Alabama’s Top 10 sports stories

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top 10 sports stories for Alabama in 2008, as chosen by The Associated Press:

1) TIDE’S RISE: From No. 2 in the state to No. 1 in the nation, Alabama forged a dramatic turnaround this season, contending for a national championship and running away with the SEC West title. The Crimson Tide went 12-0 in the regular season and spent some two months atop the national rankings before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game. It was still good enough to secure a Sugar Bowl berth against Utah.

2) TIGERS’ TURMOIL: Auburn’s high hopes for the season crumbled. Then Tommy Tuberville’s 10-year reign over the football program ended when he stepped down after going 5-7 for the Tigers’ first losing season since 1999. Auburn’s subsequent hire of Gene Chizik wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm from some fans. He had lost his last 10 games at Iowa State and was 5-19 in two seasons.

3) STREAK ENDS: Braggin’ rights belong once again to ‘Bama. The Tide ended a six-year losing streak in the Iron Bowl with a 36-0 thrashing of Auburn, the largest margin in the series in 46 years. It ended the longest Iron Bowl winning streak in Auburn history and was the Tigers’ first loss in Tuscaloosa.

4) WITH HONORS: The national honors poured in for Alabama football. Nick Saban was the AP national coach of the year and left tackle Andre Smith claimed the Outland Trophy. Plus, Smith, center Antoine Caldwell and nose guard Terrence Cody were first-team AP All-Americans. Safety Rashad Johnson was a second-team pick and linebacker Rolando McClain a third-teamer.

5) ASU PROBATION: The NCAA placed Alabama State’s football program on five years probation for 17 rules violations. The Hornets had to forfeit all games won in the 2000 and 2001 seasons and were banned from the Southwestern Athletic Conference title game next season. The violations occurred from 1999-2003 and included changing grades and allowing ineligible players to play and practice.

6) TROY’S TITLE: The Troy Trojans won the Sun Belt Conference title but lost a heartbreaker in the New Orleans Bowl on a blocked field goal in overtime after losing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. The Trojans won eight games despite losing quarterback Jamie Hampton to a season-ending injury in late October.

7) STEWART WINS: Tony Stewart nabbed his first Talladega NASCAR win in 20 career starts by claiming the October race. Stewart got the victory after rookie Regan Smith illegally dipped below NASCAR’s out-of-bounds lane to finish first. Smith argued that he had done nothing wrong and that Stewart had forced him below the line but NASCAR ruled that wasn’t the case.

8) STREAK ENDS II: Alabama State halted Tuskegee’s nation’s best 27-game winning streak in the season finale. The Tigers were aiming for a second straight perfect season and had a shot until Travis Rayford’s interception in the end zone on the final play. Tuskegee’s win streak was the longest active one in the NCAA at any level. It was only the third win of the season for the Hornets. The SIAC later determined that a back judge erred when he disallowed a touchdown by Tuskegee on the play before the interception.

9) NORTH ALABAMA: North Alabama’s football team had a tough ending to a terrific year. The Golden Lions made it all the way to the semifinals of the Division II playoffs only to fall 41-7 to Northwest Missouri State. Then, coach Mark Hudspeth left to become an assistant to new Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.

10) HOELZER’S YEAR: Huntsville native Margaret Hoelzer captured two silver medals and one bronze in swimming during the Beijing Olympics. The former Auburn star showed plenty of courage outside of the pool, too. Hoelzer revealed in September that she was sexually abused by a playmate’s father when she was younger.