Heard often: Georgia’s path to the SEC championship game was facilitated by a schedule that didn’t include Western powers Alabama (No. 2 in the BCS standings), LSU (No. 7) and Texas A&M (No. 9).
Heard less often: Alabama’s path to the SEC championship game was facilitated by a schedule that didn’t include Eastern powers Georgia (No. 3), Florida (No. 4) and South Carolina (No. 10).
Heard often: Georgia’s biggest victory of the season was largely a function of six Florida turnovers.
Heard less often: Alabama’s biggest victory of the season was largely a function of four failed kicking ploys from the fertile mind of LSU’s Les Miles.
There’s a military acronym — RHIP. It stands for, “Rank has its privileges.” Ranking matters in college football, where two-thirds of the BCS standings consist of human polls, and privilege has tangible benefits. The benefit of being Alabama is that you never have to explain yourself. You’re Bama. ‘Nuff said.
On Nov. 5, 2011, second-ranked Alabama lost at home to No. 1 LSU. The Crimson Tide dropped one spot in the BCS standings. Two weeks later, Bama was back at No. 2, a position that enabled it to win the BCS title without taking its division or conference.
On Nov. 10, 2012, top-ranked Alabama lost at home to No. 15 Texas A&M. The Tide slid to No. 4, trailing three unbeaten teams. A week later, Bama was back at No. 2. Contrast this with Oregon, which was ranked No. 2 but lost at home to No. 13 Stanford. The Ducks dropped No. 5, behind three once-beaten teams. Mortals pay for losing. Alabama never falls far or stays down long. Alone among collegiate programs, it comes equipped with an aura.
But you know what? The halo fits. When you get as good as Alabama has gotten, you’ve earned the benefit of every doubt — not that there’s much cause for doubting. This is the premier program in the only conference that matters, and it keeps re-staking the claim.
Two years ago, its nemesis had the nerve to land Cam Newton and beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa after trailing 24-0 and won a national championship of its own, but where is Auburn today? Looking for a new coach. Where is Bama? Two games from a third BCS title in four seasons.
Even by Alabama’s lofty standards, its place in contemporary football is remarkable. It reigns over the sport in a way not seen since … Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson? Notre Dame under Ara Parseghian? Bama itself under the Bear?
Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in each of the past five seasons, and in 2009 and 2011 it was No. 1 at the end. Bama moves inexorably from strength to strength. It has the ablest recruits, the wildest fans, the best coach.
About Nick Saban, all we need to know is this: He lost four first-round draftees to the NFL in April 2011 and won a national championship 8 1/2 months later. It was his third BCS title, and still he labors as if hellhounds were on his trail. Apologies to Urban Meyer, but Saban is the emperor of college football. Know how the NBA borrowed Jerry West’s silhouette for its logo? The BCS could do the same with Saban.
No, Alabama doesn’t win every championship, or even every game. It lost to A&M 2 1/2 weeks ago. It lost twice in a row to LSU, where once Saban worked. It lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2009. Heck, it lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. But that was near the end of Saban’s first season as coach, which ended with the Tide at 7-6. Alabama has since gone 59-7, which in this league in this era is outrageous.
Still, there are gradations within the greatness. If you look hard, you’ll note that the Tide’s defense is yielding 40 more yards a game this season than it did in 2011. (Now as then, Alabama leads the nation in total defense.) In eight quarters plus an overtime, the LSU of last season managed 331 yards and nine points against the Tide D; in four quarters last month, LSU as quarterbacked by the Georgia exile Zach Mettenberger managed 435 yards and 17 points.
If you’re Georgia, which has reached consecutive SEC title games without exactly swaying the electorate, those numbers offer hope for what looms as the Bulldogs’ most significant game since Herschel Walker split for the USFL. Any program in search of ultimate validation must get past Saban and his minions. The past five national titles have been taken either by Alabama or by a team that beat a Saban-coached Alabama.
Win Saturday and nobody will ever again ask these Bulldogs, “Yeah, but who did you beat?” Win Saturday and Georgia will have bettered Bama, and Bama is the best. ‘Nuff said.
Further reading: This week’s Heat Check — Destiny’s Dogs? No-bowl Jackets? Whoa, Nelly.
By Mark Bradley