Can Tide Avoid Post-Title Letdown?

Is there reason to be worried about an Alabama football letdown following the 2011 national championship? Some believe the Crimson Tide could stumble in 2012, particularly with a marquee season-opening game against Big Ten power Michigan.

In the weeks following Alabama's 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans last January, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban emphasized the importance of his returning players recognizing that this is a new season, a different Bama team.

Indications are that spring practice had a particular urgency about it, putting 2011 in the past.

Recent post-National Championship history may be why some expect an Alabama letdown in 2012. The memory of one of Bama's greatest seasons ever in 2009 was followed by a disappointing campaign, the 10-3 record notwithstanding.

Saban and players from the 2009 and 2010 seasons have offered explanations for the 2010 disappointment, including a lack of leadership from players and a failure to improve as the season progressed.

There is no doubt that Michigan will be a formidable opponent on Sept. 1 in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. The Wolverines of Coach Brady Hoke went 11-2 last season and return 13 offensive and defensive starters and both kickers from that squad. Notably, Michigan has a pre-season All-America quarterback in Denard Robinson, who is difficult to defend because of his ability to tuck and run.

It is hard to imagine Alabama having a letdown against a nationally prominent opponent in The Opening game of the season. In fact, history says the Tide should respond well in the post-title campaign.

In 2010 it was not at all uncommon to see predictions of where Bama would be vulnerable. Alabama started the season with three non-conference games, defeating San Jose State, Penn State, and Duke. The Tide then had to go on the road against a potent Arkansas offense and pulled out a last-minute win. Then came Florida, Bama's opponent in the previous two Southeastern Conference championship games. The Tide got its fifth win of the year.

But the 19-game winning streak came to an end at South Carolina as the Gamecocks had an outstanding game to defeat the Tide in what is considered by SC to be the biggest victory in school history. Later in the year the Tide lost close games at LSU and against eventual national champion Auburn.

Historically, Alabama has followed national championship seasons with good seasons.

Alabama went undefeated to win the 1961 national championship and responded with a 10-1 season in 1962, the lone loss by one point at Georgia Tech.

Alabama won the national championship in 1964 with an undefeated regular season, although losing to Texas in the Orange Bowl. In 1965 Bama was upset in the season-opener at Georgia by one point and was tied by Tennessee in regular season play, but was able to salvage the national championship in the Orange Bowl against Nebraska.

Alabama was perfect in following up that 1965 national championship, going 11-0 including a 34-7 Sugar Bowl romp over Nebraska.

In 1973 Alabama won the UPI national championship based on an 11-0 regular season record, but lost to Notre Dame by a point, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl.

Bama followed that national title season with another 11-1 season, including a two-point loss to the Fighting Irish in the Orange Bowl.

In 1978, Alabama lost a home game to USC and it seemed likely the Trojans would win the national championship, but Southern Cal lost a late season game and Penn State took over number one. Because of the tie-up with the Rose Bowl, Southern Cal couldn't play Penn State, then an independent. Coach Joe Paterno elected to take his Nittany Lions to New Orleans to meet Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Bama won the national championship with its 14-7 goalline stand victory.

Bama followed its 1978 title with a perfect season and a repeat championship in 1979. Coach Paul Bryant's sixth and final national championship was capped with a 24-9 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas. The following season, 1980, Bama fell to 10-2, losses to Mississippi State and Notre Dame.

Gene Stallings coached Alabama to a perfect season and the national championship in 1992. Along the way the Crimson Tide won the first ever SEC Championship Game, defeating Florida, and then rolled over Miami in the Sugar Bowl, 34-13.

The 1993 season was a letdown. After five wins to start the season and 29 consecutive wins over three seasons, Bama had to come from behind to tie Tennessee, 17-17. Down the stretch, the Tide also lost to LSU and Auburn, but still won the SEC West. That team suffered its third loss of the year against Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

It may be there has never been a finer season for Alabama football. Bama went undefeated, knocked off the consensus favorite for the national championship, Florida, in the SEC Championship game, had the Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram, and defeated longtime national power Texas in the greatest possible venue, the Rose Bowl, for the championship. No wonder 2010 was considered such a letdown.

One of the extraordinary statistics in Alabama football history is the Crimson Tide's record in its 14 national championship seasons: 151-7-2, a 95 per cent winning percentage.

In the 13 seasons following national titles prior to the 2011 crown, there have been few "letdowns." The record in those post-championship seasons is 119-21-5, which is 83.8 per cent.

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