27th Annual FWAA Best Writing Contest Results

The four winners of the FWAA’s 27th Annual Best Writing Contest announced today range in age from 29 to 82.

One first-place recipient is a seven-time winner (Ivan Maisel, 59, ESPN.com). Another winner (retired Bob Hammel, 82, Bloomington Herald-Times) hadn’t entered the contest in 23 years. A third winner (Jake Trotter, 38, ESPN.com) wrote about a star running back who made his mark in 1988 when the writer was seven years old. And the final winner (Mike DeFabo, 29, Anderson Herald-Bulletin) captured first place writing about Purdue football, but now is covering an NHL team.

DeFabo, who now works for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covering the Penguins, collected a first in Game Story and also a second in Columns. Other writers who claimed double awards were Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports (two honorable mentions) and David Barron of the Houston Chronicle (two honorable mentions).

At the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 13 in New Orleans at the CFP National Championship Game, first-place winners will receive footballs, certificates and cash prizes. Second and third-place finishers will receive certificates and cash prizes. Honorable mentions will receive certificates.

Click on the links below to read the first-place winning entries.

GAME

First Place — Mike DeFabo, Anderson Herald-Bulletin

Second Place — Michael Lev, Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com

Third Place — David Teel, Daily Press

Honorable Mention — Alex Scarborough, ESPN.com; Bill Bender, Sporting News; Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com

FEATURE

First Place Bob Hammel, Bloomington Herald-Times (retired)

Second Place Ron Higgins, Times-Picayune/NOLA.com

Third Place— Paul Payne, The Montgomery Advertiser

Honorable Mention Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports; Dave Wilson, ESPN.com; Glenn Guilbeau, USA Today Network; David Barron, Houston Chronicle

 

COLUMNS

First Place Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com

Second Place Mike DeFabo, Anderson Herald-Bulletin

Third Place Harry Minium, odusports.com

Honorable Mention Dick Gabriel, WKYT/Big Blue Insider; Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports; Mark Rea, Buckeye Sports Bulletin

ENTERPRISE

First Place — Jake Trotter, ESPN.com

Second Place — Christopher Walsh, SEC Country

Third Place – Adam Rittenberg, Heather Dinich, Tom VanHaaren, ESPN.com

Honorable Mention — Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman; Matt Fortuna, The Athletic; David Barron, Houston Chronicle

 

Advertisements

2019 Best Enterprise: Jake Trotter

Comment by the judge: Informative, anecdote-filled story on Barry Sanders’ magical 1988 season at Oklahoma State. Thirty years later, with a view from the insiders at Oklahoma State and Sanders himself, we get a lot of the reasons why that may be the greatest single season by a running back in college football history. From a Heisman Trophy nobody to a Heisman Trophy winner.

By Jake Trotter

ESPN.com

The first time Barry Sanders touched the football in 1988, he scored a touchdown. Fittingly, the final time he carried it for Oklahoma State that season, he scored as well.

Both plays were equally spectacular and bookended the greatest individual season the college football world has ever seen, and 30 years later, Sanders’ ’88 season remains — like so many of his runs — untouchable.

“You can argue about a lot of different people, who’s the best ever in whatever sport,” said Mike Gundy, who before becoming OSU’s head coach was Sanders’ college quarterback. “LeBron James and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Jim Brown and whoever else in pro football. But college football? There’s nobody that can touch the guy. Just can’t.

“There’s nobody that compares to him.”

In ’88, Sanders didn’t rewrite the records books, he incinerated them. He rushed for 2,850 yards, scored 44 touchdowns and broke 34 NCAA records.

In the years since, offense has exploded in the college game, while the pace has quickened.

And yet, most of Sanders’ FBS records remain intact.

“If he were playing in today’s offenses, he very well could’ve rushed for 4,000 yards, easy,” Gundy said. “Look at the number of plays that we have on offense today compared to back then. We huddled up, we were slow. And the majority of the games very seldom was he ever touching the field in the fourth quarter because we were blowing teams out.”

More…

2019 Best Game Story: Mike DeFabo

Comment by the judge: Heart touching story that was superbly written. Reading the story made you feel as if you were there, watching the game. Excellent quotes from Jeff Brohm and the Purdue players. Good background to remind everyone what a mammoth upset this was, mentioning that Purdue had lost its first three games. Also good info on three players who almost weren’t on this Purdue team, but played a big part in the victory.

By Mike DeFabo

Anderson Herald-Bulletin

WEST LAFAYETTE — Just getting to the game would have been a win in itself for Tyler Trent.

The Carmel native, fighting for every day he has left, went to sleep Friday night thinking he wouldn’t make it to Purdue’s game against No. 2 Ohio State at Ross-Ade Stadium. His terminal bone cancer sapped his energy. He vomited all day. Already the growing tumor on his spine metastasized to his kidneys, forcing him to leave the university and enter hospice care. If the game had been on Friday, his mother said he wouldn’t have been there.

But Saturday was a different day, and Tyler is a different breed.

We’re talking about the guy who earned super fan status last year by camping outside of Ross-Ade Stadium just hours after undergoing chemotherapy. He made it then. He was going to find a way to make it to this one, knowing it’s likely the last game he’ll see in person.

A family friend shaved a Purdue “P” into what’s left of his thinning hair and outlined it with paint, and Tyler slipped on his gold-and-black blazer. At kickoff, Tyler was there to hear the Boilermaker fans chant “Cancer Sucks,”altering their traditional chant by replacing their biggest rival, IU, with an even more hated one.

That was a win. Tyler won.

“Someone who is a Boilermaker through and through,” quarterback David Blough said. “We needed to show the courage and the toughness and the fight that he displays every single day. We love him. We’ve been playing for him. We’ve been praying for him.”

Then, what was supposed to be a special moment turned into something more.

More…

2019 Best Column: Ivan Maisel

Comment by the judge: Suicide: Amazing story weaving the writer’s personal emotions and experience with that of the parents of the Washington State quarterback who committed suicide. “A club no parent ever wants to join” is an insightful empathy that only someone with intimate knowledge of the pain and heartache could put into words. Phenomenal.

By Ivan Maisel

ESPN.com

IRVINE, Calif. — I came of age in the wake of Woodward and Bernstein, when young journalists were taught to be as neutral as the painted highway stripe. After nearly four decades as a sportswriter, I have learned to negotiate a middle ground between my training and my life experience. Some stories demand more of the latter.

I understood that the moment I read last January that Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski ended his life. He was a college junior, 21 years old, the second of three children, hundreds of miles away from home.

Almost three years earlier, my son Max ended his life. He was a college junior, the second of three children, 21 years old, hundreds of miles away from home.

Like a winemaker trying to create a structured red, how much of the skin you leave in the juice changes the color and character of the final product. I’ve got a lot of skin in this one.

There’s often an immediate intimacy among parents whose children have ended their lives. We get it. The loss of a child is an awful subject, so awful that it makes people uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say. One of the many secrets of The Club No One Wants to Join is that we love to talk about the children we’ve lost. Talking about them keeps them present.

But people hesitate, sometimes under the guise of protecting the feelings of the bereaved. I would say, always with a smile to smooth the delivery of the sarcasm, “You know, if you hadn’t brought Max up, I wouldn’t have been thinking of him.”

When you live with the awful every moment of every day, the awful becomes everyday. It is no longer so daunting. When someone told me I was living “a parent’s worst nightmare,” I responded, “No, you wake up from nightmares.”

The first time I called Mark Hilinski, Tyler’s father, we spoke for 1 hour, 10 minutes. “I had never talked to anybody — in my spot,” Mark said later, with a mirthless laugh. “Got emails, got letters, got cards, read a ton. … But that was the first time I had talked to anybody that kinda sat over here, and I appreciated it.”

