Final SEC Rankings: Alabama underachieves

Alabama’s expectations soared to cosmic levels after the Crimson Tide’s third BCS title in four years last season which is why anything less was unsatisfactory as a follow-up. Nick Saban’s underachievers come in at No. 4 in Saturday Down South’s final SEC rankings, an unrivaled look at how the league’s 14 programs fared last season based on preseason expectations, on-field success, stability, recruiting and program momentum.

Final SEC Rankings of 2013:

14. Arkansas
13. Kentucky
12. Florida 
11. Tennessee
10. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
8. Georgia
7. Vanderbilt
6. Texas A&M
5. LSU
4. Alabama
3. South Carolina
2. Missouri
1. Auburn

Enjoy the debate.

4. Alabama (11-2, 7-1)

Eleven games and 11 wins.

It sure looked as if the Crimson Tide were heading to Pasadena heading into the 2013 Iron Bowl, armed with A.J. McCarron, a No. 1 ranking and one of the nation’s elite defenses. Then Alabama’s season spiraled out of control thanks to Chris Davis’ improbably 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown that could go down as the singlemost significant play in SEC history.

The mighty had fallen.

On-field performance: B; Expect the unexpected

Let’s just come out and say it — Alabama underachieved by reaching the Sugar Bowl as a BCS at-large and not as the conference champion. The Crimson Tide had their sights set on national significance until a road hiccup against their arch nemesis tossed the rankings — both human and computer — into disarray.

McCarron, Alabama’s outspoken senior captain, received award buzz pre-Auburn and vaulted himself into a finalist spot after a 99-yard touchdown pass against the Tigers in the fourth quarter marked his ‘Heisman moment’. His numbers were actually better as a junior — 30 TD:3 INT vs. 28:7 — but voters appreciated his poise and leadership in the huddle for one of the nation’s best teams.

Sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon had another solid season, but fumbling problems damaged his over ally value. He scored touchdowns in 10 different games and finished with 1,418 yards from scrimmage. He’ll be pressed by rising sophomore Derrick Henry next fall.

Expectations: C; Sugar Bowl loss leaves bad taste

Remember Oklahoma’s dissection of Alabama in New Orleans? It reminded me of the Crimson Tide’s BCS loss to Utah a few years prior after Saban’s group had limped into that matchup following a disheartening setback to Florida inside the Georgia Dome.

RELATED: Alabama regular season recap

This year’s Sugar Bowl was the consolation prize for the Crimson Tide while Auburn got to play in the spotlight — Alabama’s perceived spotlight — the following week.

Coaching: B-; Special teams snafu ends season

Take the Texas A&M and Auburn games out of the equation and Alabama had one of the most dominant defenses in college football history through an 11-game stretch. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s a mastermind at taking the opposition’s best player out of their comfort zone unless his name’s Johnny Manziel who exposed chinks in the armor for a second straight season.

Auburn’s running game was abnormally good and gashed the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked unit for a season-high 296 yards rushing. Tre Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry and pulled the Tigers within a touchdown by intermission. The final 32 seconds was cataclysmic, a busted coverage on Sammie Coates’ 39-yard reception to tie the game and Saban’s incessant plead with officials before the game’s last play.

Alabama’s coach got his extra second and backup kicker Adam Griffith booted the potential game-winning 57-yarder a few feet short. That’s when Davis stole the show, the Crimson Tide’s dream season and gave the Tigers renewed hope toward a BCS title.

Recruiting: A+; Rich get incredibly richer

Is there anything Saban doesn’t do?

On paper, it appears Alabama’s 2014 signing class could be the best in college football history headlined by a handful of individual five stars and the top linebacker from South Carolina. Defensive end Da’Shawn Hand has future All-American potential, the top-ranked player in the country by some recruiting services. The 6-foot-4 playmaker was unblock able at the prep level, a mini Jadeveon Clowney with comparable quickness.

MORE: Alabama signing day recap

Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, LA) is rated the nation’s top offensive tackle by 247Sports and has tremendous size at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds. Billy Napier was the point man in his recruitment and locked in the Under Armour All-American in 2013. Robinson enrolled in January and will be ready for spring practice.

Bo Scarbrough, a local speedster out of IMG Academy in Tuscaloosa after transferring from Bradenton, Fla., can play a variety of positions on offense and is the big-play threat of this spring’s haul. A late flip from five-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans, who was strong to Auburn, was an unanticipated steal.

Program momentum: A; Title or not, Alabama’s still strong

Saban tossed around the word ‘complacency’ heading into last season after consecutive national titles. He wanted this year’s team to write its own history and they were on their way before Jordan-Hare. With the banner ‘defending national champions’ now waving in Tallahassee, Fla., the Crimson Tide can shift their focus on getting back to the game that counts by program standards.

Until Saban and his all-star staff go elsewhere, Alabama will continue to be a national title favorite in the new playoff system.

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports