Title game was a season recap in 60 minutes; Alabama is SEC's only good team
We were pretty sure we knew all we needed to know about the pecking order in the SEC before Saturday night’s championship game between Alabama and Florida. Now we know with absolute certainty.
There is Alabama, and then there is everyone else.
The Crimson Tide won 29-15, but it really wasn’t that close. A late Florida touchdown got them eight irrelevant points – although the gamblers who had Alabama minus-17 points would argue the TD was damn relevant. Alabama’s defense was suffocating, Derrick Henry secured his Heisman Trophy – if he hadn’t already – with 189 yards and a touchdown and once again we were left to know with certainty that the best coach in college football strolls the Alabama sideline.
There is Nick Saban, and then there is everyone else.
We’ve known about Saban’s greatness for years, so there is no need to gush for too long about the 64-year-old guru. Not only does he have the best players, but they’ll also outwork you, too. So will his coaches.
There was nothing that Florida tried to do Saturday that Alabama didn’t have an answer for. Coming in, we knew Florida’s only hope was to get some points on special teams and hope the Gators defense – which is very good, by the way – could hold on long enough to keep them in it.
It worked that way for a while. Antonio Callaway returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, giving Florida a 7-2. It wasn’t until just before halftime that Alabama finally pushed ahead. It took a while to get the lead, but when they did, they weren’t giving it up.
Henry did just enough. He ground out 189 yards, passing Herschel Walker for the biggest season ever by an SEC running back with 1,986 yards. And you have to give offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin some props too. He called a good game and put QB Jake Coker in enough comfortable positions to have a clean, efficient night. He was 18-for-26 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Even the 29 was a deceivingly low point total, considering they let the clock run out at the end of the game with the ball on the Florida 3-yard line. Overall, it was a good-enough night for the Alabama offense.
And, of course, there is this, as it always is with Alabama under Saban.
There is the Alabama defense, and then there is everyone else.
Kirby Smart gave the Tide faithful a nice going-away present on his way to Athens. Florida’s offense didn’t score a single point until the outcome was no longer in doubt, scoring on a 46-yard pass with five minutes to go and Bama up 29-7 at the time. Florida only had 180 yards all night and rushed for only 15 yards on 21 attempts. Even more impressively, 92 of the 180 total yards came on two pass plays (46 each). On their other 43 plays, Florida gained just 88 yards, a meager 2.04 yards per play.
Florida’s offensive struggles also are a microcosm for all that ails the SEC this year. Quarterback play for Florida was atrocious, but they’re certainly not alone in the SEC. It’s just a really down here for quarterback play in the SEC. Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and Brandon Allen (Arkansas) are the only ones who can say they had good years. Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee) was close, but he will be so much better in the future.
The rest, forget it. Florida was a mess after Will Grier’s suspension. Brandon Harris couldn’t get it done at LSU even with eight and nine men in the box trying to stop Leonard Fournette. Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all juggled QBs, and all with disastrous results.
And it’s not to say that Jake Coker was anything exceptional, but he was certainly good enough for Alabama. He’s made plays when he’s needed to, both with him arm and his legs. If he’s Alabama’s weak link, well, then they’re not very weak.
The rest can’t be said for the SEC. When all the polls come out later today, Alabama will be the only SEC team in the top 10. And for as much as we all like to brag about the greatness of the SEC, it’s probably about right. No one else deserves to be ranked among the nation’s elite. And no one else besides Alabama deserves even a second of conversation about being a potential playoff team.
Not this year, because there’s only one.
There’s Alabama, and then there is everyone else.