Home Cecil Hurt Year-by-year: Looking back at the Nick Saban era

Year-by-year: Looking back at the Nick Saban era

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Alabama defensive back Marlon Humphrey returns an interception for a touchdown during Alabama’s season opening game with the University of Southern California Saturday, September 3, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. Gary Cosby Jr. | The Tuscaloosa News

2016

Preseason ranking: No. 1

Outlook: For a third straight season, the questions were offensive: who would replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and, as usual, who would be the quarterback?

Biggest surprise: Two words – Jalen Hurts. In less than his first full season, he is on the way to redefining the quarterback position at UA.

Best performance: To date, there’s a strong argument for a 52-6 opening win against a Rose Bowl-bound USC team.

Worst performance: In order not to give this designation to the Ole Miss game for a third straight year, let’s pin it on a tumultuous summer of off-the-field problems.

Saban’s best coaching move: Overcoming a tumultuous season of off-the-field problems.

Top offensive player: Jalen Hurts, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

Top defensive player: Jonathan Allen, the AP National Defensive Player of the Year.

Unsung hero: Very few Alabama players have gone through an undefeated season without being praised at some point, but you probably haven’t heard enough about Bradley Bozeman’s seamless work at center, where he’s made the absence of All-American Ryan Kelly barely noticeable.

Aftermath: To be continued

Record: 14-0 overall, 8-0 SEC

(Season in progress)

Final ranking: To be determined

Results

Southern Cal*; W 52-6

Western Kentucky; W 38-10

at Ole Miss;W 48-43

Kent State; W 48-0

Kentucky; W 34-6

at Arkansas; W 39-30

at Tennessee; W 49-10

Texas A&M; W 33-14

at LSU; W 10-0

Mississippi State; W 51-3

Chattanooga; W 31-3

Auburn; W 30-12

Florida+; W 54-16

Washington^; W 24-7

*Arlington, Texas

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

^CFP Semifinal, Atlanta

Alabama running back Kenyan Drake (17) outruns Clemson safety Jayron Kearse (1) as he returns a kickoff for a touchdown during Alabama’s 45-40 victory over Clemson in the College Football National Championship game in the University of Phoenix Stadium Monday, January 11, 2016. Gary Cosby Jr. | The Tuscaloosa News

2015

Preseason ranking: No. 3

Outlook: For a second straight season, there was optimism tempered by the absence of a proven quarterback.

Biggest surprise: That probably belonged to the national commentators who pronounced Alabama dead and buried after three weeks. On the field, and not entirely unrelated, was the development of Jake Coker into a solid starting quarterback.

Best performance: In the regular season, LSU came to Tuscaloosa with a No. 2 national ranking. The Tigers left with a 30-16 loss, 128 total yards and a shattered season. In the playoff, both the blowout (38-0 over Big Ten champion Michigan State) and the thriller (45-40 over Clemson) were memorable.

Worst performance: It’s a little unfair to Ole Miss to automatically award the Rebels with “Alabama’s Worst Performance” every year, but the Crimson Tide’s mistake-filled, five-turnover effort was a dark cloud, albeit with the silver lining of Coker’s emergence as undisputed starter.

Saban’s best coaching move: Handling a complex set of postseason issues – including a departing defensive coordinator – with mastery. Oh, and the onside kick against Clemson.

Top offensive player: If you disagree, Derrick Henry will run over you just like he did everyone else. The totals for the junior running back: 2,219 yards, 28 touchdowns and a Heisman Trophy.

Top defensive player: Linebacker Reggie Ragland led a balanced unit with 102 tackles to edge out worthy candidates at both defensive tackles, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed.

Unsung hero: The Missing Man, tight end O.J. Howard, redeemed all the patience of UA fans with an MVP performance in the CFP title win over Clemson.

Aftermath: A grudging acceptance from most other programs that college football was Alabama’s world and they were just living in it.

