What a decade. What a ride. It gave the state of Alabama Cam Newton, but was really all about the Crimson Tide.
Alabama and Auburn were at the beating heart of college football over the last decade. Now, as the calendar turns over to 2020, they’re both here in Florida together. Auburn plays Minnesota in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year’s Day, and Alabama has Michigan up the road in Orlando for the Citrus Bowl. Both games kickoff at noon on Wednesday.
No doubt our state will play a major role in college football during the next decade, but it will be almost impossible to match the impact Alabama had on the sport from 2010-2019. Either Alabama or Auburn were in the national championship game every year except one, and even in the off year (2015) Alabama made the College Football Playoff. That’s an unprecedented run that will probably never be matched for by state.
Alabama started it off with a national championship on Jan.7, 2010, in Pasadena, California. Alabama 37, Texas 21 in the Rose Bowl is where it all started. The Crimson Tide then went on to win four more national titles, accounting for half of the hardware over the entire decade. Nick Saban cemented his legacy as the greatest coach in the history of college football during that span.
Alabama was the team of the decade nationally, and Saban (record: 124-15, winning percentage .892) was the coach everyone aspired to be or beat. Saban more than dominated the Southeastern Conference. He reshaped it and molded it into his own kingdom.
Saban is the only coach in the league to go the entire decade with the same team. He ran coaches out of every SEC West rival, and then populated most of the SEC East with his former assistants.
And then there was Saban’s greatest gift to the SEC. Realizing he was overmatched by the new king of the league, Urban Meyer bowed out at Florida in 2010 and chose earlier retirement over going toe-to-toe with Alabama’s growing dynasty every year.
Meyer then rejoined the sport with Ohio State, and, of course, retired early again.
Beginning with Auburn’s SEC championship in 2010, either Auburn or Alabama combined to win the league title seven over the decade’s 10 years. Alabama had five SEC championships and Auburn had two. For the record, the decade’s Iron Bowl tally stands at Alabama 6, Auburn 4.
That Alabama was able to dominate the sport nationally this decade, but not completely put a stranglehold on the state rivalry is a testament to the amazing quality of college football here, and also the relentless competition. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has two victories in the last three seasons against the coach of the decade.
It could be argued that the state of Alabama’s dominance of college football in the early part of this decade was the underlying force that pushed the sport into the future with a four-team playoff. Alabama won the national championship in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Auburn, with the brilliant Cam Newton at quarterback, won it in 2011.
Either Alabama or Auburn played for a national title from 2010 to 2014. After that, the BCS era ended and the playoff era started. They had to give someone else a chance, y’all.
In the first College Football Playoff, Meyer got his revenge on Saban, and college football felt vindicated for changing its postseason forever. It remains a sport in flux. Will this new decade bring us playoff expansion, and paid players? It all appears inevitable.
Money, more than anything, changed college football over the last decade. Enormous television contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars fueled an arm’s race that ignited a Gilded Age of haves and have-nots in the sport. College football is healthier than it has ever been for some, but at the expense of forcing others to survive off scraps.
The Power 5 conferences — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — own major college football now. The Group of 5 is just lucky to be here. No one knows that feeling better than UAB, which had its football program shuttered in 2014 and then rebooted in 2017.
The Blazers’ sudden demise and then grassroots return to football was one of the best (and worst) stories of the decade for the sport in the state of Alabama. It was not the most infamous. That happened when crazed Alabama fan Harvey Updyke poisoned the famous and majestic oak trees of Toomer’s Corner in 2011 just to brag about it on the radio.
It gets weird here sometimes.
And did I say crazy?
Depending on your loyalty, your favorite college football moment of the decade was either Kick Six or 2nd and 26. It’s impossible to rank one ahead of the other, but there were no better moments in the entire decade of college football than those lightning bolts of glory.
Even when Alabama and Auburn weren’t at the front of the sport, it was still about those from this great state. Jameis Winston of Hueytown won the Heisman Trophy in 2013 and the national title over Auburn. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who is from Pelham and played at Alabama, has led his team to the College Football Playoff five years in a row. The defending national champions, Clemson plays for another title on Jan.13 against LSU in New Orleans.
There was great joy this decade for this state, but also terrible sadness. The loss of Rod and Paula Bramblett rocked Alabama. The death of former Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny was crushing. We lost football greats Bart Starr, and Pat Sullivan. We also said good-bye to Mike Slive, and none were finer than the former SEC, CUSA and Great Midwest commissioner. He adopted Birmingham has his home city.
We miss you all, but your spirit is with us.
Hold up your glasses, Alabama, and toast the memories and the people who made the last decade unforgettable. Enjoy the football on New Year’s Day. A new decade of this game we all love is here.