Have Saban, Alabama made rest of SEC quit trying to be No. 1?
Alabama has won three consecutive SEC Championships and four of the past five. The machine that Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa is only getting better and more dominant. Bama’s 38-point victory in Saturday’s championship game is a testament to the increasing power that the Tide wields over the rest of the league.
That Alabama finished the season undefeated, while the next-best SEC team finished with four losses clearly displays the disparity between it and the also-rans. Yes, the Tide is rolling. It’s rolling at a rate the 13 other SEC programs can’t keep pace with; a pace the others appear to have given up on trying to replicate.
Alabama’s meteoric rise has left its competition in the dust. So much so that the rest of the conference has resigned itself to playing for second place. And in doing so, the SEC has lost its grip on the title of best conference in the country.
The Big Ten placed four teams among the top eight in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Next to Alabama, Auburn was the highest ranked SEC team — at No. 14. The Pac-12 faired better with No. 4 Washington, No. 9 USC, and No. 10 Colorado. Even the ACC had a better showing, with three teams in the top 13 (No. 2 Clemson, No. 11 Florida State, No. 13 Louisville).
Even the Big 12 had two in the top 12; No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 12 Oklahoma State.
Yes, the SEC has waived the white flag on catching Alabama and in 2016 at least settled into mediocrity. LSU’s hiring of Ed Orgeron marked the official beginning, although the slide in Baton Rouge had been coming for a few years now.
“L6U,” as some Alabama fans are fondly addressing the Tigers these days referring to six consecutive victories over their former rivals to the SEC title, illustrates the latest trend within the conference. LSU fired Les Miles because he produced a boring offense and couldn’t beat Alabama.
Jumping aboard the “good enough” train, LSU made Orgeron its head coach; the guy whose team got shut out 10-0 by Alabama. That effort was good enough to get Orgeron the permanent job.
You can debate whether Jimbo Fisher has a “better” job at FSU or merely an “easier” one because he doesn’t have to deal with Alabama, but the result was the same: LSU didn’t get him. It didn’t get Tom Herman, either, who likely saw an easier path to the Playoff at Texas.
No, LSU has joined the rest of the SEC in battling for second-best. Texas A&M is on board. Three consecutive 8-4 regular seasons are “good enough” to keep head coach Kevin Sumlin around College Station.
Tennessee is on board. Back-to-back 8-4 regular seasons are “good enough” to keep Butch Jones around Knoxville.
Florida is all aboard, wittingly or unwittingly. Consecutive three-loss seasons have been “good enough” to actually win the SEC East. It’s also been “good enough” to get routed by a combined 52 points in the past two SEC Championship Games.
As it stands right now, Jim McElwain carries the “Best of the Rest” banner that the all other SEC schools not named Alabama now aspire to.
At least Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze actually own victories over Alabama this decade. That’s something only Sumlin can also say among the current collection of SEC head coaches. But even those programs have slid into the 4-loss “good enough” category. Heck, Ole Miss didn’t even do that this season, tumbling to 5-7 without so much as bowl eligibility to hang its hat on.
No, unless something unforeseen occurs, the 13 SEC programs will battle it out for second-best in the years to come. And sadly they seem perfectly fine with that lot in life.