Record: 14-1 overall, 7-1 SEC

Final ranking: No. 1

Results

Wisconsin*; W 35-7

Middle Tennessee; W 37-10

Ole Miss; L 43-37

Louisiana-Monroe; W 34-0

at Georgia; W 38-10

Arkansas; W 27-14

at Texas A&M; W 41-23

Tennessee; W 19-14

LSU; W 30-16

at Mississippi State; W 31-6

Charleston Southern; W 56-6

at Auburn; W 29-13

Florida+; W 29-15

Michigan State#; W 38-0

Clemson^; W 45-40

*Arlington, Texas

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

#College Football Playoff semifinal, Arlington, Texas

^CFP National Championship Game, Glendale, Ariz.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) and tight end O.J. Howard (88) celebrate a touchdown against Ohio State on Thursday Jan. 1, 2015 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News

2014

Preseason ranking: No. 2

Outlook: The conclusion of 2013 caused some doubt, but it was again difficult to overlook the amount of talent on hand – if the Crimson Tide could find a quarterback.

Biggest surprise: Blake Sims. Two years earlier, he had been a reserve running back. In 2014, thanks to perseverance and Lane Kiffin, he was the quarterback of an SEC champion and College Football Playoff participant. He threw for 3,487 yards, about 3,400 more than most people would have dreamed two years earlier.

Best performance: After a loss at Ole Miss and a one-point win over Arkansas, Alabama needed a rare confidence boost – and got it with a 59-0 demolition of Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide out-gained the Aggies by a staggering margin of 602 yards to141.

Worst performance: The loss at Ole Miss was lackluster, and the one-point win at Arkansas that followed might have been worse.

Saban’s best coaching move: Hiring Lane Kiffin. Saban caused jaws to drop across the college football world when he brought in the former Tennessee and USC coach, but Kiffin paid immediate dividends in developing Sims into a winning quarterback.

Top offensive player: Wide receiver Amari Cooper. Kiffin kept finding ways to get Cooper the ball, and Cooper kept on delivering, finishing with school records for receptions (124) and receiving yards (1,727).

Top defensive player: For a second straight season, Landon Collins was dominant, leading the team in tackles (103) and interceptions (three).

Unsung hero: Freshman JK Scott averaged 48 yards per punt, giving Alabama an agent of field-flipping power that it hadn’t seen since the days of Harry Gilmer.

Aftermath: A solid year ended with a loss to a red-hot Ohio State team, but given the all-or-nothing level of expectations created by Saban, Crimson Tide fans wanted more.

Record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 SEC

Final ranking: No. 4

Results

West Virginia*; W 33-23

Florida Atlantic; W 41-0

Southern Miss; W 52-12

Florida; W 42-21

at Ole Miss; L 23-17

at Arkansas; W 14-13

Texas A&M; W 59-0

at Tennessee; W 34-20

at LSU; W 20-13 OT

Mississippi State; W 25-20

Western Carolina; W 48-14

Auburn; W 55-44

Missouri; W 42-13*

Ohio State; L 42-35#

*Atlanta

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

#College Football Playoff semifinal, New Orleans

Alabama quarter back AJ McCarron (10) passes the ball in the third quarter against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss. on Saturday Nov. 16, 2013. Alabama beat MSU 20-7. Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News

2013

Preseason ranking: No. 1

Outlook: The Crimson Tide was a unanimous preseason No. 1 and there was much debate on where UA – and quarterback A.J. McCarron – would rank in college football history with a third straight title.

Biggest surprise: The loss at Auburn, partly because of the unique nature of the “Kick Six” and partly because UA lost at all.

Best performance: There were several easy wins, although a 49-42 payback victory over Texas A&M in the early-season heat of College Station probably was the most exciting.

Worst performance: A flat Sugar Bowl effort – like the one in 2008 – but this time against Oklahoma.

Saban’s best coaching move: Everyone points to the end of the Auburn game as a low point, but Saban held the team together most of the season despite the unprecedented attention on the three-peat.

Top offensive player: Quarterback AJ McCarron was a Heisman Trophy finalist, throwing for 3,063 yards (226 of 336, 28 touchdowns).

Top defensive player: Safety Landon Collins was a wrecking ball (70 tackles, two interceptions) and C.J. Mosley (108 tackles) had a send consecutive All-America season, so call it a tie.

Unsung hero: Safety/special teamer Vinnie Sunseri was playing at a high level when a knee injury ended his season in Week Seven against Arkansas. His absence was a factor down the stretch.

Aftermath: Hopes had been so high until the sudden cold slap at Auburn that the year was considered something of a disappointment despite 11 consecutive wins at the outset.

