HOOVER, Ala. — During the early parts of Nick Saban’s tenure, Alabama football had legitimate competition when trying to win the SEC West and the SEC Championship Game.
There was the rivalry with Florida when the Gators and the Tide met in Atlanta in back-to-back seasons. Florida won the 2008 matchup with Alabama getting revenge in 2009 en route to winning its first national championship under Saban.
The SEC West was also more competitive. Alabama, Auburn and LSU all took turns winning the West from 2009-2011. That’s when the league was at its peak.
Since 2012, Alabama football has won the league title in four of five seasons, including the last three. If not for one of the best finishes in college football history in the infamous Kick Six game against Auburn in 2013, Alabama likely would have owned the SEC for five consecutive years.
The SEC media picked Alabama football to win its fourth straight league title during SEC Media Days two weeks ago.
No one can definitively name a team that is ready to challenge Alabama this season — and not just in the SEC West. Florida in 2008 is the last SEC East team to win the conference championship game.
“The [SEC] East isn’t trying to catch up to the West,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said during media days. “We’re all trying to catch up to Alabama.”
Along with winning three SEC championships in a row, Alabama football has won 17 consecutive SEC games. Going back to the start of the 2014 season, Alabama has lost just two SEC games (both to Ole Miss) in 27 tries. The Crimson Tide have turned the once-vaunted SEC into a one-team league.
“You know what you have to do to get to Atlanta, in our situation,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said during media days. “And then you know what you need to do to try to win a championship. And so the consistency of that program over the years did not come overnight. I think people understand that. But you can’t argue that that is the mark, and that’s where everybody wants to be.”
That leads to one question: Is Alabama’s dominance good or bad for the SEC?
SEC Country spoke with four prominent voices covering college football — Paul Finebaum of ESPN/SEC Network, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports and George Schroeder of USA Today — for their takes on the Crimson Tide’s SEC dominance.
“I think anytime you have a team that wins and wins championships, it’s good. What’s the alternative? Not having a champion? Not having somebody in the playoff? So, I think it’s very good.”
“I don’t know about it being good for the perception of the league. It’s not good for the league in general because there’s this gap which causes more churn than you might see normally. Everywhere in the SEC West — let’s think about this — last season at the beginning of the season, Kevin Sumlin, Les Miles and Gus Malzahn were all on the hot seat. Miles gets fired. Sumlin is going to start this season on the hot seat. Malzahn isn’t, but it’s Auburn and weird things can happen. [Bret] Bielema, people have been asking him ‘What can you do to close the gap?’ If you’re in the West, it really kind of sucks the air out of everything. If you’re an AD, if you’re a donor, what do you get excited about? What are donors and ticket buyers excited about? If you’re the AD, you have to manage that. And how do you get donors excited? You change coaches. So, Nick Saban is going to get a lot more people fired when it’s all said and done.”
“Yeah [it’s good]. It’s just like Major League Baseball when you have the Yankees. Or when you have a dynasty with the Patriots or the Cowboys. Dynasties are defined in a bunch of different ways, but when you have a team that is consistently on the top, it gives everybody a target. It makes beating Alabama a huge deal. You have to have that team that you love or you hate, but you care about. Alabama is that team.”
“That’s a loaded question. It’s great for Alabama, but I think it’s ultimately been bad for the SEC. The overall strength of the league was clearly down a year ago. We’ll see what happens this year. I think one of the best things about the SEC was when you had two or three legitimate elite contenders every year. That’s when the league was at its strongest. That’s what they need to get back to for the league to be back to where the performance matches the passion. That’s not saying anything bad about Alabama. They’ve done everything you want to do as a program. It’s a dynasty that’s historic in college football, but I think it’s been a little bit detrimental to the rest of the league.”