TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — During Alabama’s run of four national championships in seven seasons, only one of those seasons ended without any losses for the Crimson Tide.
With that in mind, it would be a little unfair to expect Alabama to go through its 2016 slate without any blemishes in the loss column.
But the question becomes which team will hand Alabama a loss?
Does USC make a splash against the Crimson Tide with an upset in the season opener? Will Ole Miss defeat Alabama for the third straight season? Or will LSU snap Alabama’s five-game winning streak in the series?
This season, Alabama’s schedule is built around four key road games: at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at Tennessee and at LSU.
Each year has its own set of tests, so let’s take a look back at the schedule’s from Alabama’s other national championship seasons.
Result: 14-0, SEC and national champs
Looking back on the 2009 run, Alabama had a few ugly games on the way to its lone undefeated season under Saban.
There was the 20-6 win over South Carolina where the offense became completely reliant on Mark Ingram (24 carries, 246 yards, TD) while the passing game struggled. Greg McElroy completed 10 passes for an average of 4.6 yards per attempt while throwing two interceptions. Ingram was also the team’s leading receiver with 23 yards.
The following week against Tennessee, Alabama needed not one, but two blocked field goals to hold off the Volunteers in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Those covering that contest dubbed it “Rocky Block” as Terrence Cody got his big paws on a low kick to keep Alabama’s season alive. Alabama’s offense didn’t score a single touchdown that game.
Versus LSU, Alabama trailed 15-10 heading into the fourth quarter and needed 14 points in the final frame to put the Tigers away.
And who can forget the trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium? Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Crimson Tide in the first quarter, and Alabama had to play catch-up the rest of the way.
The Crimson Tide needed a touchdown drive capped by a pass from McElroy to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 left to finish off the Tigers in a thriller.
So while the 2009 season was the prettiest in terms of results, it was tough to watch at times for fans.
Result: 12-1, national champs
While the Crimson Tide often had to squeak by in 2009, the 2011 team was a dominant unit. Only one team finished within two scores of Alabama that season (LSU). Outside of the “Game of the Century” with LSU, every hyped game ended in an Alabama blowout.
Alabama pounded Penn State in Beaver Stadium, and the Crimson Tide smashed Florida in Gainesville.
LSU handed Alabama its only loss in a 9-6 slug fest that needed overtime to decide a winner. But Alabama got revenge after teams ahead of them lost, clearing the way for a rematch with the Tigers in the national championship game.
Sticking with the theme of the season, Alabama pounded LSU 21-0 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. LSU’s offense had no answer for Alabama’s swarming defense as the Tigers could barely pass midfield.
For the second time in three seasons, Alabama reached the top of college football and left no doubt about the best team in the country.
Result: 13-1, SEC and national champs
The 2012 season was a continuation of the 2011 year as a lot of the players were back. A lot of this group saw what happened in 2010 when Alabama had hopes of repeating, and set out to avoid making the same mistakes.
There was the four-point win over LSU and the loss to Texas A&M, but none of Alabama’s other 10 regular season opponents came within 19 points of the Crimson Tide.
Powered by the best offensive line of the Saban era, Alabama was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone that season. The loss to Texas A&M was a shocker because Alabama was clearly a better team, but the Aggies had Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a bit of luck on their sides (remember Manziel losing the football, catching it and throwing a touchdown).
But Alabama’s best work came in the postseason. In an evenly matched contest with Georgia, Alabama needed all 60 minutes to put the Bulldogs away to clinch the SEC title.
And as close as the SEC Championship Game was, the national championship was the exact opposite. Alabama could have named its score against Notre Dame, and there wouldn’t have been much the Fighting Irish could have done to stop them.
It was 28-0 at halftime when Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly uttered “Uh, maybe Alabama doesn’t come back in the second half,” when asked by ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox on what adjustments his team could make.
That was as lopsided a national championship game as you’ll ever see.
Result: 14-1, SEC and national champs
Of the four national championships Saban has won at Alabama, last year’s stands as the biggest surprise of the group. The 2009 group was motivated by getting revenge on Florida, who ended their season a year earlier. In 2011, the memories of losing three games in 2010 reminded that group about what it really took to win, and that carried over into 2012.
But there were a lot of questions surrounding last year’s group. And the home loss to Ole Miss lead many to believe that Alabama’s season was over. That Ole Miss loss ultimately rallied the team and helped them focus on the bigger goal.
Alabama didn’t lose the rest of the way, with only Tennessee and Clemson in the national championship keeping the final result within one score.
Similar to this coming season, Alabama’s schedule was built around tough road contests like Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn. But the Crimson Tide handled all three of those opponents fairly easy.
Might we see the same result in 2016?