Precisely because the Alabama Crimson Tide won the national championship without winning the SEC in 2011, Nick Saban’s dynastic powerhouse entered the 2014 college football season in a rather unique position.
Heading into 2014, Alabama owned more national titles than SEC championships over the previous five seasons (2009 through 2013). The Tide rolled to three crystal footballs in that period of time, near the end of the Bowl Championship Series era. They won the SEC only twice, in 2009 and 2012. Given that at least two-thirds of every college football season are played in one’s own conference, Alabama needed to shore up that part of its portfolio.
Under Nick Saban — who clearly hasn’t lost his fastball as a coach — the Crimson Tide have restored order.
The final scoreboard margin might not have been all that imposing, but Alabama easily won yet another SEC title on Saturday in Atlanta. The Tide foiled and flummoxed the Florida Gators in the Georgia Dome to repeat as SEC champions. Alabama has now won three SEC titles in the last four years. If not for the Kick-Six (and just one made field goal) against Auburn two years ago, the Tide might own an active streak of four straight SEC crowns.
Yes, Florida’s offense — like the SEC’s quarterbacking as a whole in this now-concluded SEC regular season — was horrible on Saturday. Yes, there wasn’t a single SEC East program which distinguished itself as a next-level force in the conference this year. Yes, every SEC team other than Alabama lost at least three regular season games in 2015.
Yes, “[insert Team/Player/Coach X here] did all this against the SEC!” is no longer a good argument to make in Heisman Trophy debates or other national discussions. Derrick Henry played an ordinary game on Saturday, despite what 189 yards might suggest. Even though he is the likely Heisman winner, a robust and open debate would give Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffrey, and Baker Mayfield a legitimate chance next Saturday in New York.
Yes, Florida’s offense scored only one time on Saturday, and it came as a the result of a prayer — a Hail Mary — with 5:02 left in what was a 29-7 wipeout. That mercy score made the final tally 29-15. It felt like a 34-point game, not a 14-point margin.
Yet, for all the ways in which Alabama’s accomplishments should be kept in a reasonable context — not magnified beyond all recognition because of outdated impressions of the SEC’s strength — the Crimson Tide still deserve lavish praise.
My colleague at The Student Section, Bart Doan, cautioned the nation to not hold a funeral for Alabama after the 43-37 loss to Ole Miss in September. How prescient and wise he turned out to be. The idea that Nick Saban had lost the magic touch — that another great coach was about to enter a stale period (much as Bob Stoops had seemingly lost steam at Oklahoma, before this redemptive season) — might have seemed easy to agree with three months ago. The better response was to wait for the season to unfold.
Sure enough, Nick Saban is still Nick Saban. If Paul W. Bryant was The Bear, Saban is The Hound, chasing down more achievements year after year in Tuscaloosa.
Unless Ohio State backdoors into the final four, only one team will participate in each of the first two editions of the College Football Playoff.
Only one Power 5 conference champion from 2014 has repeated in 2015.
Only one program has won multiple national championships this decade.
It’s the same answer: Alabama. Alabama. Alabama. The Tide are the SEC’s answer to Tim Russert’s “Florida, Florida, Florida” in the 2000 presidential election.
Florida, under a man named Urban Meyer — you might have heard of him — engaged Saban and Alabama in a pair of SEC Championship Game throwdowns in 2008 and 2009. Who could have known — seven years later — that Florida’s win in 2008 would mark the last time the SEC East champion won in Atlanta? Saban began his dynastic run at Alabama in 2009 with a decisive win over Tim Tebow and the Gators. The SEC West has maintained a firm grip on the conference ever since. Moreover, the gap between the SEC’s two divisions is as wide as it’s ever been. Alabama is the foremost reason that reality persists.
Nick Saban is the foremost reason Alabama continues to reign in the cutthroat world of Southern college football.
The College Football Playoff and a semifinal showdown on New Year’s Eve can wait. For now, appreciate the consistency and continuity of a relentlessly excellent program. Alabama continues to punish the SEC, delivering beatdowns which bring forth a Crimson flood… and a steady stream of trophies.