TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — All week we’ve been talking about Nick Saban being the head coach for Alabama football for 10 years.
Saban has Alabama back in the national championship for the second straight year, and the fifth time in eight seasons. Alabama faces Clemson on Monday in Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Here, we rank Saban’s teams while at Alabama. It was tougher than you may think.
10. 2007: 7-6
This was Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama hasn’t won less than 10 games in a season since. Enough said.
9. 2010: 10-3
We gave serious consideration to putting this team at No. 10 because of how much it underachieved. Think about it: a serious case could be made that this was Saban’s most talented team, but they lost three games. The losses were close games, but not being able to finish cost them.
This group was complacent in the worst way coming off the 2009 title.
In a way, losing in 2010 may have been a good thing because it helped fuel the 2011 and 2012 national championship runs.
8. 2013: 11-2
While Alabama underachieved in 2010, this feels like the ultimate “what could have been” team.
In its quest for a three-peat, Alabama opened the year 11-0 only to have its season blown up by in-state rival Auburn on the infamous Kick-6.
This team seemingly took its foot off the gas down the stretch. There were questionable coaching decisions in that Iron Bowl as well.
Point being, Alabama was on the doorstep of history and couldn’t complete the task. Alabama would have beaten Missouri that year in the SEC title game. Florida State would have been a tough matchup, but who knows what could have happened given a month to prepare.
7. 2008: 12-2
This group was so close to the national title. After a rough season in Saban’s first year, Alabama stormed the college football landscape with a 12-0 season. But a few mishaps against a Tim Tebow-led Florida team doomed the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game.
They didn’t win it all, but this group helped spark Alabama’s dynasty.
6. 2014: 12-2
It felt like this team overachieved at times. There were a lot of talented players, but things never completely came together.
Alabama was breaking in a new quarterback in Blake Sims and a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin. Despite some of the team’s deficiencies, the Crimson Tide still managed to make it to the playoff and had a chance to beat Ohio State.
They get the nod over some of the other teams because they won an SEC title.
5. 2011: 12-1, national champions
OK, before you get upset about this group being No. 5, hear me out. The 2011 defense was one of the best in the history of college football. Every player who started on that defense went on to play in the NFL.
That bunch had a lot of personality as well with guys like Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Mark Barron.
But the offense left a lot to be desired. Trent Richardson wound up being a Heisman Trophy candidate, but there weren’t a ton of big-time threats beyond him. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks were talented receivers, but not on the level of Julio Jones and Amari Cooper.
We knocked this group down a little for not winning its division and the SEC that year. They made up for it at the end by beating LSU for the BCS national championship. But when comparing against the top 4, the teams ahead of them have SEC and national championships.
4. 2012: 13-1, national champions
Slight edge to the 2012 team over the 2011 group because they made the SEC Championship Game and won a thriller over Georgia.
They also pounded Notre Dame into submission in the national championship game.
In comparison to 2011, the 2012 team also featured more offensive playmakers than the 2011 group. Richardson carried a lot of the offensive load in 2011, but Alabama was more balanced in 2012.
AJ McCarron was a year older. That group featured one of the best offensive lines in college football history, two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and a 1,000-yard receiver in Amari Cooper.
Imagine what practice would have been like if you had that group of skill guys going up against the 2011 defense. Insane to think about.
The 2012 defense sometimes get overlooked, but it had guys like C.J. Mosley and Dee Milliner playing at a high level.
3. 2015: 14-1, national champions
There was something special about this group.
Think back to all the storylines surrounding this team going into the season. People questioned whether or not the game had passed Saban by after back-to-back bowl losses. Alabama couldn’t find a quarterback until the third game of the season. Many wondered if the defense was built to handle spread attacks.
There were plenty of questions swirling around the 2015 group, and all they did was dominate the competition for the most part. Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy. Jake Coker won the quarterback job and led the team to a title. The defense went down as one of the best in Saban’s tenure.
Despite all the questions, this group became closer and proved all the outsiders wrong.
2. 2009: 14-0, national champions
There’s something special about finishing the year without a loss. So far, the 2009 team is Saban’s only group to do so.
The games weren’t always pretty, but Alabama found a way to squeak out a victory each Saturday that year. Fueled by the SEC title game loss to Florida the year before, Alabama put its stamp on the college football world. Alabama has since won three more national championships, but Saban has mentioned that this group is special because they were able to finish each game with a ‘W’ that year.
We’re leaving this spot open in advance of Monday’s national championship. If this group finishes the job and beats Clemson, it will claim the top spot as the only team in college football history to finish a season 15-0.
If not, the 2016 Crimson Tide fall behind each of the teams that have won championships. That may seem harsh, but those are the expectations that Saban, Alabama’s coaching staff and the players have set throughout the years.
It’s championship or bust.