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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Before anybody says they saw Alabama's dream season coming this year, stop and think about what last November was really like at the Capstone.
The Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe. They lost to Mississippi State. They lost to Auburn.
It was a team that unraveled, which makes this season all the more remarkable.
Nick Saban's message finally started to get through during the offseason. His approach took hold. The seniors bought in, and some of the newcomers were even better than advertised.
What ensued was an improbable 12-0 run by Alabama that didn't end until a 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship. Even then, it took a perfect fourth quarter by Florida to keep the Crimson Tide out of the BCS National Championship game.
Still, it was a season to remember and one that announced loud and clear that Alabama (12-1, 8-0 SEC) is most assuredly back under Saban, who was named Home Depot's National Coach of the Year.
The defense was rock-solid all season. The offense relied on a physical running game, the steady leadership of senior quarterback John Parker Wilson and timely plays on the perimeter from freshman receiver Julio Jones, who only scratched the surface of how good he's going to be.
Too bad we can't give this award to an entire unit because Alabama's offensive line was dominant. So we'll give it to the best player on that line, junior left tackle Andre Smith. Go back and look at how many times the Tide ran right behind the Outland Trophy winner on key downs. He's one of the best left tackles the SEC has seen in a long time.
Few defenses in the country were any stronger up the middle than Alabama. Nose tackle Terrence Cody and middle linebacker Rolando McClain were a big reason why, but senior safety Rashad Johnson gets the nod based on his leadership and performance. He led the team with five interceptions and 11 passes broken up and was second with 82 total tackles.
Alabama demonstrated in the opener against Clemson that it was better than most people thought. But in the first half against Georgia a few weeks later, the Crimson Tide served notice that they were a championship-caliber team in jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead on their way to a 41-30 road victory.
The Crimson Tide will face unbeaten Utah in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and still have a chance to finish in the top three in the final polls. In only two years, Saban has restored this program to national prominence, and his track record suggests this is only the start.