More…

2019 Best Feature: Bob Hammel

Comment by the judge: Usually don’t care for first person stories, but this one was exceptional. The writer subtlely worked his way in as merely an observer of one of the most significant, yet often unknown, players in college football history.  Good writing and presentation.      

By Bob Hammel

Bloomington Herald-Times retired

For years, for a full generation after them, they looked out from an honored spot on the northeast wall of The Gables restaurant, a humming place then with its own hallowed role in IU history. It was a picture as iconic in Indiana University football history as the one of the Four Horsemen is at Notre Dame. A black-and-white picture given color, of the starters on the 1945 team that had given Indiana – still – its best season in history. Four feet-by-twelve feet, posted for the first time the week of the Purdue game in 1945. You can still see that picture today, on the third floor of Henke Hall in Memorial Stadium’s north end zone, and they still look heroic.

And today, the 75th anniversary of their season just a couple of horizons away, they are almost all gone. Quarterback Ben Raimondi is the last one standing after the death Monday of George Taliaferro – maybe not the best of them, but if not, close; maybe not the reason they went unbeaten, but a reason; definitely, no maybe about it, the legendmaker of them all.

IU lost a whole lot more than a former football player Monday. George ruffled his share of feathers along the way but made a great university greater. Football was his starting point, but not his limit. He was a champion of integration and racial equality, but that didn’t fully define him, either. He was the first to admit he married “up,” and he and wife Viola gave Bloomington a community conscience regarding responsibility and genuine care for kids, kids coming along without Rockwellian families, kids who are our future. Black kids, white kids, kids. The Taliaferros, long after the last football stadium cheer died out, influenced that future in ways that will live long after both.

But today my own mind sees George on a football field, George in No. 44, George in the flame of youth playing a game but changing a world.

As events as recently as last week remind us, Bloomington, IU, the Big Ten, college athletics have not always been equal-opportunity symbols. George came to IU from Gary Roosevelt High, one of those all-black schools intended in metropolitan areas to do just that: take in all of a community’s black kids so the rest of the city could stay all-white. Those schools – Crispus Attucks in Indianapolis, Lincoln in Evansville two of them – were public but denied full entry into the Indiana High School Athletic Association until 1943, when George was already in high school. At Roosevelt, his teams rarely played hometown opponents, commonly routed out of state – sometimes long distances – to find teams that would play them.

More…

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 10 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Last of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In this case, the one called Angel doesn’t want to think about it.

In December 2016, Angel Taylor and her husband Anthony were the 16th recipients of a house built by Habitat for Humanity in partnership with the Nick’s Kids Foundation. While the organization named in honor of Nick Saban’s father was originally created to help children in need, it expanded its directive following the devastating tornado that hit in 2011, including the building of a home for every Alabama football national championship.

It changed her family’s life “dramatically.” While Angel was still feeling the effects of heart surgery, and Anthony was trying to earn a master’s degree in religious studies while also working as a shuttle driver, they were living in a dilapidated house handed down from her grandmother. It was deemed unsalvageable from storm damage.

“My kids can live in a house in which the structure is sound and the air is good,” she said. “Big change.

“We’re definitely big Alabama fans.”

What Angel doesn’t want to think about is where her family might be had Saban not agreed to leave the Miami Dolphins to take over the Crimson Tide in 2007. Without him there’s probably no national championships over the last decade, no statue in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium and no “16 for 16” effort.

There’s also no Rocky Block, dismantling of Notre Dame or onside kick against Clemson.

But that’s only the beginning.

“I think his going to Alabama has been incredible for college football,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “Having Alabama on its 10th year of the dynasty has been outstanding for college football. Maybe not if you’re at Auburn or LSU, or are an SEC fan competing against Alabama, but any time you have a program that’s raising the bar and forcing other coaches and other programs to try and compete with them, I think it’s awesome.”

Now imagine it didn’t happen. The entire landscape of college football would be altered, from the rulebook to TV ratings.

Similar to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character is shown by an angel what would have happened had he never been born, the repercussions would have been extensive and wide-ranging.

“I believe there would be success, but certainly not at the level we’ve seen,” Tuscaloosa mayor Walter Maddox summarized. “Saban is a once-in-a-generation coach who’s not only been able to sustain success, but sustain excellence in a system that doesn’t promote it.”

It’s more remarkable when considering the things that had to fall into place for former athletic director Mal Moore to hire Saban. They include Dennis Franchione sneaking out of town, Mike Price blowing his opportunity, Tim Tebow opting for Florida over Alabama, Mike Shula losing to Mississippi State and Rich Rodriguez turning down an offer to stay at West Virginia.

What if Miss Terry had never let Moore in the front door before Nick called to say he’d decided not to meet with him? Or Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga had persuaded Saban to stay and fulfill his contract?

“I think it would have been a tremendous letdown if he hadn’t gotten Saban, there’s no question about that,” said Steve Townsend, Moore’s former special assistant and author of the 2014 book Crimson Heart: Let Me Tell You My Story. “As for Plan B, there were some people who probably would have been considered and done a good job, but I don’t think there was any doubt that Saban was his guy.”

The most popular alternate-reality theories center around the Sabans sticking with the NFL for at least another season. Had Miami signed free agent Drew Brees, whom Saban wanted to add only to be overruled by the team’s medical staff due to the quarterback coming off reconstructive shoulder surgery, he might not have been coming off his only losing season as a head coach.

Instead, Saban’s departure set off a chain reaction that changed football forever.

“It’s widely believed among Louisiana football fans that had the Dolphins signed Brees then Saban would have had a better 2006 season, making him more likely to stay in Miami, Bama hires someone else and of course the Saints might not ever have won the Super Bowl,” said Scott Rabalais, columnist for the Advocate in Baton Rouge.

But that’s well into the ramifications.

First, consider the epicenter, Alabama, and the most important people in all of this, the players. Saban’s first full recruiting class in 2008, which turned the Crimson Tide into instant contenders, doesn’t happen.

Running back Mark Ingram Jr. is the first person you could scratch off the Crimson Tide roster. He came to Alabama because of the relationship his parents had developed with Saban at Michigan State. Ingram lived in Flint, Mich., and wasn’t considered an elite prospect, with some services rating him only a 3-star talent.

If the program’s first Heisman Trophy winner didn’t attend Alabama, one must wonder about the other as well, especially since Derrick Henry also was from out of state. “Without you,” Henry said in reference to Saban during his Heisman acceptance speech, “I wouldn’t be here.”

The Crimson Tide might not have signed any of the running backs who wore crimson and white over the last 10 years, along with most of the top prospects at every other position.

“I probably wouldn’t have,” said B.J. Scott, Saban’s first consensus 5-star signee with the Crimson Tide.

Although he ended up transferring to South Alabama in 2011 for more playing time, Scott was considered the catalyst for the initial class. He helped influence other players to join him, and the coaches establish a strong foothold in the talent-rich Mobile area.

It paid off immediately with prize additions like wide receiver Julio Jones, who at one point appeared destined for Oklahoma, and safety Mark Barron.

“Once I was committed, I was committed all the way,” Scott said. “I don’t know who else would have.”

Alabama also plucked linebacker Dont’a Hightower out of Lewisburg, Tenn., two-time All-American defensive tackle Terrence Cody from the junior college ranks and linebacker Courtney Upshaw out of Eufala, Ala., a part of the state long established as Auburn territory.

Without Saban and running backs coach Burton Burns, who got an offer he couldn’t turn down to leave Clemson, Alabama would have had a much tougher time drawing top players out of Louisiana.

Players like Landon Collins, Eddie Lacy and Cam Robinson might have stayed in the Bayou along with strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, who was with the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (now called the Pelicans). Similarly, Alabama probably wouldn’t have hired head trainer Jeff Allen from Central Florida or director of performance nutrition Amy Bragg from Texas A&M.