Record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 SEC

Final ranking: No. 7

Results

Virginia Tech*; W 35-10

at Texas A&M; W 49-42

Colorado State; W 31-6

Ole Miss; W 25-0

Georgia State; W 45-3

at Kentucky; W 48-7

Arkansas; W 52-0

Tennessee; W 45-10

LSU; W 38-17

at Mississippi State; W 20-7

Chattanooga; W 49-0

at Auburn; L 34-28

Oklahoma; L 45-31#

*Atlanta

#Sugar Bowl, New Orleans

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (42) carries the ball against Notre Dame in the first quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Monday Jan 7, 2013. Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News

2012

Preseason ranking: No. 2

Outlook: Lofty expectations as the Crimson Tide looked to accomplish the repeat title that eluded it in 2010.

Biggest surprise: Surely a smallish quarterback from Texas A&M wasn’t all that great, was he? Or, if you are Aaron Murray, an even bigger surprise was Quinton Dial.

Best performance: This is where you have to choose how you use “best.” Alabama was most dominant in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame, but might have had to give its best effort to defeat Georgia in an all-time classic SEC title match in Atlanta.

Worst performance: A five-point loss to Texas A&M, although even that wasn’t entirely without explanation: a hot opposing quarterback, an emotional letdown after a big win at LSU and a slow start.

Saban’s best coaching move: Splitting running back duties between Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon kept both backs fresh, and quarterback A.J. McCarron chilled.

Top offensive player: A group award to a dominant offensive line. Center Barrett Jones won the most hardware, but D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack were NFL first-rounders and Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen had pro futures as well.

Top defensive player: C.J. Mosley carried on the great linebacker tradition under Saban with 107 tackles, nearly double the total of the team’s No. 2 tackler..

Unsung hero: Jesse Williams. The Monstar didn’t have great stats (37 tackles, 2.5 sacks) due to the nature of his position. But he was a rock and his effort against Georgia (while playing hurt) might have meant the national title.

Aftermath: Even before Alabama made it out of Miami, there was talk of a three-peat, much to Saban’s chagrin.

Record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 SEC

Final ranking: No. 1

Results

Michigan*; W 41-14

Western Kentucky; W 35-0

at Arkansas; W 52-0

Florida Atlantic, W 40-7

Ole Miss; W 33-14

at Missouri, W 42-10

at Tennessee; W 44-13

Mississippi State; W 38-7

at LSU; W 21-17

Texas A&M; L 29-24

Western Carolina; W 49-0

Auburn; W 49-0

Georgia*; W 32-28

Notre Dame#; W 42-14

*Arlington, Texas

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

#BCS National Championship Game, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Alabama players pass around the Coaches’ Trophy after Alabama defeated LSU 21-0 at the BCS National Championship between Alabama and LSU at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Michelle Lepianka-Carter | The Tuscaloosa News

2011

Preseason ranking: No. 2

Outlook: Alabama was again expected to finish among the nation’s elite despite losing a great deal of offensive talent.

Biggest surprise: LSU crossing the 50-yard line in New Orleans. All votes for Iowa State saving the Crimson Tide’s title chances will be considered.

Best performance: The BCS Championship Game. Alabama held an LSU team that was rightly considered as one of the best college teams of the decade to just 92 yards in a 21-0 win.

Worst performance: The Game of The Century. In the regular-season meeting against No. 1 LSU, Alabama was tight and made costly mistakes on offense and in the kicking game before losing 9-6 in overtime.

Saban’s best coaching move: Holding things together after what could have been a spirit-crushing defeat against LSU.

Top offensive player: Trent Richardson had a year that was almost the statistical mirror of Ingram’s Heisman campaign, rushing for 1,679 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Top defensive player: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (85 total tackles), although you could really choose any of the 11 starters and make a strong case.

Unsung hero: As a receiver (627 yards) and kick returner (778 yards), Marquis Maze did a little bit of everything.

Aftermath: In the end, Alabama was clearly the nation’s best team although the controversy about “The Rematch” at least made for spicy offseason conversation.

Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 SEC

Final ranking: No. 1

Results

Kent State; W 48-7

at Penn State; W 27-11

North Texas; W 41-0

Arkansas; W 38-14

at Florida; W 38-10

Vanderbilt; W 34-0

at Ole Miss; W 52-7

Tennessee; W 37-6

LSU; L 9-6 OT

at Mississippi State; W 24-7

Georgia Southern; W 45-21

at Auburn; W 42-14

LSU#; W 21-0

#BCS National Championship Game, New Orleans

Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw (41) attempts to strip the ball as defensive lineman Marcell Dareus (57) and defensive back Robert Lester (37) combine to tackle LSU running back Stevan Ridley (34) during the fourth quarter of college football action Saturday November 6, 2010 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA. Jason Harless | The Tuscaloosa News

2010

Preseason ranking: No. 1

Outlook: With a roster bursting at the seams with returning talent, Alabama was expected to win a second straight national title with ease.

Biggest surprise: The return to the top turned out not to be easy after all. The surprise was that, perhaps for the only time in Saban’s Alabama tenure, the chemistry was never right, at least not until most of the goals were gone.

Best performance: No great sushi chef ever sliced a yellowtail with the cold precision that Alabama unleashed on an unsuspecting Michigan State in a 49-7 Citrus Bowl win.

Worst performance: For an entire game, the inability to contain one-hit wonder Stephen Garcia at South Carolina. For 30 minutes, a second-half home collapse against Auburn.

Saban’s best coaching move: Regrouping a dispirited squad for the bowl game.

Top offensive player: Julio Jones (78 catches for 1,133 yards) was a bright spot, if a 10-3 season can be considered darkness.

Top defensive player: Marcell Dareus anchored the defensive line and recorded 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. A close call over Mark Barron and others.

Unsung hero: Robert Lester was better known as “the guy who played with Julio in high school,” but had eight interceptions and 29 tackles.

Aftermath: Suddenly, there seemed to be cracks in the foundation and questions of whether Alabama had been a two-year wonder. But if you watched that Citrus Bowl …

Record: 10-3 overall, 5-3 SEC

Final ranking: No. 10

Results

San Jose State; W 48-3

Penn State; W 24-3

at Duke; W 62-13

at Arkansas; W 24-20

Florida; W 31-6

at South Carolina; L 35-21

Ole Miss; W 23-10

at Tennessee; W 41-10

at LSU; L 24-21

Mississippi State; W 30-10

Georgia State; W 63-7

Auburn; L 28-27

Michigan State#; W 49-7

#Capital One Bowl in Orlando

Alabama Coach Nick Saban along with Tide players after the Alabama vs. Texas BCS National Championship game in Pasadena, Ca. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Alabama beat Texas 37-21 to win the National Championship. Dusty Compton | The Tuscaloosa News

2009

Preseason ranking: No. 5

Outlook: Expectations were high after a strong 2008 season, but the big question, in the SEC and nationally, was whether Alabama could measure up to defending champion Florida.

Biggest surprise: Individually, it was Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner who wasn’t considered an especially strong contender when the season began. Team-wise, it was two dominant postseason wins.

Best performance: Though an unprecedented run of success has followed, the 32-13 victory over undefeated and No. 1-ranked Florida in the SEC Championship Game is widely considered as the high-water mark of Saban’s career in terms of a single game.

Worst performance: A 12-10 win over a Lane Kiffin-coached Tennessee team, one that Alabama survived largely due to two blocked kicks.

Saban’s best coaching move: Using the 2008 loss to Florida as the motivation for a national championship run.

Top offensive player: Sophomore Mark Ingram gained nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards (1,658 rushing and 334 receiving) en route to the Heisman Trophy.

Top defensive player: The Alabama defense was deeper and more talented than in 2008, but Rolando McClain (105 tackles, 14.5 for loss) was the anchor for the second straight year.

Unsung hero: Quarterbacks are rarely unsung. In his case, junior Greg McElroy, saddled with the sobriquet “game manager,” was more than that, throwing for more than 2,500 yards with just four interceptions.

Aftermath: Dynasty Mode engaged. Alabama has not won every national championship since then, but the core question of college football in every subsequent season has been “who will beat Alabama?”

Record: 14-0 overall, 8-0 SEC

Final ranking: No. 1

Results

Virginia Tech*; W 34-24

Florida International; W 40-14

North Texas; W 53-7

Arkansas; W 35-7

at Kentucky; W 38-20

at Ole Miss; W 22-3

South Carolina; W 20-6

Tennessee; W 12-10

LSU; W 24-15

at Mississippi State; W 31-3

Chattanooga; W 45-0

at Auburn; W 26-21

Florida+; W 32-13

Texas#; W 37-21

*Atlanta

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

#BCS National Championship Game, Pasadena, Calif.

