Alabama coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant is known for his six national championships, but he also had some very close near-misses including the 1977 season. Alabama went 11-1 and captured the SEC title.
The only loss was a 31-24 upset at Nebraska during the second game of the season.
Alabama, which was No. 6 in the preseason Associated Press Poll, had climbed up to No. 4, only to drop to No. 10 with the narrow loss (it went from No. 3 to 12 in the coaches poll). Over the next five weeks, during which Alabama won at No. 1 Southern California 21-20, it reached No. 2 in both rankings.
Alabama was picked to play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl which was coached by Woody Hayes, setting up a coaching showdown.
However, the Crimson Tide had little trouble with the No. 9 Buckeyes, and blew them out 35-6.
Alabama quarterback Jeff Rutledge and the Crimson Tide offense wasted no time in getting the game under their control. On the Tide’s second possession, a 10-play, 76-yard march, running back Tony Nathan scored from a 1-yard out.
Rutledge and the Crimson Tide then pushed Ohio State around on an 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. The scoring play came when fullback Johnny Davis moved to his right on a fake at the Buckeye 27 while split end Bolton, who had lined up as a right halfback, rolled out of the backfield and raced down the sideline. Rutledge dropped back and handed the ball to Bolton, who was barely inbounds.
Up 13-0, the Alabama defense again stopped the Buckeyes at the Crimson Tide 28, Rutledge took the Tide 72 yards for a touchdown. He hit Richard Neal with a 3-yard scoring pass and added another pass to Neal on a two-point conversion for a 21-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Ohio State finally managed to score on the ensuing possession, marching 85 yards in seven plays, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Gerald to Jim Harrell with 13:34 remaining.
Sophomore Steadman Shealy assumed control of the Alabama offense in the final quarter and engineered two touchdown drives. The first was an 84-yard march in 14 plays that ended with a 1-yard run by Major Ogilvie with 6:30 left.
Davis capped a 24-yard drive in four plays following a Buckeyes turnover by scoring on a 7-yard run with 5:09 left.
Rutledge finished as the game’s most valuable player, hitting on 8 of 11 passes for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Davis had 95 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Alabama knew it would need a little help to finish No. 1, and thought it might get it as No. 5 Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
But in a controversial and tight vote, the Fighting Irish vaulted from fifth to first, with Alabama a close second in both polls.