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15 Bama games rank in the top 10 college football games of the 2010s, somehow

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The Tide co-starred in most of the decade’s biggest moments.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper scores against Georgia in 2012.
2012.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

If you were making such a list, look at how many of these Crimson Tide games it’d be tough to cut:

2010’s #2 Auburn 28, #11 Alabama 27 must make the top 10

Back when the college football fandom still had thick strains of cop in its veins, 2010 Auburn struck an alarming number of people as a heist that needed to be halted, rather than as a joy ride free of regulation.

The NCAA briefly suspended Cam Newton amid investigations into whether his family received compensation for the value he provided to money-making institutions. For some antiquated reason, the unaffiliated fan/analyst decided whatever Auburn did was shameful.

In hindsight, we all should’ve joined the Tigers in extending middle fingers to the law. This team fucking ruled. All of their final scores were like 37-36.9. And if a one-man national championship profited off it? Awesome.

Instead, way too many people chortled as the designated villains fell behind by 24 points in Tuscaloosa. Karma! The natural order re-imposing itself! Fun’s over!

So how did Newton’s Tigers then score the game’s final four touchdowns, continue their caper, and steal the crystal football itself? How did that happen, Cam?

Beyond the on-field drama and national consequence, this game must make your top 10 for its role in one of the decade’s two defining storylines: the CFB fan becoming less inclined to side with the NCAA.

2011’s #1 LSU 9, #2 Alabama 6 must make the top 10

“This game was bad. There was no offense.”

Actually, it was the best possible combination of football worlds: NFL teams in a college atmosphere with Game of the Century stakes and tension all throughout, including into overtime. This game was perfect. No counter-arguments accepted.

2012’s #2 Alabama 32, #3 Georgia 28 must make the top 10

When Alec Ogletree ran back a blocked a Bama field goal to give the Dawgs a 21-10 lead in the third quarter of the SEC Championship that had all the feel of a BCS Championship, I believed we really might be on the verge of the reigning champs going down and a long-awaited Georgia national title.

A combined four touchdowns followed in the next 16 minutes. Here’s what Bama’s go-ahead TD with three minutes left looked like:

But here’s how close the Dawgs got to giving themselves a national title shot anyway:

Instant classic. I don’t think you can make a list of the 10 best games of the 2010s without including it.

2013’s #4 Auburn 34, #1 Alabama 28 must make the top 10

Of course the Kick Six must make the top 10.

At least one of the 2012 and 2013 Texas A&M-Alabama games must make the top 10

While the Kick Six is mostly remembered for its final play, its greater influence — a late RPO that set up the winning moment — was part of the decade’s other defining storyline: the hot-air battle of two-back, guttural, I-formation, pro-style manball vs. dual-threat, five-wide, option-heavy spread offense.

In 2012, Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid scoring 29 points on Nick “is this what we want football to be” Saban’s defense in an Aggie win felt like the most important thing that had ever happened. Seminal! Sea change! Era-defining!

That tempo-vs.-drudgery debate then reached a peak in 2013, when Johnny Manziel and the boys posted an unthinkable 628 yards and 42 points on the Tide

But Saban had already begun thinking, aight, if this is what we want football to be, then so be it. Bama put up 49 points of their own. You can tell the story of college football’s decade with just these two games.

2014’s #4 Ohio State 42, #1 Alabama 35 must make the top 10

A game that meets these specifications has to be included in any “top 10 games of the ‘10s” list:

  • A nothing-to-lose underdog otherwise known as the sport’s biggest brand, a pretty rare combo
  • Selection controversy, which would prove to be Ohio State’s annual tradition
  • A back-and-forth series of explosions in one of the sport’s two most beloved bowls, the Sugar
  • A non-blowout Playoff semifinal, another pretty rare thing
  • Late drama capped by the “85 yards through the heart of the South” call with three minutes left
  • But actually it wasn’t, because Bama scored a touchdown after that
  • And then had the ball in Buckeye territory with three plays to go! This game was a lot more dramatic on the field than we might remember! I think most of us remember it as a somewhat comfy Buckeye victory for some reason!
  • DEEP GEOGRAPHY-BASED EMOTIONS
  • A third-string QB leading one of the wildest national title runs of all time
  • In hindsight, we could probably consider this the actual title game, seeing as Oregon didn’t put up much of a fuss afterward

At least one of the 2014 and 2015 Ole Miss-Alabama games must make the top 10

Basically the same thing as the Aggie games, but there was also a doink touchdown:

2015 Alabama 45, Clemson 40
and
2016 Clemson 35, Alabama 31
must both make the top 10

In case these run together in your memory: the first was the all-time great title game that swung on a surprise onside kick called by a coach who hates surprises, while the second was the all-time great title game in which Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow for the game-winner with zero seconds to go.

