NEW ORLEANS – If Georgia played in the ACC, or the Big Ten, or some safe little sandbox like the Sun Belt, what happened Monday night – and actually over the past six BCS championship games – wouldn’t sting nearly as much. Another season would have ended with a national title being won by some school off in the distance, far from campus — not one that the Bulldogs could see by looking out their backdoor.
But there was Alabama late Monday in New Orleans, extending the SEC’s streak of national championships. It’s like a conga line that just keeps growing: Florida-LSU-Florida-Alabama-Auburn-Alabama. Next?
The Crimson Tide buried LSU 21-0, and it will be a wonder if one of those two don’t win it again next season.
Which leads to this question: Can Georgia get there?
This is a mental stretch that Dogs fans, who can be as blinded by faith, loyalty and recruiting rankings as anybody, haven’t subjected themselves to for a while. It’s difficult enough to envision Mark Richt holding up a Waterford crystal football at a school whose last national championship came three decades ago, let alone when the nation’s dominant programs compete in the same conference.
But what Nick Saban has done in a short amount of time at Alabama actually should offer some encouragement.
Granted, we are talking about the consensus best coach in college football. But Saban inherited a mess in Tuscaloosa. He struggled to a 7-6 record in his first season, including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe (a source of great amusement to everybody outside of Tuscaloosa). Since then, he has taken the Tide on an implausible 48-6 run with two BCS titles in four years.
When I asked Saban in the late hours following the win over LSU whether he had ever imagined back in 2007 that such a run was possible, he answered quickly.
“No. Not at all,” he said.
“Honestly, I’m such a process-oriented guy that I don’t really think that way. I go day-to-day. I was so disappointed in the season we had last year. But this team exceeded my expectations.”
The scary thing from Georgia’s standpoint is Saban already knows how he’ll motivate his players next season. He wouldn’t disclose it, but this comment from his news conference likely provides a hint: “The only thing I’m disappointed about is we didn’t win the SEC championship.”
So the coach from the No. 1 team will harp on his players next season that they need to make amends for losing the SEC West Division and a chance at the conference title to LSU.
Les Miles, the coach from the No. 2 team, is motivated because his previously unbeaten bunch was body slammed in the Superdome. (“This was as painful as anything we’ve been through,” he said.)
Does Georgia have any hope for a title any time soon? Maybe. Among those in the Superdome was Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who said what Saban has accomplished, while extreme, is attainable elsewhere.
“This game is so cyclical,” he said. “Teams make runs and things change. There was the domination that Florida State had under coach [Bobby] Bowden. You can look at some of the other teams that were thought to be dynasties, like Miami. It can be done. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. The first question out of everybody’s mouth now is going to be, ‘What’s the top five rankings going to be in 2012?’”
Based on its 10-win season — notwithstanding the Outback Bowl collapse against Michigan State — Georgia may be an AP preseason top-10 team. The Dogs have most of their key players returning, and Richt has received commitments from two of the nation’s top recruits, running back Keith Marshall and defensive end Jordan Jenkins.
After picking Georgia over Alabama on Monday, Jenkins said, “A few years ago I thought I was going to end up at Alabama. I never would’ve thought I was going to Georgia. I said [in an interview] ‘I didn’t like Georgia.’ [The reporter] tried to save me. He said ‘Did you mean Georgia State or Georgia College[sic]?’ I was 14 years old, so [I said] ‘Oh, I meant Georgia College.”
Georgia, it seems, is back on the radar. But that doesn’t nearly put the Dogs on the BCS level yet.
They’ll have to wait for the down cycle in Tuscaloosa.
By Jeff Schultz