HOOVER, Ala. — SEC Media Days has come and gone, and the No. 1 topic from the four-day event centered around whether anyone can challenge Alabama football.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban doesn’t believe the SEC is a one-team league. He believes the SEC is improving each year.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in our league,” Saban said Wednesday. “I think it’s very challenging from a consistency standpoint in our league.”
Saban is in the minority with that thinking. Alabama football has won 17 consecutive SEC games, three league titles in a row and four of the last five.
Atlanta, site of the SEC Championship Game, has become Alabama’s second home.
No one can definitively name a team 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 Thursday. “We’re all trying to catch up to Alabama.”
Does Alabama’s success put pressure on other coaches?
“I don’t know that it’s pressure. I think what it is is in just about every league — well, not really every league, but you go through a time where one team has — is really the mark,” Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin said. “And we’ve looked at it that way since we’ve been here. So, the pressure is that — I don’t know — I really don’t know that that’s the case. I know that that’s the mark that everybody wants to be.”
‘You know what you have to do’
Sumlin, Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M shocked Alabama in 2012 with a win in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Aggies haven’t had much success against the Crimson Tide since. There was a shootout loss to Alabama in 2013 followed by beatdowns at the hands of the Tide in 2014 and 2015. The Aggies have yet to make it to the SEC Championship Game.
“You know what you have to do to get to Atlanta, in our situation,” Sumlin said. “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.
“So, from my standpoint and from what we do, we got a lot of games in the West to play. And you can win a lot of games in the West, and that one can take its toll on you. I think it took its toll on us the last couple of years, matter of fact. So we’ve got to do a better job of handling things mentally.”
The Aggies had a shot at knocking off Alabama last season. Texas A&M led 14-13 early in the third quarter. A few minutes later, things completely fell a part for the Aggies.
“I look back at that game,” Sumlin said. “I think we’re winning the game with, what, six minutes to go in the third quarter and a couple things happen and we lose by ten points, or whatever it was, two touchdowns. And then, you know, kind of unravel after that. So, the mental part of that deal and what you do day-to-day, to get back to the question earlier, is the focus.
“And, you know, that — without question, for what Nick has done and what that program has done, they were ahead of the curve a long time ago with how they approach things, and I think, you know, that was – has basically been the model of the people you tried to follow.”
‘You’ve got to beat Alabama’
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s lone win over Alabama as the Tigers head coach came in 2013 in the infamous Kick-6 game. The Tigers won the SEC that season — the only time a team not named Alabama football has won the league since 2012.
Like Texas A&M, Auburn has had little to no success against Alabama football since.
“Well, I mean, obviously they’re on the top. I think they won it the last three years,” Malzahn said. “They’re the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every year, and they’re playing at a high level. What I do like about this team is they have high expectations. Their goal is to win the SEC Championship. And to do that, you’ve got to beat Alabama.
“And the last two times we beat them (2010 and 2013), we won the league and we played for the national championship, winning one of those and coming close to a second time. But we got them at home. That’s a positive. But we have a very confident team.”