Somebody really needs to do something about this Alabama problem in the SEC.
What “problem,” you ask?
That “domination” thing, I contend.
Look, I’m very happy for all those folks in Tuscaloosa and in the Tide Nation who pour all that passion and money into their program. They’re certainly getting their money’s worth, it would seem.
Fans of other programs can only fantasize what it must be like to show up wherever Bama is playing on any given weekend with nary an ounce of angst about how it might turn out. Every game is like a validation of their belief system.
“Yeah, we’re the best,” they walk away saying afterward, “now where do you want to eat?”
But there are 13 other teams in this league, including seven on the other side. And thanks to Nick Saban and his “program model,” they’re all spending money hand over fist and recruiting their hind-ends off trying to just compete with the monster that man has created. And it’s not going well.
This all made for an interesting conversation recently between me and an SEC Country colleague. We started talking about what team, what program from the East specifically, has a chance to step up and kill this beast known as Bama.
Heading into the season, that looked to be Tennessee, without question. And the Vols, though they wiggled and wobbled most of the way, held up their end of the bargain for a while. Then they dropped a double-overtime decision to Texas A&M the week before playing host to Bama. The Crimson Tide then summarily dismantled UT and its little wannabe dreams 49-10 on the third Saturday in October in Knoxville.
To be sure, injuries somewhat flipped the script on the Vols this year. And they can still get another date with Bama in the SEC title game, if a few things break right for them between now and then. But that’s a team that’s going to undergo a fairly significant transition after this year. Butch Jones will have his work cut out next season.
Georgia may eventually get itself in position to contend with this SEC behemoth, but it has become quite apparent this season that might take a while. Certainly, head coach Kirby Smart has brought the Bama Template with him to Athens and may even have had access to the some super-secret ingredients to Saban’s success. But if anything has become clear in Year One of his tenure with the 4-3 Bulldogs, they have a long, long way to go.
No, it’s really Florida that is carrying that banner for the East at the moment. Jim McElwain, another apple from the Saban coaching tree, carried the Gators to the SEC championship game in his first year at the helm. And he’s got them in the driver’s seat again this year.
Of course, last year’s attempt to unseat the mighty Tide didn’t go well. Bama outgained the Gators 437 yards to 180 in a 29-15 contest that really wasn’t that close. Florida had 81 total yards and minus-3 rushing before a late-scoring drive.
It’s kind of always been a Florida-Alabama thing when it comes to SEC domination. Those two schools have met in the championship game for the conference title eight times. And the Gators won a lot of them early on.
But there seemed to have been a sort of shift in the landscape in that 2009 game, when Bama’s 32-13 victory left Tim Tebow almost inconsolable. The subsequent meetings haven’t been close. The 646 yards the Tide rolled up in a 42-21 win in Tuscaloosa in 2014 are still the most given up by a Florida team.
There is hope, however. There is one defense in the SEC that stands ahead of Bama’s right now and that’s the one fielded by the Gators. They lead the league and are second in the nation in total defense (252.5 ypg), scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and passing defense (132.8 ypg). It remains the other side of the ball that Florida is still trying to get worked out.
Meanwhile, Bama seems to have solved that one. Saban handed the offensive keys over Lane Kiffin in ’14 and asked him to get things moving over there. And they have. The Tide are putting up an SEC best 43.9 points a game and averaging nearly 500 yards a game.
This is great if you’re for Bama. If you follow one of those other 13 SEC programs, that’s a bit disconcerting.