SEC dominance can be broken up into three periods involving three coaches.
Bear Bryant. Steve Spurrier.
During the Saban era Alabama has flourished with talent and championships. The Crimson Tide have won three consecutive SEC titles and five of the past 10. Saban’s Alabama teams have won four national championships and came seconds short of a fifth in last season’s thrilling 35-31 loss to Clemson.
During the past decade, the SEC has stated its claim as the best conference in college football. But has Alabama become too good for even the rest of the conference?
The Crimson Tide’s reign hasn’t showed signs of slowing down any time soon. Therefore, a fear exists that Alabama has widened the gap between itself and the rest of the SEC.
There is parity in the league, yes, but only behind Saban and his Crimson Tide. No, teams do not prepare, develop or build the same way Alabama does. That’s why the SEC is a one-team league, and the gap is so big right now that it almost seems foolish to contemplate picking someone besides Alabama to win the conference so long as Saban is coaching in Tuscaloosa.
“The consistency of that program over the years did not come overnight,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who is 1-4 against Saban’s Tide during his time with the Aggies. “I think people understand that. But you can’t argue that that is the mark, and that’s where everybody wants to be.
“You can win a lot of games in the West, and that one can take its toll on you. I think it took its toll on us the last couple of years, matter of fact.”
Alabama takes its toll on everyone. In the past three seasons, the Tide have owned the league, winning 25 of 27 games against SEC opponents. The only SEC West opponent who has managed to beat Alabama since Auburn’s magical kick-six win in 2013 is Ole Miss (twice); the SEC East, meanwhile, is 0-9 against the Crimson Tide.
Of Alabama’s 25 wins over SEC opponents in three seasons, 20 have been by double figures, including the last eight — which Alabama won by a combined 219 points (27.4-point margin of victory). During that stretch, five different SEC teams have won 10 games, but West has largely failed to challenge the Tide. The East, for its part, has been widely condemned as one of the nation’s worst divisions.
… I’d say a common theme has emerged.
… This year? It feels like Alabama and everyone else—just as it did last year. Since losing the Kick-Six game to Auburn in November 2013, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have so thoroughly dominated the SEC that they’ve sucked all the competitive oxygen from a league that used to produce multiple national title contenders on an annual basis. And unless some teams have improved dramatically in the offseason, it doesn’t feel like anyone is ready to close the gap.
Tide coach Nick Saban launched his appearance Wednesday with a crack that probably turned the stomachs of his fellow coaches. “I’m kind of proud of the fact that this is my 16th SEC Media Day, the 11th at Alabama,” Saban said. “I’m sure that there’s nobody in this room that thought that would ever happen when it started out 11 years ago.” Couple this with recent comments from the 65-year-old Saban that he has no intention of retiring anytime soon, and that means misery for the rest of the league.
Since 2014, Alabama has gone 25–2 in SEC play, won three SEC titles and reached the College Football Playoff three times. The average margin in those SEC games is an 18.2-point Alabama win. Take out Ole Miss, which beat Alabama in ’14 and ’15 and which pushed the Tide in a five-point Alabama win last year, and the number jumps to 20.8. With the Rebels’ recruiting hamstrung in recent years by an NCAA case, the one team that had figured out how to compete with the Tide could be headed downhill. So it’ll be up to the teams that have averaged a three-touchdown whipping from Alabama to find a way to hang with the Tide.
While Alabama’s dominance is great for everyone in Tuscaloosa, it’s terrible for the health of the SEC.
Nick Saban is like the weather — everybody talks about him, but nobody does anything about it. Or at least nobody’s done anything about it yet.
The problem isn’t drawing up a road map for success. It’s pretty obvious that to compete with Alabama on its own terms means a program has to possess three things: (1) excellent coaching; (2) quality roster depth; and (3) quarterback play good enough to present a legitimate threat to Alabama’s defensive scheme. As the cliché goes, though, the devil’s in the details. If those items were easy to achieve, Nick Saban wouldn’t be the $7+ million a year colossus he is today. (At present, the only program out there I would acknowledge that meets all three criteria on a consistent basis is Ohio State, although I can see an argument being made for FSU. Give Clemson a little more time and I may concede that, too.)
I will say that, judging from recruiting, you can see Kirby Smart buys the same road map. It’s not his vision that should be questioned, merely his ability to execute his vision. That’s something we should get a better handle on this season, I think.
One thing I’m a little curious about is whether Smart had to explain his philosophy to return Georgia football to SEC prominence — which means beating Alabama at least occasionally — to get the job offer. It would have been impressive to see him paint that picture. (Then again, he may have had Butts-Mehre at “I’m interviewing for the South Carolina job”.)
Let’s hope he shows us in the next couple of seasons that he knows what he’s doing.