Championships are won one game at a time, and Nick Saban has won a lot of key games in his decade at Alabama. Here are Saban’s top 10 victories as ranked by sports department staff of The Tuscaloosa News.
10. Alabama 36, Auburn 0
Nov. 29, 2008
What made it great: Auburn came in riding a six-game winning streak in the series. Former running back Siran Stacy was an honorary captain and added to the emotion when he sprinted down the sideline, firing the crowd up in the pregame. Glen Coffee broke through with a 41-yard touchdown run down the right sideline in the second quarter and the rout was on. With a light mist hanging over the stadium, Alabama fans didn’t leave following the game, reveling in the Million Dollar Band’s playing “Rammer Jammer” multiple times.
9. Alabama 12, Tennessee 10
Oct. 24, 2009
What made it great: The exultation of winning a game as time expires is something Alabama fans haven’t had much experience with in the Saban era, but this time it happened. After a series of miscues in the final few minutes, including Mark Ingram’s first career fumble, allowing a touchdown and Tennessee’s recovery of an onside kick, Tennessee had the ball with a chance to win with just four seconds remaining. Kicker Daniel Lincoln lined up for a 44-yarder, but Alabama defensive lineman Terrence Cody blocked his second kick of the game to preserve Alabama’s unbeaten season.
8. Alabama 37, Texas 21
Jan. 7, 2010
What made it great: It’s hard to downplay what this game meant to the history of the program. It represented the first national championship since 1992, the first ever win against Texas and a return to the Rose Bowl, where Alabama first earned national recognition back in the 1920s. The game swung in favor of the Crimson Tide after Marcell Dareus knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy from the game. Later he intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Eryk Anders sealed the win with a blindside sack that resulted in a turnover. After 17 seasons, Alabama was back on top.
7. Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Jan. 7, 2013
What made it great: To a certain cross-section of the Alabama fan base, Notre Dame is a dirty word. The Fighting Irish was a thorn in the side of the Crimson Tide in the 1970s, and payback was sweet in South Florida. Alabama scored on its first offensive possession and it was obvious from the start that Notre Dame couldn’t match the Crimson Tide’s aggressiveness and physicality. Perhaps Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said it best in his halftime television interview when he was asked what adjustments he could make: “It’s all Alabama.”
6. Alabama 21, LSU 0
Jan. 9, 2012
What made it great: It was the rematch that launched the College Football Playoff. Alabama’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in November left the team with a sick feeling in its stomach. Alabama players and coaches felt they’d given the game away with poor special teams play. But it was special teams that helped win the rematch for the national championship. Jeremy Shelley was perfect and made all five of his field goal attempts to stake the team to a 15-0 lead. Trent Richardson’s fourth-quarter, 34-yard touchdown run – the first touchdown allow in eight quarters and change between the two teams – sealed the win and Saban’s second national title at Alabama.
5. Alabama 34, Clemson 10
Aug. 30, 2008
What made it great: This game announced that Alabama was no longer the type of program that would go 7-6, the record it finished with the season before. Nick Saban’s stated mission of playing physical was on full display as Alabama took command from the onset. Alabama dominated total yardage, out-gaining Clemson 419-188. Clemson gained no yards on the ground. It also announced the arrival of future Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who had a game-high 96 yards rushing.
4. Alabama 41, Georgia 30
Sept. 27, 2008
What made it great: It was an Alabama program on the rise to be sure, but no one saw what was to come in Sanford Stadium that night as Georgia’s blackout backfired. Led by John Parker Wilson, Glen Coffee, Julio Jones and a dominant first-half defense, the Crimson Tide raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead. Georgia made it interesting with 30 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Alabama from getting its biggest win of the Nick Saban era at the time. UA running backs totaled four rushing touchdowns and Jones grabbed five passes for 94 yards and a memorable over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.
3. Alabama 45, Clemson 40
Jan. 11, 2016
What made it great: Alabama faced a fourth-quarter deficit, Nick Saban pulled off one of the gutsiest onside kicks of all time and O.J. Howard became a household name. Howard’s five receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns stands out, but special teams turned the game. After Adam Griffith’s field goal tied the score in the fourth quarter, Saban called for a onside kick that worked to perfection. Later, Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Derrick Henry punched in a 1-yard touchdown that sealed the game.
2. Alabama 32, Georgia 28
Dec. 1, 2012
What made it great: Many observers still describe it as the de facto national championship game that season. Both teams put on a game for the ages that went down to the final play. The Bulldogs appeared to be in good shape when they went up 11 points in the third quarter, but Alabama wrestled back with the power running game behind Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and a dominant offensive line. AJ McCarron’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper put the team back in front, but Georgia made it nerve-racking for UA fans when it drove down to the Crimson Tide 5-yard line with time for one play. C.J. Mosley tipped Aaron Murray’s pass at the line and time ran out, ending the game.
1. Alabama 32, Florida 13
Dec. 5, 2009
What made it great: After falling short in the SEC Championship Game against the Gators in Nick Saban’s second season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama made it a mission to make it back. For the second straight season, the top two teams in the nation squared off, this time Florida, as defending national champion, at No. 1, and Alabama at No. 2. Alabama dominated from the start and never let up, winning the Crimson Tide’s first SEC title since 1999 and sending the team into the BCS national championship game against Texas.