If Kirby Smart didn’t follow Saban to Alabama and become his defensive coordinator, he wouldn’t be the head coach at Georgia. Jim McElwain wouldn’t be the head coach at Florida. Jeremy Pruitt might still be at the high school level. The coaches Saban threw a lifeline to, including Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Tosh Lupoi, could be in very different places.

Flip it around, and consider who could be coaching some of Alabama’s rivals.

Where would Tommy Tuberville be today? In 2007, Auburn was in full control of the Iron Bowl rivalry and won its sixth straight in the series that season. The following year, though, Alabama won in crushing fashion, 36-0.

Having lost six of the last seven games in 2008 and missing out on a bowl while Alabama played in the SEC Championship, Tuberville was the third in the league to commit coaching suicide that season. Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom and Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer had already stepped down.

Alabama hasn’t lost to either program since, and the man who accepted Croom’s resignation — Greg Byrne — is now the Crimson Tide’s athletic director.

“There might have been a little more success that Auburn might have enjoyed,” speculated Tommy Hicks, former Football Writers Association of America president. “The presence of Saban, what it has become in college football, there’s always going to be a natural comparison.

“That’s not to say Auburn hasn’t done well. It has. Like most programs, though, it’s had its ups and downs, but its biggest issue is that shadow of the No. 1 coach in the country.”

If Alabama hadn’t been in Florida’s way in 2009, the Gators might have won back-to-back titles and Tebow his second Heisman instead of finishing a distant fifth in the voting. There would have been a strong argument about whether he’s the best player in college football history.

Instead, that was the night Urban Meyer went to the hospital with chest pains, starting his path out of Gainesville. He had lost nearly 40 pounds by doing things like chasing Ambien with beer to fall asleep, and later told HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel he was depressed and mentally “broke.”

“Preparing for the 2009 game is what set him off the deep end,” said Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun. “It’s an easy scenario to say that Nick Saban at Alabama led to Urban leaving Florida. It’s probably a factor. Was it everything? No.”

There’s a much stronger correlation with LSU, where Les Miles won the 2007 national championship. But he was eclipsed by Saban, especially after the Crimson Tide won their famous rematch for the 2011 national title.

How many other conference and national titles would the Tigers have won had Saban not gotten in the way of the program he initially took to national prominence? Instead, Miles was forced out last season before Alabama notched its sixth straight win in the rivalry.

“Even conservatively, I think LSU at least wins the 2011 title,” Rabalais said. “Assuming Les beats Bama even one more time in that subsequent span, yes, I think he still has more than enough political capital to be LSU’s coach.”

Another possible consequence of the 2011 national title game was the demise of the Bowl Championship Series. After an all-SEC matchup, it was abandoned in favor of the College Football Playoff. The BCS had achieved its goal of pairing the consensus No. 1 vs. No. 2 teams, but even President Barack Obama said after seeing Alabama beat LSU 21-0 that the game was ready for the next step.

“I believe the playoff would have happened regardless,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “It was time to discuss whether to extend the BCS for a fifth four-year cycle, or try something different. We knew fans were hoping to see a new model and we were open to considering innovative options even before Alabama-LSU happened.”

A similar parallel can be drawn on campus.

Enrollment still would have gone up, but possibly not at the same rate. The southern end zone expansion that filled in the last upper-deck gap of Bryant-Denny Stadium probably would have happened, but not as quickly. The school had been considering a new weight room for years, but it took Saban for the 37,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility to become a reality.

As for Tuscaloosa, one can guess how the tornado recovery would have gone without Saban’s presence and having won the 2009 national championship. But there’s no doubt it sped it up.

“A lot of us were living in the past and thinking about how things used to be,” said Mike Reilly, CEO of Randall-Reilly business publishing, which is headquartered in Tuscaloosa. “He sort of smacked us in the face when he got here and said, ‘It’s time to stop talking about the way things used to be, and make them the way things should be.’ I think he got the attitude of the town back right.”

The list goes on and on, and yes in some ways it does compare to Bedford Falls sans George Bailey (Pottersville). For example, this past week there was a significant spike in the number of babies born in Tuscaloosa. What happened nine months ago? The Iron Bowl.

So one doesn’t need an appearance from Clarence the Angel to know that Alabama wouldn’t have been the same without Saban.

“It’s a totally different world,” said Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum, who used a football analogy to express what it would have been like with nearly any other coach.

“Everyone would have thought 8-4, 9-3 was a great year.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 9 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Ninth of 10 Parts

As far as Gary Danielson is concerned, Nick Saban’s consistency is unlike anything college football has seen.

He should know. Although Danielson has been an analyst for CBS since 2006, primarily on the broadcast team for the SEC’s weekly showcase game, he previously was with ESPN/ABC covering the sport on a national scale.

From Michigan to Texas, he’s been around all the major programs and feels that the pressure to win has never been greater, especially in the Southeastern Conference. Whereas most other conferences have a couple programs that are regularly in the running for the national title, it’s been half of the SEC since Saban landed in Alabama in 2007.

“If you couple that with a predominance of great players who reside in this area, where maybe in the 1970s and the ’80s of college football it was mostly a Midwest dominance of star football players in the Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania area, I just think that the competitiveness, you’re fighting to stay [on top] there makes it a pretty amazing feat of what Nick has done,” Danielson said.

Factor in how the game has changed over the past 50 years — scholarship limits, most games are now televised, no more split national titles, the longer season, recruiting becoming front and center — and Danielson is even more impressed with Alabama’s recent stretch than anything in the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s.

“The only two teams, maybe two-and-a-half, three teams, that compare are Florida State, Miami and USC,” he said. “They’re the only teams that come close. The closest in my mind is Miami because of the ability to turn out professional football players.

“I know that there have been runs at Notre Dame and Oklahoma, Ohio State, Army, but I think these four teams are the cream of the crop not only because of the pressure that they played under, but with the elite athletes they also turned out.”

Nowadays a coach being with a school for a decade can seem like an eternity, as evidenced by Saban already being the dean of the SEC. Led by Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (1999), only seven coaches have longer tenures at the FBS level.

“He’s been obviously the most consistent coach that we’ve had in our profession in a lot of years,” said Grant Teaff, College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “Year after year, after year, after year, he’s there.”

Saban’s time at Alabama actually has been unlike any 10-year stretch in college football history.

When the NCAA lists best records by decade it does so like an odometer. After the nine turns into a zero it automatically starts over again. Based on that, here are the top 10 decades:

 SCHOOL DECADE RECORD PCT.
Oklahoma 1950-59 93-10-2  .895
Florida State 1990-99  109-13-1 .890
Oklahoma 1970-79 102-13-3 .877
Boise State  2000-09   112-17-0 .868
Nebraska 1990-99 108-16-1 .868
Alabama 1960-69 85-12-3 .865
Alabama  1970-79 103-16-1 .863
 Texas 2000-09 110-19-0 .853
 Michigan 1970-79 96-16-3 .848
 Nebraska 1980-89 103-20-0 .837

Saban’s winning percentage since 2010 is .886, but a decade can be any 10-year period, regardless of when it starts.

Thus, here’s how Saban’s first 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide stack up against the most dominating decades during the poll era of college football. The Ivy League dynasties before the advent of World War I are not included. The key word is dominating, so it’s not just about national titles claimed.

Please keep in mind the following when looking over the numbers:

  •  While the Associated Press Poll currently lists the Top 25 teams in the nation, from 1936-61 the wire service ranked only 20 teams. From 1962-67 only 10 teams were recognized. From 1968-88, the AP again resumed its Top 20 before expanding to the current 25 teams in 1989.
  • The first NFL draft was held in 1936 and for years the number of rounds fluctuated, with as many as 32 in the 1940s, and 30 rounds in the 1950s. The first combined (AFL-NFL) draft in 1967 consisted of 17 rounds. The draft was reduced to 12 rounds in 1977, eight rounds in 1993, and has been set at seven rounds since 1994.
  • The entire 10-year period counts, even if the coach departed.