Alabama’s Julio Jones (8) runs the ball after making his first career catch for Alabama in the first quarter. Alabama opened it’s season against the Clemson Tigers in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome on Saturday Aug. 30, 2008. Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News

2008

Preseason ranking: No. 24

Outlook: Improvement on the previous year’s 7-6 record was expected, thanks to the Saban reputation and a No. 1 recruiting class as rated by most services.

Biggest surprise: Two trips to Georgia, the first a season-opening smacking of Clemson. For those who shrugged off Clemson as an overrated ACC opponent, Alabama followed that up on Sept. 27 by blowing out a favored Georgia team in the famous (or infamous) “blackout game” in Athens.

Best performance: The first half of that game at Georgia, when Alabama built a 31-0 halftime lead and showed the nation that, in a phrase that had been hollow for a decade, “Alabama is back.”

Worst performance: A flat Sugar Bowl effort against a good Utah team.

Saban’s best coaching move: Bringing in a great freshman class and immediately utilizing them without the usual apprehension with which coaches approach freshmen.

Top offensive player: Julio Jones, both for the catches (58 for 924 yards) and his overall impact on the culture as a practice-field warrior.

Top defensive player: Linebacker Rolando McClain (95 total tackles, 12 for loss) elevated himself to all-time Alabama territory, a lofty locale.

Unsung hero: Center Antoine Caldwell, overshadowed on the offensive line by Andre Smith but a strong presence in the middle.

Aftermath: In the end, it was the near-perfect Saban season – great success (an undefeated regular season) tempered by just enough late disappointment to provide rocket fuel-strength motivation for 2009.

Record: 12-2 overall, 8-0 SEC

Final ranking: No. 6

Results

Clemson*; W 34-10

Tulane; W 20-6

Western Kentucky; W 41-7

Arkansas; W 49-14

at Georgia; W 41-30

Kentucky; W 17-14

Ole Miss; W 24-20

at Tennessee; W 29-9

Arkansas State; W 35-0

at LSU; W 27-21 OT

Mississippi State; W 32-7

Auburn; W 36-0

Florida+; L 31-20

Utah#; L 31-17

*Atlanta

+SEC Championship Game, Atlanta

#Sugar Bowl, New Orleans

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer congratulates Alabama coach Nick Saban after Alabama beat the Vols’s 41-17. Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News

2007

Preseason ranking: Not ranked

Outlook: Plenty of excitement about the new coach, but no one knew what the harvest would be in Year One.

Biggest surprise: A 6-2 start with close losses to Georgia and Florida State had hopes up for an SEC West run before an even bigger surprise – a textbook scandal – trimmed the roster, depleted the depth and brought momentum to a screeching halt.

Best performance: Even with the textbook distraction, the Crimson Tide crushed Tennessee 41-14 to begin the still-active win streak over the Vols.

Worst performance: Louisiana-Monroe, a unanimous choice.

Saban’s best coaching move: Hiring a staff of strong recruiters that included four current college head coaches (Kirby Smart, Major Applewhite, Curt Cignetti and Geoff Collins)

Top offensive player: John Parker Wilson (255 for 462 passing for 2,846 yards with 18 touchdowns) had a good year without an all-star supporting cast (except for Andre Smith).

Top defensive player: Rashad Johnson led the team in tackles (94), interceptions (6) and, most importantly, he simply led the team.

Unsung hero: Javier Arenas (323 punt return yards, 657 kickoff return yards) weaponized the special teams, which was much-needed.

Aftermath: Started strong, fell victim to player losses from the textbook snafu, faded in November but bounced back for an important bowl win over Colorado and laid a foundation for the decade to come.

Record: 7-6 overall+, 4-4+ SEC

Final ranking: unranked

Results

Western Carolina; W 52-6+

at Vanderbilt; W 24-10+

Arkansas; W 41-38+

Georgia; L 26-23 OT

Florida State*; L 21-14

Houston; W 30-24+

at Ole Miss; W 27-24+

Tennessee; W 41-17

LSU; L 34-31

at Mississippi State; L 17-12

Louisiana-Monroe; L 21-14

at Auburn; L 17-10

Colorado#; W 30-24

+Adjusted to 2-6 overall, 1-4 SEC with five victories vacated by NCAA penalty

*Orlando

#Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La.

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