Nick Saban won’t say it, but the Alabama fans sure will: The Crimson Tide are back.
Any doubts were erased in Atlanta last Saturday when Alabama steamrolled Florida 32-13 for the Crimson Tide’s first SEC championship in 10 years. But more importantly, Alabama will now head to Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 7 to face Texas in the Citi BCS National Championship Game.
The Tide’s last national title came in 1992. That team was unbeaten and played smothering defense. Well, this team is also unbeaten and plays smothering defense. Alabama gave up more than 15 points only one time in its last eight games this season.
The Crimson Tide (13-0, 9-0) got to this point with their defense, no question. But the way their offense evolved this season, especially the way junior quarterback Greg McElroy performed in pressure situations, is what made the difference in the Tide being a very good team and a great team.
Star receiver Julio Jones came on during the second half of the season, but McElroy was also able to spread the ball around to Marquis Maze and his tight end, Colin Peek. And then in the SEC championship game, McElroy outdueled Tim Tebow with 239 passing yards on 12-of-18 attempts and no interceptions.
Equally crucial for Alabama was the way its offensive line developed after losing a pair of All-Americans a year ago. Alabama’s offensive numbers were up in just about every category, including rushing, and that's a credit to the guys up front.
Offensive MVP: Mark Ingram, RB. A Heisman Trophy finalist, Ingram rushed for 1,542 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He faced six defenses that were ranked in the top 28 in the country this season and averaged 154 yards in those six games. One of the best after-contact runners in college football, Ingram was also a solid blocker and caught 30 passes.
Defensive MVP: Rolando McClain, LB. Saban has called McClain one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. He knows every position on defense and gets everybody lined up correctly. And when it comes to his production, he led the Tide with 101 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hurries. Also, go back and look at how many game-changing plays McClain made this season.
Turning point: Mammoth nose guard Terrence Cody blocked, not one, but two field goal attempts to save Alabama in a 12-10 win over Tennessee on Oct. 24. Cody’s final block came on the last play of the game with the Vols lining up to win it, but he charged through the line to swat the kick down and keep the Tide’s dream season alive.
What’s next: The only thing on anybody’s radar in Tuscaloosa is the Citi BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 against Texas. Alabama has already put together back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons for the first time in the SEC since Bear Bryant did it in 1973 and 1974. Now comes the Tide’s chance to win another national title, which would make Saban the only coach in college football history to win national titles at two different schools.