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December 26, 2012

TOP SPORTS: Tide's title tops state's sports stories in 2012

It has become a familiar way to break in a new year for football teams from the state of Alabama.

This time it was the Alabama Crimson Tide shutting out LSU in New Orleans for the BCS national title in January to bring a football-shaped crystal trophy home to the state for the third straight year.

The Tide's second national championship in three years — sandwiching Auburn's own BCS triumph — is the Associated Press's choice for the state's top sports story of 2012 even as 'Bama is gearing up for a run at another one.

But that's for next year's list.

Coach Nick Saban and Alabama certainly seem to have the preparation plan down going into the Jan. 7 meeting with No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami.

"We're doing the exact same thing I'm pretty sure, day for day, as we did last year," Tide defensive lineman Jesse Williams said.

It worked well then with the Tide beating LSU 21-0 in a rematch of the team's lone regular season loss.

Other top stories in 2012 included Auburn's woes during a 3-9 season (No. 2) that culminated in Gene Chizik's firing and the hiring of former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn (No. 3) to try to lift the program back up the Southeastern Conference ranks.

While the state's two most prominent athletic programs dominated the headlines in 2012, there were some notable coaching changes at UAB (No. 9) and schools like Jacksonville State, Samford and North Alabama (No. 10).

The big one came in the Big Easy just nine days into 2012, though. The Tide and the college football world have moved on, but it's never too late for a brief look back.

Alabama's defense — which would send three first-rounders into the subsequent NFL draft, plus No. 35 pick Courtney Upshaw — held LSU to just 92 yards and five first downs. It was the first shutout in the BCS' 14-year history. LSU didn't cross midfield until there were less than 8 minutes remaining in the game, and the next morning Saban admitted he probably enjoyed this one more than Tide's first BCS title game win over Texas two years earlier.

"To be honest with you, I think I maybe did," he said then. "This team was a special team, not that the 2009 team was any different. It's certainly an honor and privilege to be with a group that made the kind of commitment that you look for from a competitive character standpoint."

Turns out the 2012 team made a pretty strong commitment, too.

Alabama is 12-1 with only a loss to No. 10 Texas A&M marring a season that was highlighted by dramatic wins over No. 6 Georgia and No. 9 LSU.

The Tide is in familiar territory with some veterans having been around for two previous national title teams.

Linebacker Nico Johnson believes that experience helps in the weeks leading up to the championship.

"I don't think we have that much anxiety about the game," Johnson said. "We'll be able to treat it as another game and go in calm and focused in more on what we have to do. I think we understand what we have to do to win the national championship and we're going to have to do it even more than the first two times so I mean, Notre Dame is a dang good team and we're going to have to play our butts off for 60 minutes."

If the Tide wins, most of the players already know the drill. Tight end Michael Williams said Saban made sure the focus turned fairly quickly to the next season after the victory in New Orleans.

"I think we have a meeting a week after the game or something like that," Williams said. "Then you realize real quick that that team right there hasn't done anything yet. That's the message you send across and you go to work over the next couple of days. Start over and start on the next one."

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