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January 16, 2010

Ranking the Tide's titles

TUSCALOOSA _ Although the University of Alabama will celebrate its 13th national championship Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, All-American senior cornerback Javier Arenas had the correct answer last week.

The question: "Is this the best Alabama team ever?"

"You never want to compare talent or anything like that, but as far as coming together and a fine group of guys, you can put us up there as one of the best ever," he said. "This is what Alabama is all about."

He's right on both counts. There is no way to measure and compare Alabama's title teams, at least in terms of talent. Just ask a handful of Crimson Tide fans who's the best linebacker in program history and see how many different answers you get.

But in terms of accomplishments, yes, the teams can be ranked (in reverse order).

13. 1941: Most fans simply know it as the two-loss title, when Alabama didn't even win its own conference and was ranked 20th in the final Associated Press poll. While Minnesota was the consensus No. 1 team, the Tide was able to claim a share of the championship after finishing atop 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).

12. 1973: This team would have been a lot closer to No. 1 on this list, but after an undefeated season Alabama lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. At the time, the United Press International coaches' poll held its final voting at the end of the regular season (while the Associated Press had already switched to the completion of the postseason in 1969), with the Tide named its national champion. The roster boasted three first-team All-Americans, Buddy Brown (tackle), Woodrow Lowe (linebacker), and Wayne Wheeler (split end), along with three second-teamers Mike Washington (cornerback), John Croyle (defensive end), and Mike Raines (defensive tackle), in addition to an Academic All-American, Randy Hall (defensive tackle).

11. 1965: Following Alabama's controversial championship in 1964, the Associated Press decided that for the first time it would hold its final poll after all bowl games had been played instead of the conclusion of the regular season. After the Tide lost its opener to Georgia on a disputed call and tied Tennessee, No. 4 Alabama needed help to be in the title picture and got it. After turning down an invitation to play in the Cotton Bowl, it benefitted from 1. Michigan State losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Arkansas getting beat by LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Despite being outsized, Alabama out-gained Nebraska 518 to 377 yards for a 39-28 victory in the Orange Bowl. However, it was a split title as the coaches' poll, held before the bowls, still had Michigan State at No. 1.

10. 1978: Despite playing a vicious schedule, including Nebraska, Missouri, Southern California, Washington, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, LSU and Auburn before the postseason, the Tide only stumbled against the Trojans en route to a No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. A decisive goal-line stand, with Barry Krauss (who had a lot of help) making the key fourth-down stop of Mike Guman, proved to be the difference. Although the Associated Press had Alabama No. 1, United Press International voters promoted Southern California up from No. 3, resulting in a split title. Incidentally, Krauss and Marty Lyons were first-team All-Americans, with center Dwight Stephenson a second-team selection.

9. 1926: After pulling off the upset win in the Rose Bowl and winning the program's first national title in 1925, the Tide proved it was no fluke by enjoying six shutouts, outscoring its regular-season opponents 242-20 and returned to Pasadena. The Crimson Tide managed to pull off a 7-7 tie against Glenn "Pop" Warner's Stanford team to essentially split the title, with Lafayette and Navy also staking a claim.

8. 1964: Quarterback Joe Namath sustained a knee injury four games into the season, but still managed to share time with Steve Stone and the two led Alabama to an undefeated regular season. Benefitting from Notre Dame's loss to Southern Cal, 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 completed 18 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, but in the final seconds his quarterback sneak was ruled short of the goal line and the Longhorns held on for a controversial 21-17 victory. Guard Wayne Freeman, tackle Dan Kearley and halfback/kicker David Ray were named All-Americans, but Namath was not a consensus choice so he's not eligible for enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame.

7. 1934: Alabama won the Southeastern Conference's first title in 1933 and in addition to repeating returned to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Wallace Wade's swan song. Led by the by Dixie Howell to Don Hutson passing connection, the Tide dominated Stanford 29-13 to finish a perfect 10-0. Alabama outscored opponents 316-45. Howell was named SEC player of the year in addition to All-American along with Bill Lee and Hutson.

6. 1979: Alabama capped the most dominating decade in college football (103-16-1, three national titles and eight SEC championships) by running the table and winning Paul W. "Bear" Bryant his last national championship. The Tide had three first-team All-Americans with Jim Bunch, Dwight Stephenson and Don McNeal, second-teamers E.J. Junior and Byron Braggs, and five other All-SEC selections. Alabama outscored its first five opponents 219-9, 383-67 overall, but also endured some close calls.

5. 1930: Coach Wallace Wade had already turned in his resignation near the end of the previous season, but agreed to fulfill the final year of his contract before taking over at Duke. The Tide gave up only 13 points all season, including the dominating 24-0 victory against Washington State in the Rose Bowl. The team was so good that Wade was known for starting his backup players and then bringing in the starters when the opposition had already started to wear down. Halfback John Henry Suther was the lone All-American.

4. 1992: The centennial season of Alabama football was also one of its greatest, although the Tide was ranked eleventh in the preseason. In order to win the national championship it had to beat Auburn after Pat Dye announced his resignation (17-0), Florida in the first SEC Championship Game (28-21), and No. 1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Although the Hurricanes, led by Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, were riding a 28-game winning streak, Alabama pulled out a dominating 34-13 victory. Alabama had three first-team All-Americans with John Copeland, Eric Curry and Antonio Langham, while George Teague was second-team.

3. 1925: Wallace Wade led the Tide to an undefeated season and its first appearance in the Rose Bowl, which at the time was the del facto national championship game. The 20-19 victory against heavily-favored Washington essentially put Southern football on the map and is still considered one of the best Rose Bowl games ever played. Alabama outscored opponents 297-26, while "Pooley" Hubert was named first-team All-American and John Mack Brown second-team.

2. 1961: Bryant's first national title was also remembered for his famous quote: "They play like it is a sin to give up a point." 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 Tide, with no opponent scoring more than seven and the final five games of the regular season all shutouts. Billy Neighbors was a unanimous All-American selection, the Crimson Tide's first since 1954, while Lee Roy Jordan and Trammell were second-team picks.

1. 2009: Alabama ran the table to become the first SEC team to go 14-0 and win the national title. In his third season on the Capstone, Nick Saban became the first coach in modern college football history to win national titles at two difference schools. Along the way, the Tide secured its first Heisman Trophy and had six players named All-Americans.

This isn't to suggest that the 2009 Tide was better than the 1961 or 1992 championship teams, but consider this one final tidbit about its accomplishments:

In 1961, the Tide faced only two teams that were ranked in the final Associated Press poll, No,. 9 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl and No. 13 Georgia Tech.

The 1992 team didn't play a team that finished in the top 10 until No. 10 Florida in the SEC Championship Game and Miami in the Sugar Bowl (the Hurricanes were No. 1 before the loss and finished third.

This season's title included wins over No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Florida, No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 17 LSU and No. 20 Ole Miss. It also played South Carolina when it was ranked 22nd.

That's even more impressive considering when Saban arrived in 2007 the Tide had only had one All-American since 2007, linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

"We've come a long way," Arenas said.


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