If you ask the University of Alabama (and most of its fans), the Crimson Tide will be trying to win their 16th national championship Monday night (8:30 ET, ESPN) against Clemson.
According to the NCAA, which doesn’t officially have anything to do with crowning a football champion, Alabama will be going for title No. 13. Check with the folks at the Associated Press, and they’ll tell you that an Alabama win on Monday would result in the 10th national championship for the school.
In history, at least one organization or formula has crowned Alabama as its national champion in 19 different seasons. College Football Data Warehouse says the true number for Alabama is 14 titles.
So, who’s right?
The answer is all of them. And none of them.
For all of the NCAA’s shortcomings, perhaps the one that is the most bizarre is the organization’s refusal to play a role in determining the champion for FBS (formerly Division 1-A) schools. Instead, it allowed mathematical formulas, media outlets, coaches polls and computers pick its champions before the current playoff era.
And before the BCS era, choosing a champion was complete chaos. For example, one of Alabama’s “disputed” titles came in 1934. The NCAA recognizes Minnesota as the champion. Eight mathematical formulas crowned the Golden Gophers as champions, but another five favored Alabama.
The NCAA has retroactively chosen “consensus” champions from 1950 through the start of the BCS era, but that’s done little to clear up the debate raging in media guides and message boards across the country.
The fact is, based on the methods of the years in question (more on that in a minute), Alabama has a legitimate case for each of the 15 titles it claims.
One thing is certain. A Clemson win on Monday night will be the school’s second national title. The Tigers won their only crown in 1981.
Let’s break down the years in question:
- 2012 — Defeated Notre Dame 42-14 to win a BCS Championship, and all BCS titles were undisputed.
- 2011 — Defeated LSU 21-0 to win a BCS Championship.
- 2009 — Defeated Texas 37-21 to win the school’s first BCS title.
- 1992 — Finished 13-0, pasting Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl. Only the Sagarin Ratings had another team, Florida State (11-1), as national champion.
- 1979 — Completed a 12-0 season with a 24-9 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Only the College Football Researchers Association crowned Southern Cal (11-0-1) as its champion.
- 1961 — Completed an 11-0 season with a 10-3 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide was named champion by every entity except for the Football Writers Association of America and the Polling Service, which favored 8-0-1 Ohio State.
- 1925 — Knocked off Washington 20-19 in the Rose Bowl to complete a perfect 10-0 season. Nine of the 12 entities selecting champions awarded the title to Alabama. Dartmouth (8-0) and Michigan (7-1) account for the other three.
- 1978 — Finished 11-1 after a 14-7 win over Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. A whopping 24 entities picked a national champion that year, and seven chose Alabama. Eight of them chose 11-1 Oklahoma and nine picked 12-1 Southern Cal. The NCAA recognizes Alabama and USC as co-champions.
- 1973 — Fell to Notre Dame 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl to complete an 11-1 season. Alabama won the title awarded by United Press International and the coaches’ poll, which announced its winner before the bowls. That changed the following season. Notre Dame (11-0) is the NCAA’s recognized champion, but Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma were all awarded titles by various entities.
- 1965 — Defeated Nebraska 39-28 in the Orange Bowl to complete a 9-1-1 season. Four entities awarded the national title to Alabama, but another 12 favored 10-1 Michigan State. The NCAA recognizes them as co-champions.
- 1964 — Lost to Texas 24-17 in the Orange Bowl to complete a 10-1 season. Four entities, including both major media polls, awarded the national title to Alabama, but did the final vote before the bowl games. That changed after this incident. Arkansas (11-0) and Notre Dame (9-1) are recognized as champions by the NCAA along with Alabama. Michigan (9-1) was one entity’s choice as champion as well.
- 1941 — Defeated Texas A&M 29-21 in the Cotton Bowl to complete a 9-2 season. The Houlgate System chose the Tide as its champion. The NCAA recognizes Minnesota (8-0) as the champion, as did 11 entities that season. Texas (8-1-1) was the choice of two other organizations.
- 1934 — Defeated Stanford 29-13 in the Rose Bowl to complete a 10-0 season. Five entities awarded the national title to Alabama, but another eight favored 8-0 Minnesota. The NCAA recognizes Minnesota as champion.
- 1930 — Defeated Washington State 24-0 in the Rose Bowl to complete a 10-0 season. Four entities awarded the national title to Alabama, but another eight favored 10-0 Notre Dame. The NCAA recognizes the Irish as champion.
- 1926 — Tied Stanford 7-7 in the Rose Bowl to complete a 9-0-1 season. Six entities awarded the national title to Alabama, but another four favored 10-0-1 Stanford. To add to the confusion, Navy (9-0-1), Michigan (7-1) and Lafayette (9-0) can also claim titles.