Stuart McNair

National football champion Alabama's 2015 opponents had impressive credentials

Alabama Crimson Tide football played through gauntlet of successful teams to win 2015 national championship

For many years college football historians have pointed to the 1977 Alabama football team as facing perhaps the nation’s most difficult schedule en route to national championship consideration. Unfortunately for that Crimson Tide team, it ended up ranked only second in the nation as Notre Dame poll vaulted Bama for the title.

The 1977 Alabama team played and defeated seven Southeastern Conference teams en route to the league championship. The non-conference games that year were at Nebraska (the Tide’s only loss as five interceptions led to a 24-31 defeat…eerily similar to Bama’s only loss this year), at No. 1 Southern Cal, Louisville, and Miami (although those weren’t the Louisville and Miami teams of later years).

In the Sugar Bowl, it was Paul Bryant’s Alabama against the Ohio State team of Woody Hays, and the Tide rolled to a 35-6 decision and an 11-1 record. (Notre Dame had one loss that year, too, to an Ole Miss team Bama had defeated by 34-13.)

But consider the murderers’ row that the 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide of Coach Nick Saban had to negotiate to the national championship. A case can be made that it is the most difficult schedule ever for a team that finished first in the nation.

Alabama had to defeat the nation’s top-ranked and undefeated team, Clemson, which was ACC champion and finished with a 14-1 record in the College Football Playoff. To get to the title game in Glendale, Ariz., in the Cotton Bowl, Bama had to defeat Michigan State, champion of the Big Ten, and a team that had a 12-2 record.

To make the playoff, the Tide had to defeat Florida, champion of the SEC East and a team that finished 10-4.

Alabama finished the season with a 14-1 record, the lone loss to an Ole Miss team that finished 10-3, the same record as Wisconsin. Other Bama victims and their records were LSU 9-3 (and would have been 10-3 except the opener against McNeese State was cancelled by weather), Mississippi State and Tennessee both 9-4, Arkansas and Texas A&M both 8-5, Auburn and Middle Tennessee both 7-6, and the only opponent with a losing record was Louisiana-Monroe. Charleston Southern, an FCS team, was 10-3.

Bowl champions in that group were Clemson (Orange Bowl over Oklahoma before losing to Alabama in CFP championship game), Ole Miss, Wisconsin, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Auburn.

Not including the games against Alabama, Crimson Tide opponents had a combined record of 139-49, a winning percentage of 73.9 per cent – well above the national average for national championship teams.

 

Of the Tide’s 15 opponents, there were 14 with winning records, 13 bowl teams, 8 teams that won bowl games. Six opponents had 10 or more wins and LSU would have made seven. In the final Associated Press poll there were six Tide opponents, while the Coaches Poll had seven Bama foes.

 


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