban. Alabama leaped from No. 8 to No. 2 in the AP poll after starting the season at No. 24.  The win sent a clear message to the rest of college football: Alabama was back, even if Saban wasn’t saying so.

They said it

“We just got whipped. There’s no excuses, and don’t expect any from me.” — Mark Richt, Georgia football coach

Nov 25, 2023; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Isaiah Bond (17) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown on 4th and 31 with under a minute to play at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama defeated Auburn 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 25, 2023; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Isaiah Bond (17) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown on 4th and 31 with under a minute to play at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama defeated Auburn 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

5. Alabama 27, Auburn 24

Nov. 25, 2023

Alabama’s grave had been dug. Or so it seemed. In the final minutes, the Crimson Tide had to complete a fourth-and-31 to stay alive, not only in the game against Auburn but also for the College Football Playoff. A loss would have ended those hopes. And it all came down to the one impossible-looking play. Then the Crimson Tide climbed out of the grave while knocking the Tigers into it.

On fourth-and-31, quarterback Jalen Milroe hit receiver Isaiah Bond for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Alabama took the lead with 32 seconds left. The play Bond said was called “Gravedigger” ultimately gave the Crimson Tide the win and made it possible for Saban to make the College Football Playoff one last time with one last iconic Iron Bowl victory.

They said it

“If you’re in this long enough, sometimes it goes against you in the last play of the game. Sometimes you’re fortunate, and it goes for you.” — Saban

(Nick Kelly and Bennett Durando contributed to this story.)

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Nick Saban's top 5 games in Alabama football coaching dynasty