The Throwback: This was the game we expected
STILL THE ONE
Alabama was a 24-point favorite going into Saturday’s SEC Championship Game against Florida, and by the end of the first quarter the Tide had a 16-9 lead despite having minus-7 yards on offense.
So once Alabama found a little space against a Florida defense that was stretched thin, things went as expected and a 54-16 final was the result. Alabama became the third team to score 50 or more points in an SEC championship game, joining the 2010 and 2013 Auburn teams.
One of my best friends, a Florida alumnus, summed it up best: “We competed hard and still lost by 38. That’s tough to take.”
But it was appropriate. Alabama is THAT much better than the Gators and THAT much better than the SEC as a whole. While the conference seemed to take a step back in quality this season, Alabama kept moving forward and has taken it dominance over the rest of the SEC to another level.
In the weeks ahead we can speculate on which programs are in a position to seriously challenge the Tide for the throne and whether or not Alabama will be as strong with the likely departure of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. But for now, Alabama deserves all the accolades it has received, which includes the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.
MAKE THE SEC GREAT AGAIN!
Roy Kramer gets the credit for having the foresight to understand what a conference championship game would do for the branding and financial well being of the SEC. It was a risky move because Alabama had to basically put its right to play in the national championship on the line against an 8-3 Florida team in the inaugural game in 1992.
But it worked out that day for the SEC and it’s worked out over the past 25 years as the game and the conference has gotten bigger and better.
Now it’s time to be the leaders of change again and eliminate the divisions. That would allow the two best teams play for the conference title and all but guarantee the winner a spot in the Playoff.
The conference championship has become devalued, with expansion creating schedules more unbalanced than ever before.
Back when the SEC decided to split into divisions, the unbalanced nature of the schedule was designed to benefit the top teams. In the East the top teams were Florida and Tennessee; in the West the top team was Alabama (while Auburn dealt with NCAA sanctions).
The move worked as Florida or Tennessee was the SEC East representative for the first 10 years until Georgia got it right by hiring Mark Richt and closing the gap. Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer left Florida and Tennessee, respectively, in the years that followed.
Alabama was the SEC West representative for four of the first five years before the Tide got in trouble with the NCAA. Then other programs stepped up and LSU hired Nick Saban at the end of the 1999 season, which changed everything for the next 15 years (outside of his short stint with the Dolphins).
Now it’s time to adjust these schedules. It’s impossible to get a full “balanced” schedule in college football, but if the conference gave each team two regular opponents and put the other six games in a schedule blender, we would at least get better representation of the conference’s strength through to the championship game.
Sadly I don’t have the faith in Greg Sankey to make these necessary changes like I did with Kramer or Mike Slive. But I’m hopeful it can happen soon.
McELWAIN MUST MAKE THEM WAIT
Florida has quarterback issues. They have had issues at the position ever since Will Grier was busted for PEDs.
Before Grier got popped the Gators were 6-0 and ranked in the top 5. McElwain generally looks like a good coach when he’s got a good quarterback prospect and looks like a barely above .500 coach (10-8) without one.
Now there’s some pressure for McElwain to remove the redshirt from one of his freshman quarterbacks, Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask, before the Gators play Iowa in a very meaningless Outback Bowl.
This is short-sighted thinking that would only serve a restless fan base with more ammunition against a guy that deserves a little more respect and patience.
First of all why not burn the redshirt against Florida State or Alabama if the redshirt needed to be burned? At least those games had some meaning. Why wait for the most meaningless game in two months to do it?
Second, what if they aren’t ready? Not all freshmen are created equal and not all are ready to play immediately. Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason aren’t the rule, they are the exception. Not all quarterbacks are three-and-out. Most actually play through their eligibility. I’m not saying Franks won’t be the next Cam Newton but there’s an EXTREMELY likely possibility he won’t be the next Cam Newton.
So why put a quarterback who’s not ready out there for the fan base to digest and open yourself up to more criticism during the offseason? Give these young men the full year they deserve to develop and prepare for a quarterback battle in the spring. Don’t sacrifice long-term gains for a short-term boost.
MUSCHAMP TALENT BE GONE
Sticking with Florida, there’s the argument that McElwain’s offenses have struggled because he’s still playing with the talent that former coach Will Muschamp recruited. And that’s fair. Muschamp has never been known as having a great eye for offensive talent.
But on the flip side, Muschamp is one of the best at building a defense and McElwain will have to say goodbye to those guys as well.
The offseason losses on the defensive side at Florida could be numerous.
In the secondary, cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are likely to declare early and safety Marcus Maye is a senior. Junior safety Marcell Harris should stay but depending on his draft grade might leave early as well. Cornerback Duke Dawson will stay and is a projected starter with freshman Chauncey Gardner.
Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian are senior linebackers who will be playing their final games in the coming weeks. Alex Anzalone was a possible early entry before an injury ended his season early. Freshmen Kylan Johnson and David Reese showed plenty of promise when given their opportunity.
Bryan Cox and Joey Ivie are the seniors on the defensive line and there’s no reason to think that junior Caleb Brantley won’t explore where his draft stock is. CeCe Jefferson is a stud who will return next year and there’s a lot of young potential on the line but no proven performers.
Worst-case scenario the Gators could lose at least 8 or 9 starters or major contributors from the 2016 defense.
McElwain better get that quarterback situation solved in a hurry because the defense might not be there to bail him out in 2017.