“It just means more.”
Yes, that’s a marketing slogan that the Southeastern Conference has copyrighted and ESPN has broadcast into every TV or radio or laptop or tablet or phone or wherever you get your sports in this country.
But it’s true.
And it’s not just because tonight, the College Football Playoff national championship game comes down to the two best teams in the country, Alabama vs. Georgia, which are also the two best teams in the SEC, which is also the best football-playing conference in the country.
It’s because the SEC has had 18 teams play in the last 16 national championship games, and only one time in those 16 national championship games has the SEC not been represented. You can talk about expanding the college football playoffs all you want – and they have and will no doubt continue to do so – but to be the best, you have to beat the best, and that means you have to go through someone (or multiple ‘someones’) from the SEC. And rarely has anyone been able to do that.
No. 1 seeded Alabama (13-1) plays No. 3 seeded Georgia (13-1) at 7 p.m. CT in Indianapolis. The game can be watched on ESPN.
These two teams met once before this season, in the SEC Championship game in early December, a game Alabama won handily, 41-24.
That game was a shocker not so much because Alabama won – the Crimson Tide is carrying a seven-game winning streak against the Bulldogs into this game – but how Alabama won. Nobody saw Georgia, with a defense that had not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season, giving up 41 to a Tide offense that struggled to put up points the week before against Auburn (the Tide trailed 10-3 until the final drive of the game, tying the score to go to overtime where Alabama won, 24-22).
But then Alabama’s current seven-game winning streak against the Bulldogs includes four in championship games: three in the SEC title game and one previous national championship game.
Just to add to Georgia’s frustration, the Bulldogs have held leads over the Tide in the second half of four of those seven losses, only to see the scoreboard flip in the final minutes of regulation or overtime.
It’s not like Georgia is some fluke team that no one saw coming. The Bulldogs have won 10 games or more nine times since Saban got to Alabama in 2007 (which was also the last time Georgia beat Alabama). Georgia has won the Eastern Division six times and made the CFP twice, including a national championship game. Since Smart was named head coach at his alma mater in 2015, his teams have gone 65-15, finished in the top 10 of the CFP rankings and played in a New Year's Six bowl in five straight seasons, won four SEC East titles and one SEC championship. Georgia has been as consistently good and produced as much talent as any team not named Alabama over the last decade.
So, is it mental? Does Alabama get inside Georgia’s head? Does Bulldog coach Kirby Smart, who was part of three national championship teams with Alabama as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator before going home to Georgia in 2015, choke up when he sees his former boss on the other sideline?
“(Alabama has) also been a problem and a thorn for any team they’ve played besides ours,” Smart said on Monday.
Nick Saban is arguably the greatest college football coach in history, with seven national championships (including one at LSU) – which means he has relegated Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was generally considered the greatest college football coach in history with six national championships, to second place status - which would be fighting words in this part of the country if Saban and Bryant didn’t both have most of their coaching success at Alabama.
Will Saban get national championship No. 8 tonight, including his seventh at Alabama, to surpass Bryant in that school’s history?
Or will Georgia finally break through the barrier by beating Alabama and, as former Georgia quarterback Andrew Murray told ESPN, “I could see Georgia, over the next 10 years, winning three national championships.”
Then Murray went on to say what the rest of the country fears.
“But if you don't win now, is it that you just have to wait until Saban retires?”
In the SEC, it just means more.
But I’m not sure that it means more anywhere than it does at Alabama.
Ray Melick is Editor in Chief of 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].