Five worth noting

» Penn State 1977-86: Joe Paterno’s best stretch led to national championships in 1982 and 1986, and a 98-21-1 record (.817). There were 77 players selected in the draft, with 10 in the first round, and seven consensus All-Americans. However, the Nittany Lions played just seven games ranked No. 1 over the 10-year span.

» Nebraska 1963-72: Bob Devaney won back-to-back national titles in 1970-71, and went 92-18-2 overall (.821). The Cornhuskers were 12-10-2 against ranked opponents, and only 6-9-1 versus top-10 foes.

» Southern California 2002-11: Pete Carroll was well on his way to establishing a dynasty at USC, but the 2004 title has been vacated due to NCAA penalties, along with 14 wins. That leaves the 2003 split title as its lone national championship claim and dropped the program’s record to 95-20 (.826) over the 10-year stretch. The Trojans played 33 games ranked No. 1, to go with 17 consensus All-Americans and 17 first-round picks.

» Minnesota 1932-41: The Gophers’ dynasty peaked during the years both the Associated Press Poll and NFL draft were being conceived. It won national titles in 1936, 1940 and 1941, and can also claim 1934 and 1935, when the poll was determined by one person. Overall, Bernie Bieman’s program went 63-12-5 (.819) during the stretch and had nine consensus All-Americans.

» Notre Dame 1921-1930: Knute Rockne’s dynasty was just before the poll era, but deserves a mention. The Fighting Irish went 84-11-3 (.857) and claimed the 1924, 1929 and 1930 national titles.

Five that just missed

» Texas 1961-70: The Longhorns went 89-17-2 (.824) and won national titles in 1963, 1969 and 1970. They only had 21 games against ranked opponents (14-6- 1), but played 25 games as No. 1. Darrell Royal had nine consensus All-Americans and four first-round draft picks.

» Army 1941-50: Red Blaik built a short-term juggernaut during World War II, when scores of college football players enlisted and some continued to play for military installations and schools. Army won the 1944 national championship and finished atop the AP poll in 1945. It played 20 games ranked No. 1 and went 75-11-6 (.848) overall.

» Alabama 1959-68: Although Crimson Tide’s stretch was extremely impressive, it wasn’t the most dominating. The 1961 and 1965 national champions both played only one ranked opponent, and the 1964 title team lost a controversial bowl game after having already been named No. 1. However, the 1966 team went undefeated to finish just third in the final AP poll. Alabama went an incredible 91-13-6 (.854) overall, but played only six games when ranked No. 1, and faced just 21 ranked opponents, going 14-6-1 (.690).

» LSU 2003-12: Nick Saban and successor Les Miles both won a national title as the Tigers went 107-25 (.811) over 10 years. Ironically, it was Saban at Alabama that prevented what many feel was the best team in LSU history from winning the 2011 championship, as the Crimson Tide won the “Game of the Century” rematch in New Orleans, 21-0. LSU had a 61 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 14 in the first round.

» Notre Dame 1964-73: Ara Parseghian won national crowns in 1966 and 1973 as the Fighting Irish went 85-15-4 (.817). Notre Dame only played 14 games when ranked No. 1, but had 75 draft picks (11 in the first round) and 19 consensus All-Americans. Parseghian also went 10-2 during his final season at Notre Dame in 1974, reaching No. 1 in the AP poll, but finished sixth.

10. Ohio State 1968-77

  • Coach: Woody Hayes
  • National titles: 1 (1968)
  • Overall record: 91-16 (.850)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 18-11-2 (.613)/11-8-2 (.571)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.1
  • Games played as No. 1: 38
  • Draft picks/First round: 74/16
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

Although Hayes won only one national title during the peak of his career, the Buckeyes played 38 games ranked No. 1. The 1968 team featured five sophomores on offense and six on defense, including safety Jack Tatum, nicknamed “The Assassin.” Ohio State upset No. 1 Purdue, 13-0, finished the regular season 9-0 and defeated Southern California in the Rose Bowl, 27-16, for the national championship. A total of 11 players from the team earned All-America standing during their careers and six became first-round draft selections.

9. Oklahoma 1971-80

  • Coach: Barry Switzer (eight seasons) and Chuck Fairbanks (two)
  • National titles: 2 (1974 AP, 1975)
  • Overall record: 105-11 (.905)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 39-8-2 (.816)/21-7-1 (.741)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.9
  • Games played as No. 1: 17
  • Draft picks/First round: 75/8
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

The Sooners finished in the top three of the AP poll eight times. Chuck Fairbanks began the run with a pair of No. 2 finishes. Barry Switzer won the 1974 national title and finished atop the AP poll in 1975. However, Oklahoma didn’t play in a bowl game in 1973 or 1974 due to NCAA sanctions, and during the ’74 split championship its toughest opponent was No. 6 Nebraska, which finished 9-3.

8. Southern California 1967-76

  • Coach: John McKay (nine seasons) and John Robinson (one)
  • National titles: 3 (1967, 1972, 1974 coaches)
  • Overall record: 91-18 (.834)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 30-9-4 (.721)/17-4-3 (.771)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.3
  • Games played as No. 1: 19
  • Draft picks/First round: 95/20
  • Consensus All-Americans: 18

John Robinson did a terrific job of extending John McKay’s legacy. His 1978 team also finished No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, while the 1976 and 1979 Trojans were No. 2 in the AP poll. But statistically this was the best 10-year stretch due to the three national titles. Overall, McKay compiled a 127-40-8 record, including only 17 conference losses over 16 seasons. During his last nine seasons, USC went 18-3 against its two biggest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Some consider the 1972 team possibly the best in college football history. It went 12-0, beat six ranked teams by an average of 20.2 points, and never trailed.

7. Alabama 1971-80

  • Coach: Paul “Bear” Bryant
  • National titles: 3 (1973 coaches, 1978 AP, 1979)
  • Overall record: 107-13 (.891)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 27-9 (.750)/16-8 (.667)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.6
  • Games played as No. 1: 11
  • Draft picks/First round: 44/9
  • Consensus All-Americans: 10

Although the 1973 title remains controversial, as Alabama was named No. 1 in the coaches’ poll before it lost to Notre Dame 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl, a regular-season loss to Nebraska in 1977 may have kept the Crimson Tide from winning three consecutive national titles. Instead, the SEC champions finished 11–1 overall and beat Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but were second to 11-1 Notre Dame in the polls. Regardless, the 107-13 (.891) record stands out.

6. Nebraska 1988-97

  • Coach: Tom Osborne
  • National titles: 3 (1994, 1995, 1997 coaches)
  • Overall record: 108-15 (.878)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 26-12-1 (.679)/14-11 (.560)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.9
  • Games played as No. 1: 14
  • Draft picks/First round: 63/9
  • Consensus All-Americans: 14 

The five-season stretch from 1993-97 might be the best in college football history, when the Cornhuskers went 60-3. One of the defeats was in the 1994 Orange Bowl when Nebraska missed a last-second 45-yard field goal against favored Florida State. It came 10 years after Tom Osborne famously went for two with the national title on the line, losing 31-30 to Miami.  Michigan fans are still upset that the coaches’ poll split the 1997 title, leapfrogging the Cornhuskers over the Wolverines after No. 2 Nebraska pounded Peyton Manning and No. 3 Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. The No. 1 Wolverines defeated Ryan Leaf and No. 8 Washington State in the Rose Bowl. It was widely viewed as a sendoff present to the retiring Osborne.

