CBSSports.com is counting down the Top 10 storylines of 2010 in sports, culminating with the No. 1 story, which will be revealed on Dec. 30.
It's been quite a year for the Sweet Home. One national championship, another one possibly on the way. In between, there was plenty of Saban, Cam, Ingram and Iron Bowl. Those developments alone were excuse enough for thousands of Alabamans to celebrate, hunt and drink the state's official game bird, Wild Turkey. Sometimes all at the same time.
Head down that stereotypical highway at your peril, though. This was the year when Bammers and Barners could revel in their shared excellence. They will tell you there have always been different, nuanced layers to Alabama. There's the team, the other team, the band, the state, the pimps.
Pimps? You almost forgot that one, didn't you?
That's a subtle reminder that the Yellowhammer State ruled college football this year. Whether it was in the media, on the field, in the polls or in the time-worn practice of old-fashioned, hands-out solicitation, Alabama dominated. Nick Saban made a movie. Cam Newton made everyone miss. His dad Cecil made a mess of everything. Their teams combined to go 24-3 in calendar 2010.
The state has produced the last two Heisman winners -- Mark Ingram and Newton. There have been 15 weeks worth of polls or BCS standings since Jan. 1. Either Alabama or Auburn were No. 1 in nine of them. At least seven All-Americans combined from the two schools have played this year. Yes, it was that good in Alabama this year.
"Does this mean UAB will have a Heisman winner and play for the national title in 2011?" Birmingham-based national talk show host Paul Finebaum asked in an e-mail.
Let's not forget the Tide and Tigers also played the game of the year in November. Any discussion of why the Iron Bowl is the best rivalry should begin and end with the Tigers' stirring second-half comeback. Alabama still won nine in a "down" year. Auburn produced that player of the year, some say of all time. The scandal produced by Newton's matriculation to Auburn certainly ranks among the all-timers in NCAA infractions case studies.
"Fans of Alabama can't believe he's eligible, or they can't accept that the Tide blew the game against Auburn," Finebaum said. "And for Auburn Nation, it's really us against the world."
It's hard to remember, but at one time this year Saban not only ruled the state, he and the Tide were the ones ruling the country. Eight days into 2010, Alabama won its first national championship in 16 years. Armed with 2009's Heisman Trophy winner, the school's first, the Crimson Tide were favored to make it two in a row in 2010. As the season approached, Saban, full of power and accomplishment, called out rogue agents during the SEC media days in July. They were no better, he said, than men of the night who oversee women of the night.
I should know. I asked the question. One of the stars of that championship game, Alabama's Marcell Dareus, was a "victim" of those pimps and was eventually suspended for two games by the NCAA. That barely compared to Cecil Newton, who, as the NCAA confirmed on Dec. 1, had indeed sought money -- reportedly six figures -- for his son's enrollment at Mississippi State.
Fortunately, football kept dominating the discussion. Ingram, that defending Heisman Trophy winner, tweaked his knee before the first game, sat out a couple of contests, then opened his season by opening a can of Whoop Ass on Duke (151 yards) and Arkansas (157). Quarterback Greg McElroy became a better, stronger quarterback who also was pursuing a Rhodes Scholarship. Penn State went down, Florida was destroyed.
Ultimately, though, Alabama was exposed. Ingram never broke 100 yards again. McElroy was harassed too often in the pocket. Even the Rhodes Scholarship didn't work out. In a down year in the SEC East, South Carolina emerged to win the division, handing the Tide their first loss along the way. LSU needed every bit of its coach's "Lesticles" to knock off Bama.
Meanwhile, the better Cam played, the seedier his story got. The laptop, the alleged academic fraud, the dad with his hand out? "Breaking News," read one student sign at the Georgia-Auburn game, "Cam Stole My Heart." Even one of its own, former Auburn assistant coach Bill Oliver, weighed in cryptically before the Iron Bowl saying, "I know how they've [Auburn] operated for many, many years."
Cam and the Tigers just kept truckin'. Newton's run against LSU may be the most thrilling of the season. It was a team that thrilled all season, having to come from behind in eight of its 13 games.
The year wound down in the Sweet Home for Auburn the same way it began for Alabama -- with a head rush. Within a two-week period, Cam got both an NCAA hall pass on his eligibility and the Heisman Trophy.
"My parents," Newton said during his acceptance speech, "do a lot of things behind the scenes that go unnoticed."
Somewhere papa, the pimps, maybe even Saban, had to smile.