Alabama is one of the most prestigious programs in college football. With 15 national titles and 28 conference crowns, few schools can come close to competing with Alabama’s team success.

For a dominant program, though, Alabama has not had as many dominant players as you would think. Prior to Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide had only had nine players make it into the top-five in Heisman Trophy balloting.

In just eight years, Saban has nearly half of that number. He’s sent four different players to New York as finalists for the award: Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, AJ McCarron and now Amari Cooper. That includes bringing home the school’s first Heisman win when Ingram took the award in 2009.

Under Saban, Alabama has been lauded for, more or less, “playing the right way.” Until this season, there was rarely any flash. There was hard-nosed running and hard-hitting defense. There were quarterbacks who looked the part of superstar but played the role of game manager. In Saban’s first seven years, Alabama’s three Heisman finalists were running backs and a quarterback, the positions that traditionally dominate the balloting.

Cooper, despite not winning, smashed those traditions. He earned every bit of his Heisman votes with his outstanding, record-breaking season, and if not for Marcus Mariota’s near-perfection he would have been a strong favorite. He was the first receiver invited to the ceremony since 2003, a long drought. It’s nearly impossible for a pure receiver to win the award — Desmond Howard, Johnny Rodgers and Tim Brown both did much more than just catch passes — but Cooper came about as close as possible for someone that plays his role.

Just as Cooper dashed past receivers and voting traditions, this year’s iteration of the Alabama offense broke the mold of what everyone has come to expect from Saban’s teams. Much of that stems from Lane Kiffin, hired as offensive coordinator after last season, and the work he’s done with Cooper and first-year starter Blake Sims.

Sims goes against the grain of what Alabama has had under center the last decade. Instead of being a statuesque pocket passer, Sims was able to effectively move his legs to create throwing and running lanes that his predecessors couldn’t. Sims still made Saban happy with his pinpoint accuracy and decision making; he had the capability to do what the men he succeeded and then some.

Despite a nearly unprecedented run of team success — Alabama enters the playoffs with a chance the win its fourth title in Saban’s eight years — individual success is at an all-time high as well. That Saban has been able to coax out such amazing seasons by his players within the context of a dominant team is an accomplishment on its own.