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June 16, 2012

2012 in review: Ranking the sports

1. Softball; 2. Football; 3. Women's Golf; 4. Gymnastics; 5. Men's Golf; 6. Women's Tennis; 7. Men's Basketball; 8. Soccer; 9. Men's Swimming and Diving; 10. Men's Cross-Country; 11. Women's Cross-Country; 12. Women's Swimming and Diving; 13. Women's Track and Field; 14. Men's Track and Field; 15. Baseball; 16. Rowing; 17. Volleyball; 18. Men's Tennis; 19. Women's Basketball.

TUSCALOOSA | How do you pick a No. 1 from among four national championship teams?

That was the task taken on by the Tidesports.com staff for its annual University of Alabama team rankings. The Crimson Tide won national titles in football, gymnastics, softball and women's golf in the 2011-12 school year, making for a tough job of sorting out the cream of UA's crop. The softball team was a unanimous top pick by virtue of winning not only the national championship, but also the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and the SEC Tournament.

Alabama athletics had five teams that were among the very best in the country, with men's golf finishing second at the NCAA Championship, and also fielded accomplished women's tennis, men's basketball and soccer teams.

There was little separation among the teams that ranked ninth through 13th, but the lower tier was filled with teams that finished near the bottom in conference competition and made little or no impact at the national level. Men's track and field, baseball, rowing, volleyball, men's tennis and women's basketball all had forgettable campaigns.

Here is a look at how UA's athletics teams ranked for the recently-completed academic year:

1. Softball
Coach: Patrick Murphy
Record: 60-8
SEC finish: SEC champion
NCAA finish: National champion
Comment: Alabama became the first-ever SEC team to win the Women's College World Series, and the first NCAA softball champ ever without a player from California on its roster.

2. Football
Coach: Nick Saban
Record: 12-1
SEC finish: Second in SEC Western Division
BCS finish: National champion
Comment: UA's second Bowl Championship Series national championship in a three-year span marks Alabama as the top college football program in the country.

3. Women's Golf
Coach: Mic Potter
SEC finish: Third
NCAA finish: National champion
Comment: Alabama saved its best golf of the season for last, winning the national title after finishing third in the SEC and tied for fourth in its regional.

4. Gymnastics
Coach: Sarah Patterson
Record: 11-1
SEC finish: Second
NCAA finish: National champion
Comment: The Crimson Tide gymnastics dynasty continues with the program's sixth overall national title and second in a row.

5. Men's Golf
Coach: Jay Seawell
SEC finish: SEC champion
NCAA finish: Second
Comment: Alabama battled until the last golfer on the last hole in the final round of match play to finish just short of the national title when it was edged out by Texas.

6. Women's Tennis
Coach: Jenny Mainz
Record: 18-5
SEC finish: Second
NCAA finish: Round of 32
Comment: UA won the SEC Western Division and lost just one conference match, falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Georgia Tech.

7. Men's Basketball
Coach: Anthony Grant
Record: 21-12
SEC finish: Fifth
NCAA finish: NCAA Tournament participant
Comment: Alabama returned to the NCAA Tournament, a major step forward, despite a tumultuous year that saw key players suspended or dismissed.

8. Soccer
Coach: Todd Bramble
Record: 10-9-3
SEC finish: Eighth
NCAA finish: NCAA Tournament participant
Comment: The Crimson Tide made the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2008 and also returned to NCAA postseason play for the first time since 1998.

9. Men's Swimming and Diving
Coach: Eric McIlquham
Record: 3-3
SEC finish: Sixth
NCAA finish: 25th
Comment: UA coach Eric McIlquham stepped down after the season and has been replaced by Hall of Fame coach Dennis Pursley.

10. Men's Cross-Country
Coach: Dan Waters
SEC finish: Fifth
Comment: An 18th-place finish at the NCAA South Region was a step backward for a program that was a national contender in recent years, but first-year coach Waters has solid credentials to rebuild.

11. Women's Cross-Country
Coach: Dan Waters
SEC finish: Sixth
Comment: The UA women placed sixth in the NCAA South Region.

12. Women's Swimming and Diving
Coach: Eric McIlquham
Record: 6-4
SEC finish: Seventh
NCAA finish: 42nd
Comment: Alabama won just once in SEC competition. New coach Dennis Pursley takes over for next season.

13. Women's Track and Field
Coach: Dan Waters
SEC finish: Eight outdoors, ninth indoors
NCAA finish: 28th indoors, tied for 40th outdoors
Comment: Alabama had some individuals capable of scoring at SEC- and NCAA-level championship meets, but didn't have the depth to contend.

14. Men's Track and Field
Coach: Dan Waters
SEC finish: 10th indoors, 11th outdoors
NCAA finish: 66th outdoors, did not qualify indoors
Comment: UA lacked top-tier athletes to compete at the SEC or NCAA championship levels.

15. Baseball
Coach: Mitch Gaspard
Record: 21-34
SEC finish: 11th
NCAA finish: Did not qualify
Comment: With young pitching and little offense, Alabama suffered through its first losing baseball season since 1994.

16. Rowing
Coach: Larry Davis
Conference finish: Seventh in Conference USA (Alabama competes in C-USA because the SEC does not sponsor rowing)
Comment: Finishing seventh in a nine-team conference gives UA rowing a measuring point after skipping last year's conference meet in the wake of the April 27 tornado

17. Volleyball
Coach: Ed Allen
Record: 11-20
SEC finish: 11th
NCAA finish: Did not qualify
Comment: Allen has completed his first season as head coach and has a rebuilding job ahead.

18. Men's Tennis
Coach: Billy Pate
Record: 10-15
SEC finish: 11th
NCAA finish: Did not qualify
Comment: Pate left for the head coaching job at Princeton after the season. UA has hired former Southern Cal assistant George Husack to replace him.

19. Women's Basketball
Coach: Wendell Hudson
Record: 12-19
SEC finish: 11th
NCAA finish: Did not qualify
Comment: Alabama lost two key players to injury and the program backtracked after a Women's NIT appearance the year before.

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