The SEC has won between 28 and 40 college football national championships — depending on your source and school colors. Saturday Down South is ranking the conference’s 10 greatest national champions, acknowledging history while bowing to progress.

The countdown continues …

No. 8: 1978 Alabama

Record: 11-1

PPG: 28.8

Allowed: 14.4

SRS: 25.99. SRS combines margin of victory and strength of schedule, where 0 is average. The higher the number, the more dominant the team. The 1978 team’s SRS was the highest among every Alabama championship team.

Statistical oddity: Alabama’s strength of schedule in 1978 was 11.83 — second-highest in program history. Nick Saban’s four championship teams never plowed through a slate rated higher than 7.46.

Their case for greatness: Let’s just address this now: This team graded better than the undefeated national championship squad that followed it in 1979, lore be damned.

Not only did the 1978 team have the highest SRS among any Alabama championship team, it accomplished that against the most demanding schedule.

That’s an important factor when comparing the 1978 and 1979 teams, which were similar for more than their fabled, consistent uniforms and head coach.

The ’79 team went undefeated and held opponents to a scant 5.6 points per game while scoring nearly 32. However, a closer inspection reveals that 44 of the 67 points they allowed came against the only three ranked teams they played. In other words, against better teams, Alabama’s vaunted defense wasn’t as vaunted as faded memories have made it out to be.

The 1978 team, in comparison, beat four teams ranked No. 11 or better at kickoff. Yes, it lost to No. 7 Southern California, at home no less, but that was their third consecutive game against a highly-ranked opponent. The 1979 team played one top-10 team all year: No. 6 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

The 1978 team also had the superior quarterback. Jeff Rutledge was a proven winner who went 33-5 as a starter and guided the Tide to three SEC championships. He threw a key pass in the Tide’s 14-7 victory over No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, the victory that earned the all-important AP’s vote as national champion.

That defense? On paper, it couldn’t compete with its 1979 counterpart, but when it mattered most, it famously delivered.

“He didn’t make it!”

Alabama led 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter when Rutledge made an ill-advised pitch, which Penn State recovered at the Tide’s 19. Matt Suhey’s 11-yard run set up first-and-goal from the 8.

“What a turnaround in the ballgame,” famed broadcaster Keith Jackson said.

A short run pushed the ball to the 6.

Penn State quarterback Chuck Fusina was also a senior who had thrown 37 career touchdown passes. He hooked up with Matt Fitzkee earlier in the game on a 17-yard TD.

It looked every bit like they had done so again when Fusina rolled to his right and hit Fitzkee on a crossing route, one foot shy of the goal line. Before Fitzkee could turn his shoulders toward the goal line, Alabama’s Don McNeal made one of the greatest touchdown-saving tackles in Tide history, driving Fitzkee out of bounds to set up 3rd-and-goal from inside the 1.

“And I want to tell you something folks,” Jackson said in familiar southern drawl, “there was one whale of a defensive play … because Fitzkee has momentum and McNeal just won’t let him come in.”

On second down, Penn State again handed to Suhey, who jumped toward the end zone but was stuffed short.

As legend goes, Alabama defensive lineman then told Fusina “you better pass.”

Penn State, winners of 19 consecutive games and the only undefeated team in the country, instead handed off to Mike Guman. Following a lead block, Guman raced toward the goal line at the same time Tide linebacker Barry Krauss attacked the A gap.

The two collided above the scrum of a dozen blockers and tacklers.

“He didn’t make it!” Jackson said.

Decades later, ESPN ranked that play No. 6 on a list of 100 that defined college football.

Three great defensive stops on three consecutive plays gave Bear Bryan another title.

Penn State needed a foot and couldn’t gain an inch.

Top 10 SEC national champions

No. 10: 1961 Alabama: Greatest defense gives Bear first title

No. 9: 1980 Georgia: Herschel Walker and Run, Lindsay, Run