It was always expected that the Alabama Crimson Tide would be here.
Back-to-back national championships and three of the past four BCS titles have a tendency to make you the de facto favorite.
However, before the 2013 season started, the question in the SEC was about who else in the SEC would push the Crimson Tide for SEC supremacy. Georgia was a tipped ball away from dethroning Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC championship, and Texas A&M had pilfered a victory from Bama in Tuscaloosa during their first year in the league.
Both teams returned a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, and both figured to factor heavily into the SEC race.
Then there was South Carolina, Florida and LSU, all teams who opened the year highly ranked and in a position to take a swing at the champs. The Gamecocks had their own Heisman candidate, Florida’s defense was reminiscent of the bunch they rode to a title in 2008 and LSU–despite losing all those underclassmen to the NFL Draft–looked to retool and make another run at the SEC West.
Yet, as we divulge into fall we’re in a familiar situation. The leaves are changing, the BCS standings are in their second week and the Alabama Crimson Tide sit comfortably atop the heap. All the other hopeful national championship contenders in the SEC have subsided and the Alabama Crimson Tide look like they’ll (once again) have the best shot of representing the conference for an eighth straight national title.
LSU stumbled on the road against Georgia and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs lost in Clemson to open the year, then to Missouri in an SEC East showdown before eating a horrendous loss against a Vanderbilt team that had yet to manage a victory in the SEC.
Texas A&M fell short at home against Alabama in the game we hyped for nearly a year and then stumbled against Auburn, while Florida has managed to channel the kinetic energy of Brent Pease into a raging five-alarm offensive dumpster fire. Then, in South Carolina, the Gamecocks have been erratic (see: loss to Tennessee followed by win over Missouri) and Head Ball Coach looks like he’d rather be on a golf course in Myrtle Beach with a 30 rack of Coors.
There’s Missouri, who emerged seemingly overnight as a national title contender only to see their hopes thin dramatically with an overtime loss to South Carolina on Saturday. And, of course, there’s Auburn who sits at 7-1 and will get their chance at Alabama in the Iron Bowl the final week of the season.
Yet, as incredible as Missouri and Auburn’s turnarounds have been, it’s clear that Alabama is in a class of their own, and outside of that Iron Bowl matchup and a slate against LSU in two weeks as both teams come off a bye, it looks like the Crimson Tide will waltz into the SEC championship once again. And while we peruse the Bama schedule in search of some place where they could slip up, it’s become as apparent as ever that Nick Saban has his robots well-oiled and functioning at optimal performance.
Thus far, the Alabama Crimson Tide have given up 17 points to SEC opponents not named Texas A&M in 2013. They’re balanced and effective offensively, they’ve replenished their coffers defensively and addressed what we once targeted as a “questionable” secondary, and they’re beating the spread out of the idea that Nick Saban’s defense could somehow be rendered ineffective by tempo and space.
Alabama looks as dominant as ever, and while the rest of the SEC has about as much parody as ever, Alabama is the class of the SEC once again. However, the main difference is that it isn’t even close.
For the first time in a few years, the focus has shifted away from who will challenge Alabama within the conference to which team is most capable of giving the Alabama Crimson Tide a game come January.
The Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles certainly make valid claims given the success they’ve had against those schedules, but each team has upcoming showcases that will ultimately test their merits. Meanwhile, Alabama looks like they’ll set the cruise from here on out.
Sure, they’ll have to avoid letdowns against LSU and Auburn on the road, but does anyone really expect a letdown from a Nick Saban bunch? Even with all the unpredictability we’ve seen in the SEC this season, Alabama’s presence has been steadying and consistent.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are the most dominant team in the league… again. And they look like the lone national title contender in a conference that we once thought had several of them.