5. Oklahoma 1949-58

  • Coach: Bud Wilkinson
  • National titles: 3 (1950, 1955, 1956)
  • Overall record: 97-7 (.933)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 21-6 (.778)/7-5 (.583)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 2.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 24
  • Draft picks/First round: 49/7
  • Consensus All-Americans: 13

Some of Oklahoma’s players completed their varsity careers without experiencing a single loss. From 1953-57, Oklahoma racked up a major-college record 47 consecutive victories (snapped by Notre Dame in 1958, 7-0). There also was the famous 31-game winning streak that was ended by Paul “Bear” Bryant and Kentucky in the 1951 Sugar Bowl. The 1949 Oklahoma team outscored opponents 364-88 and topped the season with a 35-0 victory against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. The 1956 Sooners averaged 46.6 points per game, crushed Texas 45-0, and pounded Notre Dame at South Bend, 40-0.

4. Florida State 1991-2000

  • Coach: Bobby Bowden
  • National titles: 2 (1993, 1999)
  • Overall record: 110-13-1 (.891)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 44-12-1 (.781)/19-10-1 (.650)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 5.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 43
  • Draft picks/First round: 67/17
  • Consensus All-Americans:  22

Every Florida State team between 1987 and 2000 finished with at least 10 wins and ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25, a streak that might never be equaled. The two national championship teams were led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. The 1993 title was a bit controversial in that FSU lost a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown against Notre Dame, a week before the Fighting Irish lost to Boston College, 41-39. Although West Virginia was undefeated, Florida State played Nebraska for the national championship at the Orange Bowl, and won 18-16. The final rankings had Florida State first and Notre Dame second. The 1999 season was Bowden’s only perfect finish as the Seminoles went wire-to-wire as the nation’s No. 1 team.

3. Notre Dame 1941-50

  • Coach: Frank Leahy (Ed McKeever/Hugh Devore)
  • National titles: 4 (1943, 1946, 1947, 1949)
  • Overall record: 79-11 (.878)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 22-5-3 (.783)/14-4-2 (.750)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 3.0
  • Games played as No. 1: 27
  • Draft picks/First round: 94/13
  • Consensus All-Americans: 19

Frank Leahy was able to claim a national title in 1943, when the Fighting Irish played a record four teams ranked in the top five of the AP poll, before serving in the Navy during World War II. Two assistant coaches manned the program in his absence. When Leahy returned in 1946, Notre Dame went 36-0-2 over the next four seasons, posting 12 shutouts in a 38-game span and claiming three more championships. However, two of them are considered among the most controversial in college football history. Leahy’s career record against top competition was nothing short of stunning — 32-5-4 (.823) against ranked opponents, and 22-3-1 versus top-10 teams.

2. Miami 1983-92

  • Coach: Jimmy Johnson (five seasons)/Dennis Erickson (four)/ Howard Schnellenberger (one)
  • National titles: 4 (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 AP)
  • Overall record: 107-14 (.884)
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 35-12 (.745)/23-8 (.742)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 4.7
  • Games played as No. 1: 29
  • Draft picks/First round: 80/15
  • Consensus All-Americans: 17

When Howard Schnellenberger was hired in 1979, the Hurricanes were coming off a decade in which they had nearly as many coaches (six), as losing seasons (nine). After shocking Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, 31-30, to win the program’s first national championship, he left for the United States Football League. Jimmy Johnson (52-9) and Dennis Erickson (63-9) followed and continued one of greatest runs in college football. From 1987-91, Miami won three national titles and missed a fourth by a point due to a controversial 31-30 loss to Notre Dame. During those five seasons, the Hurricanes went 56-4 and were considered both the giants and outlaws of college football. For example, in 1989, the Hurricanes didn’t allow a touchdown for one 10-quarter stretch, held six opponents without a touchdown and allowed 9.3 points per game. Miami bounced back from a loss to Florida State to defeat No. 1 Notre Dame, 27-10, and defeated No. 7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

1. Alabama 2007-16

  • Coach: Nick Saban
  • National titles: 4 (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015)
  • Overall record: 114-19* (.857) | * — vacated wins not included
  • Record against ranked teams/top 10: 50-16 (.758)/25-8 (.758)
  • Avg. number of ranked teams faced: 6.6
  • Games played as No. 1: 50
  • Draft picks/First round: 56/22
  • Consensus All-Americans: 29

The numbers speak for themselves, especially when factoring in strength of schedule and the seven-round NFL draft.

Consequently, there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn: We all just witnessed the greatest decade in college football history.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 8 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Eighth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When ESPN/SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears was a highly-touted recruit in 2001, he gave Miami a ton of consideration. The Hurricanes had a lot of appeal and were considered a premier destination in college football, especially for those hoping to someday play in the NFL.

“People like winners,” he said. “That’s really all it boils down to. If someone told you you could be on the executive team at Apple, or you could go be on the executive team at Whataburger, where are you gonna go?”

Spears now sees something similar to what Miami had at Alabama, not only in accolades and getting prospects to the next level, but status.

“It’s cool to go to Alabama,” Spears added. “Most high school kids, you tell them you got an offer from Alabama and it’s ‘You’re the man.’

“All that stuff matters, but it all manifests from winning games.”

Not just games, but big games, which the Crimson Tide have done better than anyone under Nick Saban, Spears’ former college coach.

Alabama often goes from playing in the marquee game on opening weekend, like its showdown with Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2, to a high-profile schedule and postseason. The three-time reigning SEC champions are the only team to make the College Football Playoff in each of its three years of existence.

Last season, Alabama faced 10 opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 when they played. That’s a record.

The nine ranked teams the Crimson Tide faced in 2015 are the most ever by a team that’s won the national championship.

Most games against ranked opponents by a national champion

SEASON COACH SCHOOL TOP 25 TOP 5
2015 Nick Saban Alabama 9 3
2007 Les Miles LSU 8 1
1997 Lloyd Carr Michigan 7 2
1993 Bobby Bowden Florida State 7 3
1990 Bill McCartney Colorado 7 2
1975 Barry Switzer Oklahoma 7 3

Between them, the 19 ranked opponents over two seasons were — you guessed it — another record.

It’s exactly what ESPN announcer Rece Davis means when he says the Crimson Tide have played a “boatload” of big games during the Saban era.

“They have established a standard to which they — more times than not — play as opposed to being caught up in the magnitude in the game,” Davis said. “They’re used to the stage.”

For a little perspective, consider:

  • The Crimson Tide faced a combined total of 17 ranked opponents in the six seasons they claim a national championship with Paul “Bear” Bryant.
  • Alabama’s 17 wins against ranked opponents in 2015-16 matched the number by Florida State under Jimbo Fisher since 2010.

During the last decade, Alabama was 50-16 against ranked opponents, a winning percentage of .758. When facing tougher foes, the Crimson Tide were 24-9 vs. top-10 teams (.727), 13-7 against top-5 teams (.650), and 5-1 when playing the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 (.833).

Those five wins against top-ranked teams are more than any coach in history.

Saban has six overall, including his signature win with Michigan State against No. 1 Ohio State in 1998. Joe Paterno, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Mollenkopf all had four. Urban Meyer has three, along with Bryant, Dennis Erickson, Bo Schembechler and Barry Switzer.

Yet that’s not the statistic that floors most historians and broadcasters. Since the 2008 season, Alabama has played in only three regular-season games that did not have national championship implications. They were all during the 2010 season, after the Crimson Tide took their second loss (LSU, 24-21).

“It’s pretty amazing,” Gary Danielson of CBS said about that consistency. “It’s just phenomenal what he’s done.

“They were literally playing for a national championship every year since 2008.”

Overall, winning big games has probably defined coaches more than any other factor. Correspondingly, losing big games has forged reputations that could take years to overcome, if at all.

