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

 

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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

 

2018 Best Enterprise: Christopher Walsh, Part 5 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Fifth of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the Crimson Tide’s individual honors on a national level were few and far between.

No one had won a Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award or Walter Camp Award for player of the year, nor a Chuck Bendarik or Bronko Naguski trophy for defensive player of the year.

Of the 25 major college football awards that ESPN.com lists on its awards page, an Alabama player had won five:

PLAYER AWARD YEAR
Cornelius Bennett Lombardi 1986
Derrick Thomas Butkus 1988
Antonio Langham Thorpe 1993
Chris Samuels Outland 1999
DeMeco Ryans Lott 2005

Now the reverse is true. There are only five awards an Alabama player has never won: Davey O’Brien (quarterback), John Mackey (tight end), Lou Groza (kicker), Ray Guy (punter) and Paul Hornung (most versatile). The Hornung Award has only been around since 2010.

Alabama has won so many trophies during the last decade that the display cases on the second floor of the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility have seemingly been in a constant state of expansion.

They include:

  • Heisman Trophy (outstanding player): Mark Ingram Jr. (2009), Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Maxwell Award (outstanding player): AJ McCarron (2013), Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Walker Camp Award (player of the year): Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Doak Walker Award (running back): Trent Richardson (2011); Derrick Henry (2015)
  • Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (outstanding senior quarterback): AJ McCarron (2013)
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award (receiver): Amari Cooper (2014)
  • Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Andre Smith (2008); Barrett Jones (2011), Cam Robinson (2016)
  • Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Dick Butkus Award (linebacker): Rolando McClain (2009), C.J. Mosley (2013), Reuben Foster (2016)
  • Rotary Lombardi Award (lineman): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Ted Hendricks Award (defensive end): Jonathan Allen (2016)
  • Rimington Trophy (center): Barrett Jones (2012), Ryan Kelly (2015)
  • Campbell Trophy (top scholar-athlete): Barrett Jones (2012)
  • Wuerffel Trophy (community service): Barrett Jones (2011)

Add the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in 2015 and one could take all of the trophies and play a game of checkers on a very, very large board (especially since the Moore weighs approximately 350 pounds).

Throw in some major coaching honors and the Disney Spirit Award for overcoming adversity following the 2011 tornado and you’d have enough pieces to play chess.

That’s unparalleled in college football history.

So is the diversity of the awards as Alabama isn’t just known for one or two position groups. That’s why the Running Back U moniker doesn’t fit. Everything U would be more appropriate.

Nevertheless, two awards stand out during Saban’s tenure: the Outland Trophy and the Dick Butkus Award. Three Crimson Tide players have won each over the last decade.

“It was fun,” left tackle Cam Robinson said about joining such an exclusive club last season. “That was my first time doing anything kind of like that. When it comes to the Outland, that was tremendous.

“I didn’t know if I would win it or not. I couldn’t put it into words, but I wasn’t surprised. It was a great honor, it was shocking, it was hard to fathom … it’s hard to put into words.”

Excellence at linebacker has become a Crimson Tide trademark. In six of the last eight seasons, Alabama has had a consensus All-American at the position (four unanimous), easily topping the nation.

Alabama also boasts Thomas, Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Woodrow Lowe in the College Football Hall of Fame, a foursome that can stand with any program’s heritage at linebacker

“It was an honor to win that award,” said 2016 Butkus recipient Foster. “That’s Dick Butkus, like a hard hitter — or a hard-head knocker.”

Allen became the third player under Saban to win so much hardware that he couldn’t hold all the trophies at once, joining offensive lineman Barrett Jones and running back Derrick Henry.

In addition to the Bednarik and Nagurski Trophy honors, Allen also snared the Ted Hendricks Award as the game’s best defensive end, and the Rotary Lombardi Award as best lineman.

“He has a lot of great attributes as a player,” Saban said about Allen when he got Heisman buzz despite being a defensive player. “I think he would be a great candidate for it.”

Going back to those 25 major awards, Alabama’s coaches won only two. Kirby Smart was honored with the Frank Broyles Award in 2009 as the game’s best assistant coach, and Saban landed the Home Depot Coach of the Year honor in 2008.

The only coach of the year award Saban has won during a national championship season at Alabama was the Bobby Bowden Award, which has since been discontinued.

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 4 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Fourth of 10 Parts

At some point, you probably were suckered by the trivia question: “Which college football program has won the most Division I national championships?”

It’s a bit of a trick question. Before college football evolved into the game we know today, it was primarily known as a regional sport in the Northeast, dominated by the Ivy League schools. Regardless of consensus or non-consensus status, Princeton can claim 28 championships, Yale 27 and Harvard 12.