Wait, make that one second to go. Because Clemson then recovered a surprise onside kick of its own.

The Bama-Clemson rivalry ended up being the most important of the decade, eventually hitting 2-2 in Playoff games. These first two unquestionably make the cut on any list of the top 10 games of the 2010s (and a lot of people would also argue for Clemson’s 2018 blowout win because ... a lot of people like to watch Bama lose blowouts).

2017’s Alabama 26, Georgia 23 must make the top 10

When a desperate Saban responded to Georgia’s 13-0 lead by subbing true freshman Tua Tagovailoa in for 26-1 starter Jalen Hurts, I believed we really might be on the verge of the decade’s dynasty going down and a long-awaited Georgia national title.

Instead, Tua claimed Instant Legend status, throwing two touchdowns in regulation and forcing the second overtime title game in FBS history. (An overtime national title game must absolutely make your top 10.)

Here’s what the third, Bama’s championship-winning TD, looked like:

Whoops, sorry, that was Bama’s 2012 game-winner against Georgia in the same city. Here’s the sequel:

It’s like JJ Abrams is directing the Alabama-Georgia series.

2018’s Alabama 35, Georgia 28 must make the top 10

At this point, I’m not trying to pick on UGA. Sure, in the previous section, I was. But not this one.

Regardless, this veritable Playoff quarterfinal has to rank among the 10 best games of the decade. It was the thrilling conclusion to both a 2010s subplot (the “Georgia’s about to beat Bama in Atlanta and finally win a national title ... oh no!” trilogy) and the overarching 2017-2018 storyline (the “Tua replaced Jalen and led a comeback to beat Georgia, then Jalen replaced Tua and led a comeback to beat Georgia” fanfic made real).

That might be the most farfetched Hollywood plot I’ve ever seen in real football. Absolutely a top-10 game.

2019’s LSU 46, Alabama 41 must make the top 10

“This game was bad. There was no defense.”

Actually, it was the best possible combination of football worlds: NFL teams in a college atmosphere with Game of the Century stakes and tension all throughout. This game was perfect. No counter-arguments accepted.

(As with Bama-A&M, you can tell the story of the decade with just the Bama-LSU Games of the Century.)

2019’s Auburn 48, Alabama 45 must make the top 10

Basically the same as the LSU game, but with a devious trick play and also some hedge people.

The 2010 Stephen Garcia game? The 2012 LSU-Bama “Heisman moment” game? The other LSU-Bama overtime game? The other Iron Bowl shootout? The Trevor Knight Sugar Bowl? Etc.?

Sure, there are plenty of other Bama games that you could also rank among the decade’s 10 best.

However, there is one Bama game to rule them all: 2012 Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14

How could you make a list of the 10 best 2010s college football games and exclude the decade’s most joyful experience for sports fans everywhere?

The other part of this exercise: if you want minimal Bama on your Top 10 2010s Games list, how many non-Bama games absolutely must make it?

You’d want to include games like the Georgia-Oklahoma Rose Bowl, the Florida State-Auburn title game, the 2014 TCU-Baylor shootout, the Texas A&M-LSU seven-OT game, TCU’s 31-point Alamo comeback, 2011 Oklahoma State-Iowa State, the Arkansas backward Hail Mary, a bunch of other Hail Mary games, the Michigan State punt runback, the Georgia Tech field goal runback, the Michigan-Ohio State Spot Game, the USC-Penn State Rose Bowl, various Ohio State-Penn State games, and at least a couple games from outside the Power 5.

Even with all that, can you make a totally satisfying top 10 that is less than half Bama? I’m not sure I could, and I’m nowhere near being a Bama fan.

Beyond Saban’s national titles and even beyond Bama’s upset losses, this might be how we’ll most remember this decade of college football. For all the complaints about Saban’s boring style (until Lane Kiffin came around, at least) and overwhelming talent advantage, each Bama season was a slog toward one of the greatest things you’ll ever see.