Bob Stoops had an impressive 60-30 record against ranked opponents at Oklahoma, but is primarily known for his one national championship. On the plus side he got a ring, but on the minus it’s his only one despite winning 10 Big 12 titles.

A better example is Tom Osborne at Nebraska. From 1987-93, the Cornhuskers were defeated in seven consecutive bowl games after losing a combined eight regular-season games. Finally, though, he became the first coach in 40 years to have two consecutive undefeated seasons en route to winning national titles.

Overall, Saban’s career record against ranked teams is 73-39 in 112 games. He has a ways to catch Bobby Bowden with 145 (79-65-1) over 40 years and Joe Paterno with 172 (86-85-1) over 46 seasons. Against top-10 teams, Bowden was 38-44-1 and Paterno 35-47.

Other national championship coaches

COACH TOP 25 TOP 10 TOP 5 vs. NO. 1
Urban Meyer 35-14 (.714) 15-6 (.714) 11-4 (.733) 3-2 (.600)
Jimbo Fisher 17-10 (.630) 8-7 (.533) 3-4 (.429) 0-2 (.000)
Dabo Swinney 18-19 (.486) 11-5 (.688) 6-4 (.600)  1-1 (.500)

While many focused on Saban finally finishing on the losing end of a national championship game in January, with Clemson scoring with 1 second remaining to pull out the dramatic 35-31 victory, what most missed was that it was his 50th game coaching Alabama when it was ranked No. 1.

At this point, we can cue everyone to say it along with us: That’s a record.

At 44-6, Saban has won more games coaching a No. 1 team at one school than any coach in college football history. Woody Hayes and Bobby Bowden are tied for second at 40, over 28 and 34 seasons, respectively.

The Crimson Tide have been ranked No. 1 in 36.2 percent of the 138 games under Saban. Hayes’ percentage was 16.7 and Bowden’s 10.8.

Of course, that’s when Alabama was No. 1. It won the 2009, 2011 and 2012 title games when ranked second.

Going back to the 2016 team, when Alabama defeated Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal, it had won 16 straight games against ranked opponents, which tied Southern California (2002-05) for the longest streak in college football history. Eight of those victories were against top-10 teams, and four were top-5.

Saban’s career average of 3.48 wins against ranked teams is a record.

His average of 1.71 wins against top-10 teams is as well, topping Frank Leahy’s 1.69 (although Leahy’s winning percentage of .865 against top-10 opponents likely will never be touched).

Saban is 5-1 in national championship games, and 7-1 in SEC championship games, which only keeps attracting top-end players who want to be a part of that.

“It’s good for college football,” said Spears, who played Saban’s national championship team at LSU in 2003. “I like dominating teams.”

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 7 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Seventh of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One of the best testimonies to a coach’s prowess is when there’s enough talent among his former players to fill an all-star team without having a significant drop at any position.

Doing so with Nick Saban, though, is different. He’s had so many consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks that such a compilation would relegate several players to reserve or honorable mention status.

We’ve selected three all-time teams built by Saban.

The Alabama All-Active NFL Team

After Saban’s 10 years at Alabama there could be an NFL team comprised solely of former Crimson Tide players. At the start of training camps, NFL rosters included 53 players who suited up for Saban at Alabama. That’s the number of active players on an NFL roster.

With a little creative thinking, behold the 2017 Lake Burton Beasts, including the starting lineup.

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron (Bengals).

It hasn’t worked out that he’s a starter in the NFL yet, but it appears to be a matter of time. With no other Crimson Tide quarterbacks in the league, the problem is behind him. So Blake Sims, who is trying to latch on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a running back, will be the reserve.

RUNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry (Titans), Mark Ingram Jr. (Saints) and Eddie Lacy (Seahawks).

While most NFL teams go three-deep at the position, the Beasts will have a three-headed monster that will punish defenses. They’d get the bulk of the carries, with Kenyan Drake (Dolphins) the third-down back and T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars) doing a little bit of everything.

WIDE RECEIVERS | Julio Jones (Falcons) and Amari Cooper (Raiders).

It would be tempting to have those two take every snap, plus Kevin Norwood (Giants) would be an excellent possession option and rookie ArDarius Stewart (Jets) a nice fourth contributor. The reserves would be Gehrig Dieter (Chiefs) and Richard Mullaney (Browns). DeAndrew White (Texans) is a recent training camp addition, as well.

TIGHT END | O.J. Howard (Buccaneers).

This is spot that will require a little cheating. Jalston Fowler (Titans) will help out as a half fullback and half second tight end, plus a reserve offensive lineman will be utilized in goal-line situations.

OFFENSIVE LINE | Cam Robinson (Jaguars), Chance Warmack (Eagles), Ryan Kelly (Colts), James Carpenter (Jets), D.J. Fluker (Giants).

If there was training camp, Robinson and Fluker would have to hold off Cyrus Kournadjio (Lions ) and Andre Smith (Bengals) for the starting tackle jobs, with Smith a strong sixth-man possibility. Anthony Steen (Dolphins) is the backup center, with Austin Shepherd (Vikings), Arie Kouandjio (Redskins) and Korren Kirven (Chiefs) the other reserves.

DEFENSIVE LINE |  Jonathan Allen (Redskins), Marcell Dareus (Bills), Jarran Reed (Seahawks)/ A’Shawn Robinson (Lions)

Most Alabama defensive linemen end up playing in the interior in the NFL, but this group could play in a 4-3 or 3-4 by going with the hot hand between Reed and Robinson. Regardless, the unit will have a heavy rotation including Quinton Dial (49ers), Wallace Gilberry (Bengals), Damion Square (Chargers), Ed Stinson (Cardinals), Dalvin Tomlinson (Giants) and Courtney Upshaw (Falcons). Good luck running against that group.

LINEBACKERS | C.J. Mosley (Ravens), Dont’a Hightower (Patriots)/Reuben Foster (49ers), Mark Barron (Rams)/Ryan Anderson (Redskins).

This group is so talented and versatile it could excel in any defensive system, with Foster lining up either in the interior or outside as necessary. Reggie Ragland (Bills) is the primary reserve in the interior. Barron and Anderson could rotate, with Barron used more in passing situations and Anderson at the “Jack” hybrid end/linebacker spot that Saban helped make popular. Tim Williams (Ravens) contributes as a pass-rushing specialist.

DEFENSIVE BACKS | Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Packers), Landon Collins (Giants), Dre Kirkpatrick (Bengals), Kareem Jackson (Texans).

Rookies Marlon Humphrey (Ravens) and Eddie Jackson (Bears) are the two inserted for nickel and dime packages when extra defensive backs are needed, so they’d essentially be starters as well. Cyrus Jones (Patriots), Vinnie Sunseri (49ers) and Bradley Sylve (Bills) provide depth and play a lot of special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS | Carson Tinker (Jaguars), Cyrus Jones (Patriots) and Eddie Jackson (Bears).

Tinker is set at long snapper, Jones and Jackson return punts, with Drake in the mix on kick returns. At kicker/punter there are three options:

  1. Take a page from the All-Madden Team from years ago and never punt.
  2. Find a way for JK Scott to be used as an intern.
  3. Use Steen, who kicked in high school. “I haven’t kicked in years,” he said in 2013.

The All-Decade Team (2007-16)

While it seems logical an all-Alabama NFL team would be similar to an All-Decade Team for Saban, the latter is more difficult to pick due to some key players no longer playing and the overall depth of talent he’s had with the Crimson Tide.

In this case, selections were primarily determined by accolades, and by what a player accomplished at the collegiate level.

Also, the positions are more rigid than the NFL team, per Saban’s preferred schemes. Thus, there are nickel and dime selections in the secondary, but no other defining within a position. For example, offensive tackles are not split into left tackle and right tackle, and the linebackers are not designated by Mike (middle), Sam (strong), Will (weak) and Jack (hybrid end).