Their success was naturally reflected in All-American teams, which date to 1889. With such a head start, it was widely believed that no program would ever be able to match that kind of success.

Only 100 or so years later, Alabama under coach Nick Saban is posting comparable numbers.

Back then, Caspar Whitney and Walter Camp were the primary selectors. Nowadays to be recognized as a consensus All-American, a player must be named first-team by the majority of the services recognized by the NCAA: American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News.

Since 2008, Saban’s second season — when Alabama had its first showdown with Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and Florida in the SEC Championship Game — the Crimson Tide have fielded 29 consensus All-American selections earned by 25 players.

 

YEAR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICANS
2008 C Antoine Caldwell, DL Terrence Cody, OL Andre Smith*
2009 DB Javier Arenas, DL Terrence Cody, RB Mark Ingram*, OL Mike Johnson, Rolando McClain*
2010 None
2011 DB Mark Barron*, LB Dont’a Hightower, OL Barrett Jones*, RB Trent Richardson*
2012 C Barrett Jones, DB Dee Milliner*, CB C.J. Mosley*, OL Chance Warmack*
2013 DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OL Cyrus Kouandjio, LB C.J. Mosley*
2014 WR Amari Cooper*, DB Landon Collis*
2015 RB Derrick Henry*, C Ryan Kelly, LB Reggie Ragland*, DL A’Shawn Robinson
2016 OL Cam Robinson*, DL Jonathan Allen*, LB Reuben Foster*, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
*—Denotes unanimous selection

 

That’s more than California, Clemson and Wisconsin have had during their entire football histories.

It also nearly tops every other team all time in the SEC West Division.

 

SEC WEST SELECTIONS PLAYERS
LSU 32 28
Auburn 30 28
Texas A&M 28 26
Arkansas 25 21
Ole Miss 12 12
Mississippi State 2 2

 

The SEC East’s all-time selections: Tennessee 40, Florida 32, Georgia 31, Missouri 13, Kentucky 10, Vanderbilt 6, South Carolina 4.

“Twenty-nine? Wow,” said College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association Grant Teaff.

“For me it all goes back to the root value, of who he’s bringing in, the way he and his staff evaluate young people both in athletic talent character issues, academic ability to be there in four years and graduate in four or five. It all goes back to fundamental things.

“I’d say Coach Saban is the cream of the crop.”

Overall, the Crimson Tide have had 68 consensus All-Americans, won by 64 players, which is eighth on the all-time list.Yale leads with 100, won by 69 players.

Alabama also didn’t have its first player honored with that distinction until Fred Sington in 1930, five years after winning its first national title (1925).

That leads us to two more head-turning statistics:

  • • With six players named before arriving at Alabama in 2007, Saban has coached more consensus All-Americans than anyone in college football history (35). The previous leaders were Joe Paterno (33), Bobby Bowden (31) and Tom Osborne (30).
  • • Of the programs with the most consensus All-Americans over a 10-year span, Alabama is ahead of anyone since the first national polls were held in 1934. In terms of all-time it only trails the three previously-mentioned Ivy League powers.
  • Most consensus All-Americans in a 10-year period
Yale (1900-09) 40
Yale (1889-98) 33
Harvard (1892-1901) 32
Princeton (1889-98) 30
Alabama (2008-2016) 29
Florida State (1991-2000) 22
Oklahoma (2000-09) 20
Penn (1895-1904) 20
Notre Dame (1964-73) 19
Ohio State (1969-78) 19
Oklahoma (1971-80) 19

 

Note that Saban didn’t have any All-Americans in 2007, his first season at Alabama. Thus, he still can add to his decade total this season.

Should Saban match his nine-year average (3.2) he’ll have 32 consensus All-Americans — 10 more than anyone else during a 10-year span over the last century.

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 3 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Third of 10 Parts

It’s no mystery to peers of Nick Saban why the University of Alabama has consistently competed for the national championship.

“Just check their recruiting,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said before taking his first shot at college football’s biggest prize at the end of the 2015 season.

That’s the starting point for Saban every year, regardless of how the previous season ended. Since 2008, every Crimson Tide recruiting class has gone on to play for the crown, with the 2016 group being the only one that can’t claim one — yet.

Swinney also mentioned Alabama’s top-notch coaching staff, but he had the basic formula correct. Saban is just as good at recruiting as anyone else in the sport, if not better.

Steve Spurrier went so far as to call Saban the “greatest recruiter in the history of college football,” during SEC media days in 2014. “As long as they can recruit like that they’re always going to be the favorites.”

