Thoughts On Tide Football National Champions

Two topics of conversation in Southeastern Conferenceland this off-season rekindle the contention that one of the most difficult things to accomplish in college football is for a team to go undefeated and untied, win a major bowl game, and be crowned national champion.

Alabama played a bit of a role in both of the late spring developments that invited derision from most of the college football world. One was Auburn electing to claim a few retroactive national championships. The other was former Florida Coach Urban Meyer declaring that the 2008 Gators were the best team ever in college football.

Here is the first of a two-part series on national championships.

For many years, the Crimson Tide claimed only those national championships that were most-recognized, the Associated Press voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters, and the United Press International, based on a poll of college coaches.

Claiming only those titles would give Bama 10 national championships.

Alabama, however, added five others retroactively. Three or four of those have legitimacy. One does not and tarnishes all others.

The 1941 team was awarded a national championship by the Houlgate System (yeah, I know). Research discovered that title. Good research would have rejected it. The 1941 Crimson Tide lost to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt and had only a 9-2 record after a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M.

The other "claimed" titles have solid credentials. And, by the way, they weren't just claimed. They were awarded. What did those teams do?

The 1925 team of Hall of Fame Coach Wallace Wade went 9-0 and was the first Southern team invited to the Rose Bowl. The Crimson Tide was expected to be routed by a powerful Washington team, but Bama rallied to take a 20-19 win.

That was the first Alabama team to meet that criteria of Undefeated, Major Bowl Winner, National Champion.

The 1930 Tide also went undefeated and won the Rose Bowl and was national champion, as was the 1934 team of Hall of Fame Coach Frank Thomas and featuring Dixie Howell and Don Hutson.

The 1926 team of Wade went undefeated, but managed only a 7-7 Rose Bowl tie with Stanford – which also was selected national champion.

Another Alabama Hall of Fame coach, Paul Bryant, had teams that won six national championships. His first was his 1961 team that went 10-0 and was selected national champion. In those days, the polls were over following regular season play. Bowl games were considered rewards to teams for good seasons. Still, the '61 team completed the trifecta by defeating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

That system was still in place in 1964 when Alabama had another 10-0 national championship season. That Tide team, though, suffered a controversial loss to Texas in the Orange Bowl, prompting a change in the way the AP would select it's champion. And it couldn't have worked out better for Alabama.

Although the 1965 team had only an 8-1-1 regular season record, the Tide was ranked fourth in the nation and meeting third-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The AP announced that it would wait until after the bowl games to crown a champion. When No. 1 Michigan State lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Arkansas fell to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, Alabama and Nebraska found themselves playing for the national championship and Bama was a 39-28 winner.

While the Tide would win a UPI national championship in 1973, Alabama lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. UPI was still basing its championship on just the regular season.

The 1978 team woud also have a blemish, but still emerged as AP national champion because every other team also had at least one loss. And Bama had played by far the nation's most difficult schedule, non-conference games against Nebraska, Missouri, Southern Cal, Washington, and Virginia Tech. Alabama finished the year with one of the most thrilling national championship games ever played, defeating No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Bryant's final national championship team would be another of those Bama squads that met the Big Three of excellence. Alabama completed its undefeated season with a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl – the same ending of his first title team in 1961.

Gene Stallings, also a Hall of Fame coach, had one national championship team at Bama, and it, too, met the criteria. The 1992 Tide went 11-0 in regular season play, defeated Florida in the first ever SEC Championship Game, and finished the 13-0 title run with a 34-13 win over No. 1 Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

Nick Saban isn't in the Hall of Fame, but only because he won't be eligible until he completes his career. Still, as was Bryant, Saban is universally considered the best coach in college football. Saban has three national championships in seven years at Bama to prove it, though only one of them meets the Big Three criteria. His 2009 team can be considered Bama's most accomplished ever. That Tide included Alabama's only Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram. Bama went undefeated in regular season play, and then defeated Florida and defending Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the SEC Championship Game. The season ended with Alabama defeating Texas in the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl for a 14-0 record.

Alabama's 2011 team lost an overtime regular season game to LSU, but the Tide rebounded to pound the Tigers in the BCS game at the Sugar Bowl. There was much criticism of this match-up – all of it that Bama did not belong in the game – but it was the third time a team had not won its conference championship and played in the game. In any event, Alabama's 21-0 victory trumped all those arguments about being worthy.

Bama's most recent national championship team in 2012 also had a regular season loss, but the Tide defeated Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and then had the opportunity to plaster undefeated and No. 1 ranked Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, 42-14.

So the seven Alabama teams meeting the criteria of undefeated and untied, major bowl winner, and national champion are 1925, 1930, 1934, 1961, 1979, 1992, and 2009.

Alabama's overall record in seasons in which the Crimson Tide was national champion is 164-8-2.

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