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron.

The three-year starter was the only quarterback during the BCS era to win back-to-back national titles. He led the nation in passer efficiency in 2012, won Alabama’s first Maxwell Award for most outstanding player and finished second in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting. Second team: Greg McElroy. Honorable mention: Jalen Hurts.

RUNNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram.

You really can’t do better than two Heisman Trophy winners. Second team: Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Honorable mention: Glen Coffee and T.J. Yeldon. Fullback: Jalston Fowler.

WIDE RECEIVERS | Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.

Jones was better than his numbers indicate, with 179 receptions for 2,653 yards, 15 touchdowns and 3,084 all-purpose yards. Cooper won Alabama’s first Biletnikoff Award. Second team: DJ Hall, Kevin Norwood and ArDarius Stewart. Honorable mention: Marquis Maze, Matt Caddell, DeAndrew White and Darius Hanks.

TIGHT END | O.J. Howard.

The 2017 first-round draft pick will be remembered for his 208 receiving yards in the 2015 national championship game against Clemson. Second team: Mike Williams and Brad Smelley. Honorable mention: Colin Peek and Nick Walker.

TACKLES |  Andre Smith and Cam Robinson.

Both won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman. Second team: Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker. Honorable mention: James Carpenter and Austin Shephard.

GUARDS | Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones.

Warmack was a unanimous All-American as a senior and selected 10th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Jones won the 2011 Outland Trophy, the 2012 Campbell Trophy (academic Heisman) and Rimington Trophy (best center). Second team: Mike Johnson and Anthony Steen. Honorable mention: Arie Kouandjio.

CENTER | Ryan Kelly.

He won the 2015 Rimington Trophy and was subsequently selected in the first round of the NFL draft despite his position. Second team: Antoine Caldwell. Honorable mention: William Vlachos.

DEFENSIVE LINE | Jonathan Allen, Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody.

Allen was Alabama’s first player to win the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards as the nation’s best defensive player. Dareus was the third pick in the 2011 draft and Cody was a two-time consensus All-American. Second team: Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Dalvin Tomlinson. Honorable mention: Wallace Gilberry, Josh Chapman and Da’Ron Payne.

LINEBACKERS | Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster and Dont’a Hightower.

That’s three Butkus Award winners and a player who has won two national titles and two Super Bowls. Second team: Courtney Upshaw, Ryan Anderson, Reggie Ragland and Tim Williams. Honorable mention: Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest.

CORNERBACKS | Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Both All-Americans were first-round draft picks. Second team: Kareem Jackson and Marlon Humphrey. Honorable mention: DeQuan Menzie and Ramzee Robinson.

SAFETIES | Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Barron was a three-year starter, twice named a team captain and finished his career with 237 tackles, 5 sacks and 12 interceptions. Both he and Clinton-Dix were first-round draft picks. Second team: Rashad Johnson and Eddie Jackson. Honorable mention: Vinnie Sunseri and Robert Lester.

STAR/MONEY (NICKEL/DIME) | Minkah Fitzpatrick and Landon Collins.

Both were consensus All-Americans and too good not to have significant roles. Second team: Cyrus Jones and Javier Arenas. Honorable mention: Simeon Castille and Marquis Johnson.

RETURN SPECIALIST | Javier Arenas.

Arenas finished 10 yards short of setting the NCAA record for career punt-return yards, and his 3,918 total return yards also ranked second all-time. Second team: Christion Jones. Honorable mention: Marquis Maze.

KICKER | Leigh Tiffin.

He’s Alabama’s all-time leading scorer. Second team: Jeremy Shelley. Honorable mention: Adam Griffith.

PUNTER | JK Scott.

He was named an All-American in 2014. Second team: Cody Mandell. Honorable mention: P.J. Fitzgerald.

The All-Saban Team

Saban coached at other places before arriving at Alabama in 2007, so an All-Saban Team would feature numerous Alabama players, but also include some from Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99) and LSU (2000-04).

The criteria for consideration had to be tweaked due to how players might have developed after the coach departed. For our purposes, one had to be all-conference, All-American, drafted by an NFL team or won a major award when Saban was his coach. The time element was factored in with any achievement a year or more later.

QUARTERBACK | AJ McCarron (Alabama).

He was Saban’s first quarterback to be named an All-American (but was not a consensus selection). Second team: Greg McElroy. Notable players from other schools include Tony Banks (Michigan State), Josh Booty (LSU), Rohan Davey (LSU), Matt Mauck (LSU) and Russell (LSU).

RUNNING BACKS | Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram (Alabama).

There’s nothing better than two Heisman winners. Second team: Trent Richardson and T.J. Duckett (Michigan State). Notable others include Joseph Addai (LSU), Scott Greene (Michigan State), Sedrick Irvin (Michigan State), LaBrandon Toefield (LSU), Justin Vincent (LSU) and Domanick Williams (LSU).

WIDE RECEIVERS | Josh Reed (LSU), Julio Jones (Alabama) and Plaxico Burress (Michigan State).

Reed caught 94 passes for 1,740 yards in his junior season to win the Biletnikoff. Burress only played two seasons with the Spartans, but had 131 receptions, 2,155 yards and 20 touchdowns before being the eighth-overall selection in the 2000 draft. Second team: Michael Clayton (LSU) and Amari Cooper. Notable others include Dwayne Bowe (LSU), Bennie Brazell (LSU), Nigea Carter (Michigan State), Craig Davis (LSU), Skyler Green (LSU), Herb Haygood (Michigan State), Dervey Henderson (LSU), Rick Isiah (Toledo), Derrick Mason (Michigan State), Muhsin Muhammad (Michigan State) and Gari Scott (Michigan State).

TIGHT ENDS | O.J. Howard (Alabama) and Chris Baker (Michigan State).

Baker made 47 consecutive starts and had a string of 24 consecutive games with at least 1 reception. He set the school record for tight ends with 133 catches, 1,705 yards and 13 touchdowns, and was selected in the third round of the 2002 draft. Second team: Michael Williams and Robert Royal (LSU). Notable others include Jerry Evans (Toledo), Josh Keur (Michigan State) and Vince Marrow (Toledo).

TACKLES | Andre Smith (Alabama) and Flozell Adams (Michigan State).

Nicknamed “The Hotel,” Adams was a three-year starter for the Spartans, two at right tackle and one at left, and named both an All-American and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. Second team: Cam Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio. Notable others include Craig Kuligowski (Toledo), Greg Randall (Michigan State), Andrew Whitworth (LSU) and Brandon Winey (LSU).

GUARDS | Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones (Alabama).

Warmack might have been the best blocker Saban has had and Jones won the most awards. Second team: Mike Johnson and Stephen Peterman (LSU). Notable others include Herman Johnson (LSU), Tupe Peko (Michigan State) and Scott Shaw (Michigan State).

CENTER | Ryan Kelly (Alabama).

He was the third Rimington winner that Saban has coached. Second team: Ben Wilkerson (LSU). Notable others include Rudy Niswanger (LSU), Jason Strayorn (Michigan State) and Louis Williams (LSU).

DEFENSIVE LINE | Jonathan Allen (Alabama), Chad Lavalais (LSU) and Glenn Dorsey (LSU).

Lavalais was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2008 and Dorsey won the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott (defensive impact) awards during his senior season. Second team: Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus and Marcus Spears (LSU). Notable others include Howard Green (LSU), Jarvis Green (LSU), Marquise Hill (LSU), Melvin Oliver (LSU), Chase Pittman (LSU), Josh Shaw (Michigan State), Robaire Smith (Michigan State), Dimitrius Underwood (Michigan State), Dan Williams (Toledo), Kyle Williams (LSU) and Claude Wroten (LSU).