Few would argue against that, but what isn’t commonly mentioned is how Saban’s far-ranging influence has affected the recruiting and player evaluation landscape as a whole.

Specifically, he essentially created a player personnel department, similar to what many NFL teams have, pinpointing what Alabama covets at each position. It’s worked so well, scores of college football programs are desperately trying to copy it.

“You have guys that you’ve never heard of that work at Alabama for a year or two, or three or four years, and have now gone on to other schools or to the NFL, who are part of the Saban genealogy,” said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, who writes about it in his upcoming book with Ray Glier: 4th & Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.

“From a personnel standpoint, he sort of gets zero [recognition]. It’s about the coaches he’s produced. He’s produced a number of these young guys that will end up being the director of recruiting, scouts, or directors at the NFL level.”

Even so, recruiting success isn’t just about identifying and targeting top talent around the state, region and nation. With every major decision he makes, Saban considers the impact.

It’s the real reason why Alabama built a new weight room that’s the envy of even NFL teams. It’s why the football building has been renovated so many times and is currently adding a new dining facility (after the NCAA decided to allow unlimited meals for athletes). It’s a big part of every staff move.

The emphasis on recruiting was also one of the things that led to his being targeted and hired by former Director of Athletics Mal Moore.

“He really knew that Saban was the guy when Saban told him, ‘There are a lot of guys who are good coaches out there, but I’m a guy who can also get good players,’” said Steve Townsend, Moore’s former special assistant and author of the 2014 book: Crimson Heart: Let Me Tell You My Story.

“Obviously, he went out and got them.”

The results have been unparalleled.

With Saban’s latest batch of prospects, who signed in February, Alabama’s string of having the consensus No. 1 class of incoming players reached an unprecedented seven consecutive years.

Saban’s Alabama recruiting classes

YEAR 247 SCORE RANK
2017 322.48 1
2014 319.71 1
2013 319.50 1
2015 311.10 1
2012 310.09 1
2016 307.05 1
2011 298.50 1
2008 291.61 3
2009 288.63 3
2010 284.20 4

 

The 2017 group might be his best yet, too. Alabama landed 12 players rated a 5-star prospect by one of the major services — 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout. That includes Elliot Baker, Isaiah Buggs, VanDarius Cowan, Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Alex Leatherwood, Dylan Moses, LaBryan Ray, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith, Tua Tagovailoa and Jedrick Wills.

Six were consensus selections. The 247Sports composite had them listed as 3. Harris, 4. Leatherwood, 13. Moses, 21. Jeudy, 26. Ray and 32. Tagovailoa. Willis just missed at No. 34.

Another 13 were judged to be consensus 4-star talents.

“You know the Alabama name sticks out, and Alabama only recruits the best and gets the best,” said Buggs, one of 16 players in the signing class who enrolled in time for spring practices.

“I know if I’m at Alabama I’m here for a reason. It’s either go hard or go home. It’s Nick Saban. He’s going to recruit the best to get the best.”

It’s been that way since Saban’s first full recruiting class with the Crimson Tide, 2008, which set the tone for the program. Five players went on to be named consensus All-Americans, two twice, and five developed into first-round draft picks. The names include running back Mark Ingram Jr., wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive linemen Marcell Dareus and Terrence Cody, offensive lineman Barrett Jones, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

That’s a tough group to top.

Overall, Saban has landed 41 consensus 5-star players over the past decade, with 17 currently on campus. Not only is that the most in college football by a wide margin, but they account for 20 percent of the 85-man roster.

That’s one of every five players.

The only position groups that don’t have a 5-star prospect are tight ends, where such designation can be rare, and special teams. But Alabama might have the nation’s best punter with JK Scott.

It lends credence to the idea of if you want to be the best, you need to be with the best and learn from the best.

“I think it probably intimidated some people, it probably discouraged some people away,” said offensive tackle Jonah Williams, a consensus 5-star addition in the Class of 2016. “Anyone who would sign here I already have a little bit of respect for because they’re willing to come to an environment like this, where you’re expected to be the best.

“I think that’s what we live for, it’s what we work for here.”

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 2 of 10

By Christopher Walsh

SEC Country

Second of 10 Parts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rece Davis had the right answer to the question.

It was just before Texas A&M visited his alma mater last season, when the host of ESPN College GameDay was asked if the 2016 Alabama football team could already be considered among the best in history.

“Not yet,” he said because the Crimson Tide had only played seven games at that point. “There are categories of teams at Alabama, ones that won championships and ones that didn’t. The ones that didn’t don’t get compared, or should be compared, to the ones that did.

