Hoover, AL—There is nothing quite like Alabama Day at SEC Media Days.
At dawn’s early light on Wednesday I walked into the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel at least 90 minutes before head coach Nick Saban and three Alabama players (Calvin Ridley, Bradley Bozeman, Minkah Fitzpatrick) would enter the building. But the Crimson Tide fans were already congregating with hats, helmets, magazines and various other things to be signed.
The first game with Florida State in Atlanta is still a month and a half away and these crimson filled people were pumped up on an early July morning.
Why? In case you haven’t noticed, Alabama is on a little bit of a roll (pun completely intended).
Alabama fans celebrate Wednesday in Hoover, AL
How big of a roll? Consider this: Starting with Saban’s second season (2008) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is 64-8 in SEC regular season games. Three of those teams were 8-0 in the regular season. Five were 7-1. One (2010) was an unthinkable 5-3 (that’s the year Auburn won the national championship).
Saban’s teams have played in six SEC championship games in the past nine seasons, winning five.
Alabama has won four national championships (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015) in that stretch and came within one second of winning a fifth, losing to Clemson 35-31 in the CFP championship game in Tampa.
And here is the kicker: Alabama was 14-1 last season with an SEC championship and were one defensive stop away from a national championship. But when he arrived here on Wednesday Saban was talking about how Alabama bounces back from “disappointment.”
We should all be so disappointed.
“When you win or lose there is always self-assessment,” said Saban. “When you lose the mindset is more that I’m willing to change.”
And here was the money quote from Saban and the message he came to deliver to his players via the media:
“I don’t want to waste a failure.”
At the end these media days the collective representatives of the Fourth Estate will pick Alabama to yet again win the SEC championship. With that reality as a backdrop we come before you today to ask two questions:
1—Has Alabama’s dominance in the Saban era been a good thing or a bad thing for the SEC?
2—Is there any team in this conference that could break the Crimson Tide’s stranglehold on this conference this season?
Let’s start with question No. 1: First we should point out that the SEC has won eight of the last 11 national championships and that four different conference schools (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida) have taken the hardware home. No other conference can say that.
But for those who worry about the SEC being pegged as Alabama and the 13 other guys, last season was a bit unnerving. In conference play there was one 8-0 team (Alabama), one 6-2 team (Florida), and two 5-3 teams (Auburn, LSU). The other 10 teams were 4-4 or worse.
No SEC team other than Alabama won more than eight games in the regular season. Auburn went to the Sugar Bowl, the SEC’s top bowl assignment after the playoffs, with an 8-4 record.
In retrospect I think that 2016 was an anomaly based on a lot of young quarterbacks and the fact that teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky elevated their programs to bowl eligibility
For the record, Saban ain’t buying the dominance narrative. That’s easy for him to say because he’s the one doing the dominating.
“I think there is a lot of parity in our league,” he said. “I think it’s very challenging from a consistency standpoint.”
Saban reminded us that this is his 11th SEC Media Days as the head coach of Alabama.
“I’m sure there is nobody in this room who thought that would ever happen,” he said.
He’s right about that. And right now there are a lot of people in this league who wish Saban would go ahead and retire to his vacation home at Lake Burton. I don’t think that happens anytime soon.
But again, is Alabama’s dominance a bad thing for the SEC?
See, I don’t think it is. I think it gives everybody else in the league something to shoot for. Saban gets extraordinary support from his university and together they have set the bar incredibly high. I think excellence should always be admired and emulated.
It’s like I told some non-SEC fans who complained to me about the conference’s dominance. I had a three-world response: “Just beat them.” Problem solved.
Which brings us to question 2. Is there a team that could end Alabama’s run THIS season?
There are, in my opinion, just four teams that have the athleticism to do it in 2017:
**–Auburn: If transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham is what the Auburn coaches think he is, the Tigers have the weapons around him to be a contender. They have depth at running back, a good offensive line, and an underrated defense. Auburn gets Alabama at home.
**–LSU: The Tigers have RB Darius Guice plus enough athletes on both sides of the ball to be a spoiler if they get decent quarterback play. That’s a big if. LSU has to go to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. In fact, LSU has only three home SEC games.
**–Georgia: The Bulldogs have the defense to challenge a team like Alabama but the offensive line has to grow up in a hurry. If they could get to Atlanta, there is a chance the o-line will have grown up enough to make it a game.
**–Florida: The Gators have made it to Atlanta the past two seasons and have gotten thrashed pretty good by Alabama both times. Could this time be different? The Gators have a very good offensive line and a big-time set of receivers.
And that’s it, folks.