LINEBACKERS | Rolando McClain, C.J. Mosley, Reuben Foster (Alabama) and Julian Peterson (Michigan State).

During his two years with the Spartans, Peterson recorded 140 tackles and 25 sacks in only 23 games before being a first-round draft pick. Second team: Dant’a Hightower, Bradie James (LSU), Ike Reese (Michigan State) and Courtney Upshaw. Notable others include Matt Eberflus (Toledo), Trev Faulk (LSU), Ali Highsmith (LSU), Josh Thornhill (Michigan State), T.J. Turner (Michigan State) and Lionel Turner (LSU).

CORNERBACKS | Corey Webster (LSU) and Dee Milliner (Alabama).

Originally a wide receiver, Webster became LSU’s first two-time All-American since 1987 (Wendell Davis). Second team: Dre Kirkpatrick and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Notable others include Darren Anderson (Toledo), Amp Campbell (Michigan State), Travis Daniels (LSU), Chevis Johnson (LSU) and Renaldo Hill (Michigan State).

SAFETIES | LaRon Landry (LSU) and Mark Barron (Alabama).

The No. 6-overall draft pick in 2007, Landry was a four-year starter who broke up 40 passes and made 12 interceptions. Second team: Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Notable others include: Norman LeJeune (LSU), Aric Morris (Michigan State) and Craig Steltz (LSU).

RETURN SPECIALIST | Javier Arenas (Alabama).

Second team: Derrick Mason (Michigan State). Notable others include Domanick Davis (LSU), Skyler Green (LSU), Herb Haygood (Michigan State).

KICKER | Paul Edinger (Michigan State).

He was an All-American and a sixth-round draft pick. Second team: Leigh Tiffin.

PUNTER | JK Scott (Alabama).

He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2014. Second team: Craig Jarrett (Michigan State). 

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 6 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Sixth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s record-setting 2017 NFL Draft was not an aberration. It might have been a beginning.

For years, Alabama football appeared to be on the verge of matching the program record for most selections in an NFL draft — 10 in 1945, when there were 32 rounds. It finally did this spring, and it’s a mark the Crimson Tide could match or top again next year, and the year after that …

A year after Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama didn’t have anyone selected in the draft for the first time since 1970. It’s subsequently had 65 players picked. No program has had more.

“Alabama has always had the name brand, recognition, the historical tradition,” Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said. “It’s always resonates with people, but I also think that it was just a stop on the circuit [for scouts]. There was not a lot of distinction between going to Alabama versus Tennessee, Auburn or Georgia. It was just one of the stops.

“Once Nick Saban got there, honestly in the Southeast it has become the stop.”

Besides the Crimson Tide’s obvious high level of talent, there are three other major contributing factors.

First, Saban’s “process” is comparable to how an NFL team runs things, with schemes that are both complex and pro friendly. Last year former safety Mark Barron went so far as to say that learning the Crimson Tide’s defense was tougher than anything he’s had to do in the NFL, and he’s not only switched teams but positions — from safety to linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams.

“It’s very difficult,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said in agreement. “It just takes time.”

Saban also has an open-door policy to the NFL and is known for being accommodating to scouts, who are often seen on the sidelines during practices. In addition to checking out prize prospects for the next draft, with Alabama having quality players at every position it gives them an immediate baseline by which to evaluate all others that they’ll see.

“When I was the scouting director of the Ravens (1996-2002), one of the first stop I made every in August was the University of Miami,” Savage said. “I knew I was going to see players at virtually every position and now I could start making comparison right away with Ed Reed at safety, Kellen Winslow at tight end, whomever. Alabama is very similar.”

Since Alabama’s 2009 national championship, at least five Crimson Tide players have been selected in every draft. The “low” year of 2011 saw four players go in the first round: Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones, James, Carpenter and Mark Ingram. The fifth player was quarterback Greg McElroy, who went in the seventh round to the New York Jets.

This year, Alabama set NFL records with seven players among the first 55 selections and nine of the initial 79.

Normally when a program has an exceptional draft there’s a dropoff in subsequent years.

Not at Alabama. The only program to be in the College Football Playoff every year has mastered the ability to reload. Overall, the Crimson Tide have had 22 first-round selections during the last nine drafts with another 15 taken in the second round.

Alabama’s first-round NFL selections under Nick Saban

YEAR PICK PLAYER TEAM POS.
2017 16 Marlon Humphrey Baltimore Ravens CB
2017 17  Jonathan Allen Washington Redskins DE
2017 19 O.J. Howard Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE
2017 31 Reuben Foster San Francisco 49ers LB
 2016 18  Ryan Kelly  Indianapolis Colts C
 2015 5 Amari Cooper  Oakland Raiders WR
 2014 17  C.J. Mosley Baltimore Ravens LB
 2014 21  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Green Bay  Packers S
 2013 9  Dee Milliner New York Jets CB
 2013 10 Chance Warmack Tennessee Titans  G
 2013 11  D.J. Fluker Los Angeles Chargers OT
 2012 3  Trent Richardson Cleveland Browns RB
 2012 7 Mark Barron Tampa Bay Buccaneers DB
 2012 17 Dre Kirkpatrick Cincinnati Bengals DB
 2012 25 Dont’a Hightower New England Patriots LB
 2011 3  Marcell Dareus Buffalo Bills DT
 2011 6 Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons WR
 2011 25 James Carpenter Seattle Seahawks OT
 2011 28  Mark Ingram New Orleans Saints RB
 2010 8 Rolando McClain Oakland Raiders LB
 2010  20 Kareem Jackson Houston Texans DB
 2009 6 Andre Smith Cincinnati Bengals  OT

Saban also had five first-round picks at other schools, giving him 27 total. He’s tied with Woody Hayes for the third most ever, trailing only Joe Paterno (33) and Bobby Bowden (32). If you counted the players he recruited, but weren’t selected in the draft until after he moved on to another job he’d already have the most in history.

Bowden’s best over a 10-year period was 18 first-round picks (1997-2006). Hayes’ was 15 (1970-79), and Paterno’s 12 (1995-2003).

Alabama has a current streak of nine consecutive drafts with at least one first-round pick. It’s tied Florida (1983-91) for the second-longest consecutive streak with at least one player selected in the first round of the common draft era (since 1967).

Miami holds the record of 14 (1995-2008), which is getting close to being within reach.

Alabama’s overall NFL selections under Nick Saban

YEAR PICKS 1ST-ROUND
2008 0 0
2009 4 1
2010 7 2
2011 5 4
2012 8 4
2013 9 3
2014 8 2
2015 7 1
2016 7 1
2017 10 4

While the Hurricanes averaged 6.0 draft selections over that 14-year period, the Crimson Tide have had 7.2 over the last nine years.

Despite being in the process of replacing half of its starters again, Alabama could match or top Miami’s top total of 11 in 2002 next year.

Consider this season’s seniors:

  • OL: Bradley Bozeman
  • WR: Robert Foster and Cam Sims
  • DL: Da’Shawn Hand and Joshua Frazier
  • LB: Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans
  • DB: Anthony Averett, Tony Brown and Hootie Jones
  • P: JK Scott

That’s 11 and while a couple need a few things to fall into place this season to be drafted, they all have the potential.

Moreover, Alabama has numerous juniors who could consider leaving after the 2017 season, including DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, DT Da’Ron Payne, WR Calvin Ridley and RBs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.

While it’s too early to speculate on their chances, the program has regularly had a couple of early departures, including Humphrey, tackle Cam Robinson and WR ArDarius Stewart last year.

All signs point to not just next year’s draft being Alabama heavy, but the subsequent three as well. The Crimson Tide’s roster includes 17 players rated as consensus 5-star recruits. Only four are going into their senior year — Brown, Evans, Foster and Hand.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8  Part 9  Part 10