“We have to wait until the end to have that type of conversation. To me, all that talk is premature.”

Because championships represent the pinnacle in major team sports, they’re also the most important measuring stick in terms of gauging coaching greatness.

With five national titles, four at Alabama and one at LSU, Nick Saban is already at the highest of levels. He came within a second of winning another last season and has the Crimson Tide poised to continue challenging for more championships.

The College Football Playoff should just go ahead and name the trophy after him, like the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Super Bowl winner in the NFL. No one’s been so adept at continually competing for it.

With Bob Stoops recently stepping down at Oklahoma, Saban is one of just four active coaches to have won a national title, including Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher. It takes all three combined to match Saban’s five.

“I find it hard to believe Alabama would have been as dominant as it has been under Saban with some other coach, even Urban Meyer (who I think is No. 2),” said Scott Rabalais, columnist for The Advocate in Baton Rouge. “Clearly, he is the best coach in college football, and no one else is close to that. Even LSU fans who hate him now believe that deep down.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant is recognized as having won the most national titles with six. That includes three split and three when the final polls were conducted before bowl games. Saban’s five were secured during a tougher era.

In addition to scholarship limits and a brighter spotlight, major college football now includes more regular-season games, conference championships and the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff.

Saban is 12-2 in title games — 7-1 SEC and 5-1 BCS/CFP after the loss to Clemson in January. The only SEC Championship Game loss came in 2008 to Tim Tebow’s Florida team that won the national championship.

Bryant also never won more than three national titles during any 10-year period. Saban’s notched four since 2009, which fellow ESPN announcer Todd Blackledge called “the finest display of coaching in college football that we’ve ever seen.”

Most national championships in a decade

TEAM TITLES SEASONS
Alabama 4 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015
Miami (Fla.) 4 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 (AP)
Notre Dame 4 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949
Nebraska 3 1994, 1995, 1997 (Coaches)
Notre Dame 3 1973 (AP), 1977, 1988
Alabama 3 1973 (Coaches), 1978 (AP), 1979
USC 3 1972, 1974 (Coaches), 1978 (Coaches)
Texas 3 1963, 1969, 1970 (Coaches)
Alabama 3 1961, 1964, 1965 (AP)
Oklahoma 3 1950, 1955, 1956
Minnesota 3 1936, 1940, 1941

 

Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy was the first to win four in a decade during the poll era (1934), but he didn’t coach the Fighting Irish for 10 straight years. After he went into the Navy during World War II, Ed McKeever took over the program in 1944 (8-2), and Hugh Devore filled in for the 1945 season (7-2-1). Leahy returned and won three of the next four national titles while compiling an amazing record of 36-0-2.

The Fighting Irish were voted No. 2 in 1948, and only went 4-4-1 in 1950.

Miami also had three different coaches during its dynasty, but each won a national championship. Howard Schnellenberger did it first, followed by Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson won two.

Meanwhile, Meyer also won national championships at two different schools, and all within a 10-year span: Two at Florida (2006 and 2008), and one at Ohio State in 2014.

Alabama’s ‘greatest era ever’

But Saban’s unparalleled success is reflected in numerous other ways, like Alabama having been ranked No. 1 at some point of the season a record nine consecutive years. Leahy’s teams did it five straight seasons (1946-50), and Miami reached seven (1986-92).

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

Consequently, College GameDay has become a regular fixture around the Crimson Tide. The Texas A&M game was its 37th broadcast before an Alabama kickoff, and 28th since Saban arrived in 2007.

That was seven more than any other team over the past decade (Oregon) even before it followed the Crimson Tide to LSU two weeks later, and then to the College Football Playoff title game. Moreover, ESPN’s GameDay has already announced that it will open the 2017 season in Atlanta for Alabama vs. Florida State.

It might be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, with the Crimson Tide possibly extending the No. 1 streak to an unparalleled 10th year in a row.

“I know with some of the older guard at Alabama this is not particularly popular,” Davis said, “but this is the greatest era of Alabama football ever.”

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

 

2018 Best Game Story: John Bohnenkamp, The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

Comment by the judge: Writer did an excellent job in pointing out not only was it an upset, but the surprising number of points Iowa scored on Ohio State. Good historical facts on most points Iowa scored in the series and how long it had been since Hawkeyes scored so many points. Also Iowa’s recent history of upsets at Kinnick Stadium. Very good quotes to back up the facts.”

By John Bohnenkamp

The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

IOWA CITY — It was over in eight seconds.

The first offensive play of the game, Iowa safety Amani Hooker roared in front of a pass from Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, the first points in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win over the third-ranked Buckeyes…

Wait, wait, wait.

