TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama’s 10-year reign of dominance under Nick Saban can be broken down in two four-year stretches.
2009-12: Three national championships. Undefeated 2009 season. Back-to-back national titles (2011-12). Two SEC championships (2009, 2012). 49-5 record. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (2009).
2014-17: Two national titles. Four consecutive College Football Playoff bids. Three consecutive SEC titles (2014-16). 24 straight SEC wins. 53-5 record. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (2015).
It’d be easy to crown the 2009-12 run the better one. Won one more national championship. Only undefeated season. Beat every team on its schedule in 2011 when avenging a loss to LSU in the BCS title game with a 21-0 victory in New Orleans.
Then the Crimson Tide won a second straight national title by blasting Notre Dame 42-14 in Miami to truly establish itself as the nation’s top program.
Then again, the 2014-17 run is in the new playoff era. And Alabama was a defensive stop away from winning three consecutive national championships as it lost to Clemson in 2017 playoff title game.
Saban did what could be considered his “best” coaching job in each stretch. To win a national title in his third season after taking over a program that had won just six games in 2006 is impressive.
At the same time, Saban won it this past season with so many injuries. And he made perhaps his boldest coaching move ever when going with true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa over Jalen Hurts to the start the second half of the 2018 playoff title game. With Alabama down 13-0, Tagovailoa threw three touchdown passes, with the final one coming on the final play, to beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime in Atlanta.
If I had to pick one stretch, it would be the 2014-17 run. Can’t go wrong with either one, but who would win if the best of the best from each stretch played each other?
Let’s pick starting lineups. There’s some crossover with guys who played in both runs, but let’s keep the two teams separate.
Here we go.
That’d be an instant all-time classic. Could Henry run on that front seven? Could Kirkpatrick and Milliner cover Cooper and Ridley? Should Tagovailoa be the starting quarterback over Hurts?
McCarron never threw to a freak of nature like Jones in a game. He’d be a mismatch – or could Fitzpatrick contain Jones? Scott is as clutch as it gets at punter. He’d be a difference-maker.
Lastly, if Saban were to coach one team and longtime defensive coordinator Kirby Smart were to coach the other, which team would Saban pick?
If it was me, I’d go with the 2014-17 squad. Which would you choose?
(Duane Rankin is an award-winning columnist/videographer for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser whose work also can be found in USA TODAY. You can follow him on Twitter @DuaneRankin)
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