Can Crimson Tide End a Terrible Trend?

Here's a trivia question for all of you die-hard Alabama football followers out there:

What is Alabama's combined record in its final three games of the season, including regular and post-season games, in its last six completed seasons (2003-2008)?

The answer is provided below, but don't skip ahead. If you didn't look up the answer I'd be willing to bet you didn't realize just how bad Alabama football seasons have ended since Dennis Franchione left the Tide high and dry after 2002. The number is breathtaking.

Nick Saban talks about "finishing" nearly every week. He has said that last year's team had to prove that it could be good, while this year's has to prove that it can finish the job. Bama players say their whole program is based on finishing. Alabama's "4th quarter" strength and conditioning program is cliche, but has a similar focus.

The focus on "finish" should have special meaning for this group.

Despite the magnificent progress Alabama has made under Nick Saban, it still has not ended an era of the worst season-finishes in the history of Alabama football.

Last season before the Sugar Bowl I wrote a story about Bama's seniors having a chance to finish the season by winning two of its last three games for the only time in their careers. (Bang or Whimper? -- 1/1/09). At the time, I didn't even realize just how bad Bama's season-finishes had been.

In its last six seasons, the Crimson Tide is an astonishingly bad 3-15 in the last three games of the season (regular season and post-season games included). Its only wins are Texas Tech (2005), Colorado (2007), and Auburn (2008).

The losses have been to good and bad teams alike: Auburn (5 times), LSU (4 times), Utah, Florida, Louisiana-Monroe, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, and Hawaii.

For comparison's sake, Bama was 5-12-1 in the last three games of seasons under Red Drew and then Ears Whitworth in the six years immediately preceding Coach Paul Bryant's tenure in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide's recent late-season futility is almost impossible to comprehend, particularly since Alabama has a 10-win and a 12-win season encompassed within the time period. It's worth another painful look. Here's Alabama's year-by-year results in its last three games since 2003:

2003: L, L, L
2004: L, L, L
2005: L, L, W
2006: L, L, L
2007: L, L, W
2008: W, L, L
2009: W, ?, ?

To comprehend Alabama's recent history at season's end is to understand Saban's focus on finishing this year. The goal at Alabama is to win championships, but it's hard to win championships if you can't win games at the end of the season.

It's doubtful that Alabama players and coaches will be thinking, as they prepare for Florida in the SEC Championship game next Saturday, that they have to end this awful stretch in history. This group had nothing to do with the 2003 or 2004 teams' finishes.

What they do know, however, is that in spite of all they have accomplished – and they have accomplished a great deal – that they have never finished a season like they've wanted.

Nick Saban recognizes this odd dichotomy of great accomplishment and sour finishes. After the Auburn game he noted with pride that never before has an Alabama football team gone 12-0 in back-to-back seasons. To think that such noteworthy accomplishment could be paired with the numbers above is confounding.

Bama's win over Auburn yesterday is significant in that it is a step toward reversing the awful incomprehensible trend of poor season finishes. Perhaps the way Bama won, by coming from behind with a great finish, will prove even more significant. Maybe it foreshadowed how Alabama will finish this season, and end a run of painful season endings.

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