Alabama fans are intense, yet patient. They waited 74 years before the program unveiled its first Heisman winner, Mark Ingram in 2009. Ingram was special. He set an Alabama freshman school record with 12 touchdowns in 2008. Ingram carried the Crimson Tide on his back in 2009. He registered 1,658 rushing yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. Ingram became the youngest player to win a Heisman, and the first running back since Reggie Bush (2005, vacated) to claim the award. Alabama went on to capture a Southeastern Conference title and a national championship with Ingram.
It’s been five years, but the Crimson Tide’s fan base is chirping again. Alabama is an SEC champion and a No.1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff. The program also has a solidified Heisman finalist, junior receiver Amari Cooper. Sports writers and college football analysts coined 2014 as a rebuilding year for Alabama. Cooper has shined under the leadership of Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. He finished the regular season, totaling 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cooper is a humble individual, crediting Alabama’s coaching staff and his teammates for the success he’s had.
He’s collected at least eight receptions in 11 games, and has totaled 100+ yards receiving in seven games this season. Cooper is a primary target, but he has excelled at getting teammates involved. Let’s recap some of Cooper’s best performances from this season.
Alabama versus West Virginia, Season Opener, Atlanta
Alabama fans poured into the Georgia Dome on Aug. 30, 2014. It was the dawning of a new era, and Kiffin’s offensive regime was ready to take center stage. Cooper went round for round with West Virginia’s receiver Kevin White. White had a solid performance, but Cooper’s 12 catches for 130 yards was enough to help Alabama defeat the Mountaineers 33-23.
Alabama versus Florida, SEC Game, Bryant-Denny Stadium
Amari Cooper toyed with Florida Atlantic and Southern Mississippi, but one of his finer performances came against Florida inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. He was matched up on Florida’s cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but it didn’t matter. Cooper schooled Hargreaves and dismantled Florida’s secondary. He helped quarterback Blake Sims have a record-setting game, tossing for 445 yards and four touchdowns. Cooper brought in 10 passes for 201 yards and three scores. Alabama defeated Florida 42-21.
Alabama versus Texas A&M, SEC Game, Bryant-Denny Stadium
Texas A&M’s offense is usually stellar, but it was non-existent against Alabama on Oct. 18, 2014. The Aggies’ secondary had no answer for Cooper. He registered eight catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 45-yard touchdown reception from Sims in the third quarter. Alabama blanked Texas A&M 59-0.
Alabama versus Tennessee, Rivalry Game, Neyland Stadium
Tennessee fans were angry at the sight of Lane Kiffin. Cooper quieted Neyland Stadium on his first catch of the game, an 80-yard touchdown reception from Sims. He returned with a 41-yard touchdown catch, giving Alabama a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Cooper averaged 24.9 yards per catch, accounting for 224 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. Tennessee’s constant attention on Cooper opened up DeAndrew White. White chimed in with four catches for 59 yards. Cooper’s 224 receiving yards set an Alabama single-game record. The Crimson Tide defeated Tennessee 34-20.
Alabama versus LSU, Rivalry Game, Tiger Stadium
LSU’s head coach Les Miles refers to Tiger Stadium as the venue where opponents’ dreams come to die. LSU’s dreams died on Nov.8, 2014. Amari Cooper didn’t collect 100 yards receiving; however, he totaled eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. LSU’s focus on Cooper caused Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and O.J. Howard all to step up. Jones had a critical 16-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Howard caught two passes for 12 yards in the fourth quarter. White’s 17-yard reception helped set up Adam Griffith’s game-tying 27-yard field goal. He returned with a 6-yard game-winning touchdown catch in overtime. Alabama defeated LSU 20-13.
Alabama versus Mississippi State, Rivalry Game, Bryant-Denny Stadium
Fans were loud. The music playlist was perfect. Alabama’s defense had a statement game, and Amari Cooper created another Heisman moment. Like LSU, Cooper caught eight passes against Mississippi State. He had 88 yards and a touchdown. Cooper’s highlight play came in the second quarter. Alabama led Mississippi State 12-0, when Blake Sims fired a 50-yard bomb to Cooper. He snatched the ball out of double coverage and landed inside the 1-yard line. The Crimson Tide cashed in on the opportunity with a Derrick Henry 1-yard touchdown run. Alabama won 25-20.
Alabama versus Auburn, Rivalry Game, Bryant-Denny Stadium
It was a struggle for Sims in the first half, but he was 13-16 passing when targeting Cooper. Sims went to his safety valve more after tossing a third interception in the second half. Cooper aggravated Auburn’s Jonathan twins, Jonathan Ford and Jonathan Jones. He collected 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, despite wearing a knee brace. Two of Cooper’s touchdowns (39 yards, 75 yards) resulted from crisp route running and masterful play calling from Kiffin. Cooper’s 224 yards equaled a single-season record that he had against Tennessee. The Crimson Tide defeated Auburn 55-44.
Alabama versus Missouri, SEC Championship Game, Atlanta
Alabama started its season at the Georgia Dome, so it’s only fitting for it to return and win an SEC title. Sims was locked in, and Cooper was ready. Cooper owned Missouri’s secondary in the first half, totaling 10 catches for 61 yards. The Tigers contained Cooper in the second half, but it forgot about DeAndrew White and Christion Jones. White ended with four catches for 101 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown reception from Sims in the first quarter. Jones had three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. Cooper caught two passes in the second half. He finished with 12 receptions for 83 yards. Cooper’s 12 catches set an SEC title game record. Alabama defeated Missouri 42-13, capturing its 24th conference title in program history.
Amari Cooper has had a special season. He is Alabama’s all-time leading receiver with 219 catches for 3,392 yards and 29 touchdowns. Cooper is the 2014 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He’s been named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America team.
Cooper became Alabama’s first receiver and the SEC’s second receiver (Josh Reed, LSU in 2001) to win the Fred Biletnikoff Award. Alabama’s constant perfectionist now has his eyes on a bigger prize, a Heisman Trophy. Tim Brown and Desmond Howard stand as the lone two receivers to win a Heisman. Saturday night will be Cooper’s chance to join them.
Cooper will be accompanied by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. All three players have been amazing, but only one will become the 79th member of the Heisman fraternity. Alabama has waited five years for another bronze trophy holder. Is Amari Cooper the one?