Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

January 13, 2010 10:47 AM

2009 Team Not Alabama's Best Ever

Confetti Tide.jpgIn the past few days, I have read stories about the 2009 Alabama national championship team being the best ever in the Crimson Tide's storied football history, and also about whether Alabama will repeat in 2010.

I thought it was about time for me to weigh in on both matters.

I agree that Alabama was a great team in 2009. After all, the Tide was only the third team in modern history to finish a season 14-0, joining Boise State this season and Ohio State in 2002.

The Tide also had to go through the unbeaten and defending national champion Florida Gators in Southeastern Conference Championship Game and the unbeaten and Big 12 champion Texas Longhorns in the BCS Championship Game to claim the national title.

Alabama was impressive in dispatching both, so they clearly were the best team in the nation in 2009.

But I'm not so sure this was the best team in Tide football history.

The 1961 national championship team that went 11-0 allowed only 25 points the entire season and recorded six shutouts; the 1966 team that went 11-0 - and was the subject of the book The Missing Ring - outscored its opponents 301-44; the 1979 national champion team that went 12-0 recorded five shutouts and outscored its opponents 383-67; and the 1992 national championship team set a then-school-record for victories by going 13-0.

All great teams, but I believe the best ever team in the history of the program was the 1978 national championship team that went 11-1 under Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

OK, I was a senior at Alabama at the time and sports editor of the school newspaper, so I am partial to that team.

But when you consider the caliber of the competition - the 1978 team opened the season with nonconference games against Nebraska, Missouri and USC, and also traveled to Seattle to play Washington - and the caliber of the players on that team, such as linebacker Barry Krauss, defensive lineman Marty Lyons, quarterback Jeff Rutledge, running back Tony Nathan, defensive end E.J. Junior, defensive back Don McNeal, center Dwight Stephenson and running back Major Ogilvie, I don't think there's ever been a better team at Alabama. Sure, they lost to USC 24-14, but then ran the table, topping it off with a victory over unbeaten Penn State in the Sugar Bowl in the famous "goal line stand" game to win the national championship.

Ingram vs. Texas.jpgThe 2009 team did have a school record six All-Americans - senior nose guard Terrence Cody, sophomore running back Mark Ingram, senior left guard Mike Johnson and junior linebacker Rolando McClain on the first team and senior cornerback Javier Arenas and senior kicker Leigh Tiffin on the second team - and also produced the Tide's first Heisman Trophy winner in Ingram.

Plus, Coach Nick Saban is a proven winner like Bear was, although Saban hasn't reached legendary status yet, his pending statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium notwithstanding.

But the 2009 team played a weak nonconference schedule, taking on the likes of Florida International, North Texas and Chattanooga, although I give them props for opening the season against Virginia Tech. Besides that, I thought the SEC was a little down this season. That's why when the season started it was almost a foregone conclusion that Alabama and Florida would meet in the SEC Championship Game in a rematch of the 2008 game.

So, the 2009 team was not tested throughout the season as the 1978 team was.

And that's the primary reason I think the 1978 team was the best ever.

Some of the players from the 1978 team were still around when the Tide repeated as national champions in 1979, which brings me to the next topic of debate: Can the Tide repeat in 2010?

With eight starters returning on offense, including Ingram, quarterback Greg McElroy and gifted receiver Julio Jones and a solid core of defensive players back, even with McClain's announcement Monday that he's forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft, the Tide will enter the season No. 1 and as the favorite to repeat.

The schedule will be more challenging with home games against Penn State and Florida and SEC road games at Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU, so I don't think Alabama will go through the season unbeaten.

But with Saban calling the shots, I expect the Tide to become the first team to win back-to-back BCS national championships.

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