Cotton Connections

Alabama has never won a national championship by playing in the Cotton Bowl, but that doesn't mean the Dallas classic hasn't had an effect on Crimson Tide national titles. The two most obvious examples came at the end of the 1965 and 1977 seasons, years in which Alabama played in the Orange and Sugar Bowls, respectively. One Cotton Bowl result was beneficial to Bama, while the other failed to produce the desired result.

Alabama will be playing in its seventh Cotton Bowl on January 2. The Crimson Tide will take on Texas Tech. Both teams have 9-2 records. Kickoff will be at 10 a.m. CST with national television coverage by Fox.

Alabama had won the 1964 national championship, then lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl at the end of the season. In those days, national titles were awarded based on regular season play with bowl games no more than exhibition games; rewards for a good season.

The Associated Press decided in 1965 that it would wait until after the bowl games to name a national champion. That was a break for Alabama, which had been upset by Georgia in the season-opener and tied by Tennessee midway through the season. But by New Year's Day Alabama had moved up to fourth in the AP poll. Nebraska, the Tide's Orange Bowl opponent, was number three. The Orange Bowl was played at night, and in afternoon games the first and second place teams were upset–UCLA beating Michigan State in the Rose Bowl and LSU upsetting Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

When Bama rolled to a 39-28 win over Nebraska in Miami, the Crimson Tide of Coach Paul Bryant had repeated as national champion.

The 1977 Alabama team may have been the most talented in Crimson Tide history with the likes of Ozzie Newsome, Johnny Davis, Tony Nathan, and Jeff Rutledge on offense and a group on defense that would make its name the next season–Marty Lyons, Barry Krauss, Don McNeal, et al.

Alabama fell to Nebraska, 31-24, in Lincoln in the second game of the season when the Cornhuskers picked off five Bama passes–the only interceptions the Tide would suffer that year. But Alabama fought back, including a 21-20 win over number one-ranked Southern Cal in Los Angeles.

Bama should have known the polls were not going to be kind to Alabama that year. Bama moved up to number two in the nation going into the Auburn game and thrashed the Tigers, 48-21. The result? Alabama fell to number three.

So it was number three Alabama with Coach Bryant against Woody Hayes and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama rolled to a 35-6 win and when fifth-ranked Notre Dame defeated number one Texas in the Cotton Bowl, it was expected that Alabama would go to number one. But in one of the most controversial and closest votes in AP history, the Fighting Irish poll-vaulted Bama.

An unfortunate result was a part of both the 1965 national championship and the 1977 near miss. Much is being made of USC going for a third straight national championship this year. If the Trojans defeat Texas, Southern Cal will have that third title in succession.

Alabama was going for the three-peat in 1966. All Bama did was go undefeated, out-scoring opponents 301-44 including a 34-7 win over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. But the AP that year reversed its stance and awarded the national championship based on regular season play only to once-tied Notre Dame.

The failure to be voted number one in 1977 also cost Alabama a three-peat as Bama would go on to win the national championships in 1978 (with the famous goalline stand 14-7 win over previously number one ranked Penn State) and in 1979, an undefeated season culminating with a 24-9 victory over Arkansas.

(Alabama's 1941 team played in the 1942 Cotton Bowl, the first bowl game other than the Rose Bowl in which Bama participated. That team was awarded one of several national championships, but almost no one recognizes the title because of Crimson Tide regular season losses to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. The 1942 Cotton Bowl is memorable for Bama making only one first down and completing only one pass, but defeating Texas A&M, 29-21, on the strength of defense and kick returns.)


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