Ranking Alabama's championship game opponents in Nick Saban era
Even though Alabama is a 7-point favorite going into its College Football Playoff championship matchup with Clemson on Monday night, the Tigers could very well be the Crimson Tide’s toughest opponent in national-title games during the Nick Saban era.
Not only do the 14-0 Tigers boast one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Hesiman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, they also have a 1,000-yard rusher in Wayne Gallman and the sixth-best defense in the FBS.
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Here’s a look at Bama’s three previous opponents in national championship games under Saban, ranked from weakest to toughest:
3. Notre Dame: Alabama crushed the Fighting Irish 42-14 in the 2012 season BCS championship game in a matchup that will forever be remembered as the night Brent Musburger awkwardly introduced Katherine Webb to America. Webb eventually married Crimson Tide QB AJ McCarron, who burned Notre Dame with 4 passing TDs in a game Alabama led 28-0 at the half. The Tide was a 10-point favorite coming in and won their third championship in four years.
Believe it or not, Notre Dame entered the game leading the FBS in scoring defense (10.3 points per game) and was sixth in total defense (286.8 yards per game). The Fighting Irish were led by Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o, the senior linebacker whose role in a catfishing prank involving a fake girlfriend made more news than he did in the game, and freshman QB Everett Golson, who threw for 2,135 yards and was responsible for 16 TDs. Other notable Irish players included defensive Stephon Tuitt, who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and current Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Golson just finished the season with Florida State; Te’o is now with the San Diego Chargers.
2. Texas: Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ran for 116 yards and two scores as Alabama topped the Longhorns 37-21 in the 2009 season BCS title game. The title was Saban’s first at Alabama and capped a 14-0 season.
The biggest play of the game was Texas’ fifth snap on offense, when Alabama’s Marcell Dareus knocked Longhorns starting QB Colt McCoy out of the contest with a hard hit. Garrett Gilbert, McCoy’s backup, got the Longhorns within 24-21 despite throwing four interceptions, but short rushing TDs in the fourth quarter by Ingram and Trent Richardson sealed the game for Alabama, which was a 4-point favorite.
That season, Texas was third in the FBS and led the Big 12 in scoring offense (39.6 points per game), and the Longhorns were third in their conference in scoring defense (16.7).
McCoy ended up being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Draft. His top receiver, Jordan Shipley (Bengals), who caught 10 passes for 122 yards and 2 TDs against Alabama, and teammates Earl Thomas (Seahawks), Sergio Kindle (Ravens), Lamarr Houston (Raiders) and Roddrick Muckelroy (Bengals) were the other Longhorns who were drafted in 2010.
This was Alabama’s first championship since 1992.
1. LSU: Jeremy Shelley kicked five field goals and the defense did the rest as Alabama blanked the Tigers 21-0 in the 2011 season BCS championship game. LSU, the SEC’s top scoring offense that season (38.5 points per game), was held to just 92 total yards by Alabama, a 1.5-point favorite.
This Tiger team, which beat Alabama 9-6 in overtime two months earlier, featured future NFL players Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals), Morris Claiborne (Cowboys), Sam Montgomery (Texans), Rueben Randle (Giants) and Brad Wing (Giants).
The Mack Brown coached Texas team was really good, and we’ll never know how the 2009 title game would have turned out had McCoy not gotten knocked out, but LSU gets the nod here by virtue of already having beaten Alabama during the regular season, in Tuscaloosa no less, where the Tide missed four field goals and threw a goal-line interception in the loss.