Indeed, the biggest story not only in Alabama athletics, but also in Southeastern Conference football – and perhaps in the nation – is that Saban brought Lane Kiffin to Alabama to be offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and that he and Kiffin went with fifth-year senior Blake Sims to be the Crimson Tide’s new starting quarterback.
Here is a look at the Top Ten stories in Alabama athletics for 2014:
No. 1 – Lane Kiffin and Blake Sims. In early January, 2014, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban made the decision to bring Lane Kiffin back into the coaching fraternity. Kiffin had been fired at mid-season by USC, spent December as a consultant to the Bama coaching staff, and then replaced Doug Nussmeier as Bama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Kiffin was on hand as Alabama went through spring practice, concluding with the A-Day Game in which fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims had a disappointing day. Almost no one expected Sims to be Bama’s quarterback in 2014. That’s why the Tide had brought in Jacob Coker from Florida State.
Well, maybe Sims – who had spent four years either on the scout team or as a mop-up duty quarterback to A.J. McCarron – would get a sympathy start in the first game.
Sims started not only the first game, but all Tide games leading up to the first game of 2015, when Alabama will meet Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in one of two semifinal games of the inaugural College Football Playoff. A win there and another win in the national championship game on Jan. 12 in Dallas would take care of number one in next year’s top ten.
Under Kiffin Alabama has already established a program record of total offense of 6,376 yards (2,723 rushing and 3,653 yards passing), and first downs (319),
Sims, the guy who was supposed to be second team for Bama and was instead second team All-SEC is the all-time record-holder in a season for passing yards (3,250), total offense yards (3,571), and touchdown responsibility (32).
No. 2 – It might have been combined with the top story as Kiffin lived up to his reputation as an offensive mind who features his play-makers and made junior wide receiver Amari Cooper the SEC record-holder for receptions in a season with 115. He was winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver, finished third in the Heisman Trophy vote, a unanimous All-America, and the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the nation in receptions and receiving yards (1,656, Bama record) and is third in touchdown receptions (14, also a Tide record).
No. 3 – The Alabama offense was primarily responsible for Alabama winning its record 24th SEC football championship and earning the No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Alabama went 12-1, including a 42-13 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. That also assured Alabama of making a record 63rd bowl appearance, including a record 15th participation in the Sugar Bowl. And Bama’s 34 seasons with 10 or more wins is tied with Oklahoma for best in college history.
No. 4 – It was a matter of going and coming, Bama players in the pro draft and Tide recruiters bringing in another great class.
As usual, Alabama was prominent in the 2014 NFL draft, eight players selected, including two (C.J. Mosley and HaHa Clinton-Dix) in the first round. Bama has had more draft picks in the last five years (37) and three years (25) than any school in the country. The Tide has had 15 first round draftees in the last five years. Alabama has 42 players on NFL rosters, tied with USC for most.
On the recruiting front, Alabama was a clear number one in 2014 recruiting with seven five-star players, 13 four stars, and eight three stars.
And those players contributed. Led by two Freshmen All-America players, left tackle Cam Robinson and punter JK Scott (who was also first team All-America), 11 freshmen and four junior transfers saw playing time.
No. 5 – Sarah Patterson was the John Wooden of gymnastics. After 36 years as head coach of the Crimson Tide gymnastics program, the 58-year-old Patterson announced her retirement in July. One reason she elected to step down is that she has had to undergo replacement surgeries on both knees.
She led her teams to six national championships, eight SEC championships, and produced 1,006 victories. Patterson coached Alabama to a record 20 NCAA Super Six Team Finals appearances, and an NCAA-best 27 top-4 national finishes. Alabama also won 29 regional titles, more than any program in NCAA history. Bama was regularly the national leader in gymnastics attendance.
Her “ladies” as she always called them won 25 individual titles, 66 athletes won 302 All-America citations, 9 Honda Awards as national gymnast of the year, 5 NCAA /top VIII honorees, and 19 NCAA post-graduate scholarships.
In her final year, Kim Jacob was named the College Woman Athlete of the Year and the Academic All-America of the Year.
Patterson was succeeded by one of her former gymnasts and assistant coach Dana Duckworth.
No. 6 – The Alabama men’s golf team of Coach Jay Seawell won its second consecutive NCAA championship with a 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Robby Shelton was named winner of the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top freshman and he and senior Bobby Wyatt were first team All-America. Senior Trey Mullinax was second team All-America and senior Cory Whitsett was honorable mention. Shelton was the SEC Player of the Year.
Whitsett and Wyatt were Academic All-America.
Seawell was the Dave Williams National Coach of the Year.
No. 7 – John Servati was selected for the NCAA Award of Valor. The award is given when an athlete “who, when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action or noteworthy bravery. The award is not presented annually, but in the event of an outstanding act of valor.”
In April 2014, Servati and his girlfriend took shelter in the basement of a Tuscaloosa home when the city was struck by an EF3 tornado. Heavy rains accompanied the storm, causing a retaining wall to fail. Servati, a 21-year-old junior, held the wall up long enough for his girlfriend to escape. The wall collapsed and killed him.
He was an Academic All-SEC marketing major.
No. 8 – Alabama track and field under Coach Dan Waters had a year of resurgence, including the men’s team being named National Scholar Team of the Year National Team of the Year for combined academic and athletic performance.
On the women’s side, junior sprinter Remona Burchell was a semifinalist for the Bowerman Award, given to the nation’s outstanding track and field competitor. Burchell won the 60 meters in the NCAA Indoor Championships and the 100 meters in the NCAA Outdoor meet.
On the men’s side, freshman Jayden Reed won the NCAA discus championship and at the Indoor Championships Diondre Batson won the 200-meter dash.
No. 9 – The Alabama women’s tennis team had its best season in program history under Coach Jenny Mainz. The Crimson Tide won the NCAA Doubles National Championship, advanced to the NCAA Championship quarterfinals for the first time, and won the SEC Championship.
In what will go down as one of the most dominant performances in NCAA doubles finals history, Alabama’s Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe captured the program’s first national title dropping a combined 13 points all match en route to the 6-1, 6-0 victory. The Crimson Tide duo finished the season at 22-4, taking their final 10 matches.
No. 10 – Alabama essentially will have a new baseball stadium when a $37.1 million expansion and renovation project was begun at the end of the 2014 season. The expansion will increase the size of the facility from 32,800 square feet to 129,000 suare feet. The project includes food service areas, restrooms, locker rooms and areas for players, press box, fan seating, a concourse with boxes, and enclosed batting area.
Alabama closed out the current Sewell-Thomas Stadium last spring with a 1,194-508-2 all-time record, in 1,704 games,
Alabama baseball will play a majority of the 2015 home schedule at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The Tide will play 30-plus home games in Hoover, which is the annual host stadium for the SEC Baseball Tournament.
What will be the number one story in 2015? Hopefully, it will be national football championship No. 16, but that depends on the outcome of Thursday night’s Sugar Bowl game against Ohio State. A win there and it will be on to Dallas for a Jan. 12 game for the national championship against either Oregon or Florida State.
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