BY COLIN “BIG C” MACGUIRE
The Greenville Standard
The University of Alabama football team entered the 1974 season ranked No. 3. Alabama won the 1973 UPI National Championship.
This was the last year UPI voted for the national championship at the end of the regular season.
The 1973 offense was the best in the wishbone era (1971-82). They lost five starters to eligibility and one to injury. Lost were tackles, Steve Sprayberry and Buddy Brown, split-end Wayne Wheeler, fullback Ellis Beck and halfback Wilbur Jackson.
The injured starter was quarterback Gary Rutledge. He suffered a shoulder separation in a pre-season scrimmage.
Alabama lost six starters on defense who were end John Croyle, defensive tackles Mike Raines and Skip Kebelius, linebacker’s Chuck Strickland and Wayne Hall, and defensive back David McMakin.
In the 1974 season, Alabama was the 80th overall and 41st in the SEC. Team captains were center Sylvester Croom and defensive back Ricky Davis.
Alabama opened the season on Sept. 14 at Maryland ranked No. 14. Maryland was the first head coaching job for Coach Bryant. He was there for one season in 1945. It was his first time to comeback since 1945.
Former Bryant player and assistant Jerry Claiborne was the head coach. Randy White the best player. Alabama won in a close one, 21-16.
On Sept. 21, Alabama faced Southern Miss at Legion Field and gave their best performance of the year.
On Sept. 28, The Tide beat Vanderbilt 23-10 at Denny Stadium. Steve Sloan, a former Alabama player and assistant was head coach for the Commodore’s.
On Oct. 5, Alabama face Ole Miss in Jackson, Miss. It was a regional TV Game. In the middle of the third quarter, the game was tied at 14 all. Alabama quarter back Richard Todd made a pitchout that was intercepted by Ole Miss defensive end Gary Turner and returned for a 58-yard touchdown. Alabama scored three touchdowns to pull away 35-21.
On Oct. 12, Florida State visited Denny Stadium. Florida State entered the bout with a 16-game losing streak. Florida State almost broke the streak. Kicker Bucky Berrey won the game for Alabama on a 36-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the game, 8-7.
On Oct. 19, Alabama face Tennessee in Knoxville. Alabama bounced back with a big win 28-6.
On Oct. 26, TCU came to Legion Field. Alabama won with ease 41-3.
On Nov. 2, Alabama face Mississippi State at Bryant-Denny. It was Homecoming. Mississippi State entered the game with one loss. Alabama blocked a field goal on the opening drive.
It was all downhill for State. Alabama won 35-0.
On Nov. 9, LSU visited Legion Field. It was a regional TV Game. Alabama jumped out to a 23-0 lead at the half. They coasted to a 30-0 win.
On Nov. 16, Alabama traveled to face Miami. Alabama jumped out to a 21-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter and coasted to a 28-7 win.
On Friday, Nov. 29, The Tide faced Auburn at Legion Field. The game was on national TV. This game could have been a blowout but they could have also lost the game.
Alabama got inside the Auburn five and did not score. They fumbled the snap, the first time and went for it on fourth down, but did not score.
Auburn had a touchdown called back because the receiver was pushed out of bounds. Today, the receiver if pushed out of bounds can come back in the field of play. Mike DuBose caused and recovered a fumble with 49 seconds left in the game at the Alabama 49.
Alabama went to the Orange Bowl in Miami to face Notre Dame. A fumbled punt by Willie Shelby at the Alabama 16 set the tone for the game. It was 13-3 at the half. Alabama scored late on a 48-yard Todd to Russ Schamun pass.
They went for two it was successful. Alabama made a drive late in the game to win but Notre Dame intercepted the pass.
If Alabama had scored and won the game, Alabama would have won the UPI National Championship. Instead Alabama finished No. 2 in the Coaches Poll and No. 5 in the AP. Close but no cigar.