The road to Miami

How did Alabama make it back to the national championship game for a second year in a row? Here are the Top 10 plays and moments of the 2012 season that helped book the Crimson Tide a ticket to Miami.

Lightening doesn't often strike twice, but this year it did for Alabama.

Last year after losing to LSU in the regular season, the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 3 in the BCS Standings behind No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Oklahoma State. After the Cowboys were shocked by Iowa State, Alabama earned itself a spot in the national championship in a rematch against the Tigers.

This year after losing to Texas A&M, the Tide dropped to No. 4 in the BCS Standings behind No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Kansas State. In a wild shakeup Saturday, the Ducks and Wildcats both lost, propelling Alabama to the No. 2 spot. After winning out the rest of the season, the Tide will play for their their third national title in four years.

Here are the Top 10 plays from this season that helped Alabama put itself in position to get to South Florida:

No. 10: With Alabama up 24-0, four minutes left in the second quarter in the season opener against Michigan, linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted a pass from Denard Robinson and returned it for a 16-yard touchdown. The Crimson went on to take a 31-0 halftime lead and made a clear statement by beating the Wolverines 41-14.

Alabama moved to No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' polls less than 24 hours later.

No. 9: With starting running back Eddie Lacy recovering from a bad turf toe that kept him limited in fall camp, true freshman T.J. Yeldon stepped up against Michigan and rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown. He became the first true freshman to run for over 100 yards in school history.

On his first snap, Yeldon ran 14 yards for a first down. The Tide continued to feed him the ball until they got inside the Michigan 10-yard line. His runs would eventually set up Alabama's first score. By the end of the first half, Yeldon led the team with 67 rushing yards, the longest a 40-yard blast to start the second quarter.

Since that game, Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards on 154 carries and 11 touchdowns.

No. 8: At the start of the second quarter against Ole Miss, Alabama trailed its opponent for the first time in regulation since the Tennessee game in October of 2011. But the Rebels' 7-6 lead lasted all of 15 seconds as Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The Crimson Tide went on to win 33-14.

No. 7: On a rainy day in Columbia, Missouri, Eddie Lacy took a handoff on the second play of the game against the Tigers and raced 73 yards for a touchdown. Just 45 seconds into the game, Alabama led 7-0.

The Tide' running back tandem would combine to rush for 321 yards that day, with Lacy going for 177 yards and three touchdowns and T.J. Yeldon racking up 144 and two touchdowns. It was the first time Alabama had a duo rush for over 100 yards apiece and score two or more rushing touchdowns in the same game since Trent Richardson and Jalston Fowler in 2011.

No. 6: Though Alabama had a 30-10 lead in the third quarter against Tennessee, UT all of the sudden became dangerous as quarterback Tyler Bray drove his team down the field. With three minutes to go in the quarter, UT had good field position and faced second-and-13 from the Alabama 21-yard line. Bray was going for the score, but Robert Lester honed in on the quarterback and intercepted him in the end zone to end any lingering hope the Vols had that night.

The Crimson Tide went on to beat their archrival 44-13.

No. 5: The Drive was five plays, 72 yards, and ended in a touchdown.

Only 94 seconds remained on the clock as LSU led Alabama 17-14 on a cool night in Death Valley when A.J. McCarron engineered the two-minute drill of his life.

The Tigers had just missed a 45-yard field goal attempt to all-but seal a victory. Alabama got the ball on its own 28 and McCarron, who had gone 0-for-5 in the second half before this drive, found Kevin Norwood for three quick passes to move the Tide to the Tigers' 28. And after one incompletion, the junior quarterback found T.J. Yeldon on a 28-yard screen pass for the game-winning touchdown.

After the game, head coach Nick Saban said that drive is "something I'll never forget."

No. 4: After such a physically and mentally emotional win over LSU, Alabama came out tired and unprepared against Texas A&M the following week. The Aggies, led by the future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, would score on its first three possessions and take an early 20-0 lead.

Alabama would fight its way back into the game and had a chance to win with a couple minutes left on the clock. On fourth-and-goal from the A&M 2-yard line, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called for a pass and McCarron forced one into tight coverage and was intercepted at the goal line.

In the news conference following the game and also in the week thereafter, Alabama's play calling was brought up and questioned several times. Why call a pass play when you're a team that wins with the run? Needless to say, the team hasn't made that mistake since.

This was a key moment in the season because it showed Alabama that they can be defeated if they aren't ready. In the following weeks, the Tide looked meaner and tougher and things worked out in the end, as they're getting ready to play in the national championship.

No. 3: After Alabama lost to Texas A&M, it dropped to No. 4 in the BCS standings. It seemed farfetched that two of any three teams ranked ahead of them would lose, but No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Kansas State would do so on the same night.

On the morning of Nov. 17, Alabama shutout Western Carolina 49-0. Later that night, chaos ensued when Baylor shocked KSU 52-24 on the road, and minutes later, Stanford beat the Ducks 17-14 in overtime.

The city of Tuscaloosa flooded the streets to celebrate. Even Alabama center Barrett Jones headed to The Strip to take part in the excitement.

The next day the Tide was ranked No. 2 in the polls and would win out to punch its ticket to Miami.

No. 2: Auburn never stood a chance in this year's Iron Bowl. Alabama scored on its opening drive, took a 42-0 halftime lead and then won 49-0.

In the third quarter, McCarron found Kevin Norwood for the Tide's final score that gave them seven touchdowns in seven possessions. The Tigers only had seven first downs in the whole game.

"That was a very disappointed and embarrassing loss to our in-state rivals," said then-head coach Gene Chizik, who was fired a few days later. "It was obvious to everybody. It was a sad performance."

No. 1: Down 28-25 with 3:15 to play, McCarron found Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown bomb to give Alabama a 32-28 lead over Georgia in the SEC Championship game.

"Big time players make big time plays in big time games and I wanted to come out here and be a big time player," Cooper said after the game. "I envisioned it before it happened and it came true, it happened."

But with time left on the clock, the Bulldogs got the ball back and marched to the Crimson Tide's 5-yard line after several completions by Aaron Murray. But the quarterback's final pass of the night would be tipped by linebacker C.J. Mosley and caught by Chris Conley in bounds, a couple yards short of the end zone. Time ran out and Alabama escaped with the win.

"I couldn't be prouder of what this team has accomplished this season," Saban said after the game. "We had a young team coming back. A lot of people had new roles. And now to have a chance to go back to the national championship game is a little unprecedented. They could have taken the approach that, ‘Hey, we won last year, we can take it easy this year,' but this team made a commitment, did a lot of hard work, so it's a challenge that the coaches accepted and the players accepted and I just can't be prouder of a group of guys.

"This conference will test your mettle."

And now, Notre Dame will.


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