As the 2012 season progressed, it was almost as if Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was continually one-upping himself.
There was his reaching over a defender for a touchdown reception during his breakout performance against Ole Miss, the epic showing at Tennessee that included a 42-yard touchdown and his 162 receiving yards to set an Alabama freshman receiving record, his 54-yard touchdown against Texas A&M to give the Crimson Tide a chance, and the 29-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Auburn when two defenders missed and collided.
But then came the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, where the freshman who had yet to turn 19 really caused jaws to drop.
Not only did his 45-yard catch over safety Bacarri Rambo spark Alabama’s comeback against Georgia, but his spectacular 45-yard touchdown bomb from quarterback AJ McCarron held up for a 32-28 victory to put the Crimson Tide into the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
The game was arguably the best SEC Championship Game ever played, featuring No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in a del facto national semifinal before the College Football Playoff game around.
It featured six lead changes and went down to the very last play.
With final chance to pull out a victory, Georgia drive into the red zone where it had the ball at the 8-yard-line and 15 seconds remaining. Quarterback Aaron Murray looked to Chris Conley at the 5, only to have the ball tipped and caught in a way that didn't allow the Bulldogs to get another play off before time expired.
"I'm ready to have a heart attack here," Nick Saban quipped.
Eddie Lacy was named the game's MVP after totaling 181 rushing yards on 20 carries, T.J. Yeldon had 153 rushing yards on 25 attempts, and McCarron was 13-for-21 for 162 yards, but afterward the buzz focussed on Cooper.
He finished with eight catches for 128 yards and his 45-yard touchdown reception with 3:15 remaining held up as the game-winning score.
Consequently, McCarron told reporters during the days leading up to Alabama crushing Notre Dame in the title game that he was “One of those freakish freshmen that you get in every once in a while in a class. You can't say enough about Coop.”
The same held true about his rookie numbers. When Cooper’s first season finally ended, his 59 catches were the sixth most in Crimson Tide history, while his 1,000 yards were tied for the fourth-best season with David Palmer in 1993, training only Julio Jones and DJ Hall. The 11 receiving touchdowns, though, broke Al Lary’s longstanding single-season record of 10 that had stood since 1950.
He also topped Jones’ freshman records of 58 catches and 924 yards, set in 2008, while only starting the last nine of 14 games. Consequently, Cooper was a big reason why Alabama’s offense set program records for points scored (542), offensive touchdowns (68), and receiving touchdowns (31), en route to another crystal football.
“I don't feel like I did a whole lot last year as far as my expectations,” Copper said.
This is the second in a series that will appear before New Year's Day, counting down the top 10 Alabama football moments of the 2010-19 decade. Some information from the book "Decade of Dominance" was used.