Fifty-five points?

Against Ohio State?

Really?

“We were having fun out there,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “You’re doing the right thing when you’re having fun.”

But 55 points, from an team that had scored just 27 in its last two games — 10 in a loss at Northwestern, 17 in a home win over Minnesota?

Really?

Wadley remembered when he was interviewed about the game earlier in the week, when he was confident that something big was coming..

“You guys were looking at me like I was (crazy),” he said. “We believe in this.”

Saturday’s win was another one of those November shockers by the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium, who have knocked off four top-five teams here in their last five tries.

Magic in autumn’s gloom is in the eyes of the ones pulling off the upset.

“What stands out,” said Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who threw for 226 yards and five touchdowns, “is how well we played as a team.”

“When we execute in every phase of the game, we’re going to play a game like this,” linebacker Josey Jewell said.

“It’s got the Kinnick curse, or whatever you want to call it,” Ohio State center Billy Price said.

It was only the fourth win for the Hawkeyes (6-3 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) over the Buckeyes (7-2, 5-1) in the last 30 years — they don’t play each other much, though, this was the first matchup since 2013.

It’s the most points scored by an Iowa team ever in the series, the most points scored by the Hawkeyes against a ranked team since a 55-17 win over Texas in the 1984 Freedom Bowl.

Ohio State was favored by double digits — the line had pushed to 20 in the hours before the game.

“We came into this game heavy underdogs, and for good reason,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Ohio State is a tremendous football team. But the big thing is our guys really believed in themselves all week long. They had a good week of preparation, and then most importantly came out and really played with great energy, great effort, a lot of grit, and played opportunistic football, and that’s important in a game like this.”

“We didn’t care who they were,” said Wadley, who rushed for 118 yards. “From my point of view, if you keep thinking about stuff like that, if you overrespect somebody, you get nervous. I try to think everybody is the same.”

It’s a defeat that will prove fatal to the Buckeyes’ national championship hopes.

It was only the second road loss for coach Urban Meyer since he came to Ohio State.

Someone asked him if there were any signs that a defeat like this was coming.

“No,” he said.

The sign came eight seconds in. The Hooker interception was the first of four for Barrett — he had only one all season coming in — with the other three going to cornerback Josh Jackson.

“I definitely think it set the tone,” Jewell said. “Sometimes you start off slow and you don’t want to do that. But in this game, it started off right.”

“All eyes are on J.T. Barrett,” Wadley said. “He’s the QB, first play, they think it’s supposed to be easy money for Ohio State. Then, boom, Amani Hooker.”

The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes traded scoring drives — it was 17-17 before Iowa finally took control with 31 unanswered points.

Barrett, a Heisman Trophy candidate coming in, was rattled at times, thanks mostly to an ever-changing Iowa defense.

“It was a little bit of everything,” Jackson said.

“They just played very well against us,” Meyer said.

Someone asked Meyer if he was stunned.

“Yeah,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one.

Stanley, a sophomore making his ninth start, was as poised as ever. He threw two touchdown passes each to tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, and added another to fullback Drake Kulick. Eight different Hawkeyes caught at least one pass.

“A lot of big throws for him,” Ferentz said.

On the last touchdown pass to Hockenson, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard had grabbed Stanley’s foot, but he still made the play.

“I think probably my favorite play is the one where he’s got the guy bringing him down and he finds a way to get the ball in the end zone there for a touchdown,” Ferentz said.

It was a game that, really, was over in eight seconds, but the party lasted for 3 hours, 33 minutes, ending with a field storming by most of the 67,669 in attendance.

The Hawkeyes are bowl-eligible again, the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, with another November victory notched.

Hooker was asked about that first play.

“I couldn’t draw it up any better than that,” he said.

There was no question about it. The same could be said for the whole day.

John Bohnenkamp

John Bohnenkamp

Age: 52

College: Iowa

Background: John Bohnenkamp is sports editor/colleges writer at The Hawk Eye newspaper in Burlington, Iowa. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He worked at the Daily Gate City (Keokuk, Iowa) from 1988 to 1991 before moving to The Hawk Eye, where he was a preps reporter for two years before becoming assistant sports editor from 1993 to 1999. He has covered University of Iowa basketball, along with Western Illinois University football and basketball, since 1993. He added the Iowa football beat in 2014 after the death of long-time beat writer Susan Denk. He added the minor-league baseball beat this season, covering the Burlington Bees, the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. He has won 16 APSE top-10 writing awards, along with seven United States Basketball Writers Association top-5 awards. This is his second FWAA honor.