ATLANTA — A caravan of Alabama players started making their way through the tunnel and the party was on. The jerseys said it all: 2023 SEC champions. Some players held up newspapers headlined “BAMA IS BACK!” ” and almost every player raised their hand for the LANK team motto (“Let all the naysayers know”). Soon after, the smell of cigar smoke began to fill the halls of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Inside the locker room, Nick Saban had a simple word for his team that threw the room into pandemonium.
“My speech after the game was one word: celebrate,” Saban said.
An incredible showdown of Goliaths in the sport ended in a No. 8 Alabama wins 27-24 against No. 1 Georgia. But it quickly became overshadowed by a larger topic: Does Alabama deserve to make the College Football Playoff? The Crimson Tide are 12-1 with a win over the back-to-back national champions, who were riding a 29-game winning streak into Saturday. Add wins against the leaderboard Ole Mademoiselle, Tennessee And LSU teams, and Alabama’s resume is as strong as any. On the Alabama side, there shouldn’t be much need to make its case to the selection committee.
“We just made our statement,” linebacker Deontae Lawson said. “We just beat the No. 1 team in the country. This is our statement here.
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That’s a good point. The coming hours will be filled with debate, from TV shows to social media feeds to text group chats and lounges, over which teams should be selected. And for Alabama, the perceived success of its season will largely depend on whether its name is called. But it shouldn’t. Regardless of the CFP’s decision Sunday, Alabama’s season is a success because it has done what it set out to do at the start of the season: re-establish itself as “the standard” in college football.
There was more at stake Saturday in Atlanta than an SEC championship and a potential playoff berth. There’s also the unofficial label for top dog in sports. It had been Alabama for over a decade, and it wasn’t close. GeorgiaThe streak of three straight undefeated regular seasons and back-to-back national championships called that into question. It was a topic of discussion at SEC media days in July, and it only intensified during Alabama’s early season struggles, including a loss to Texas.
But a 10-game winning streak at Alabama set up a clash between the standard-bearer and the program that had become its equal. Saturday’s game was a potential paradigm-shifting moment: Would Georgia end all debate over who runs the SEC — and college football — now? Or would Alabama reassert its dominance?
Alabama understood the magnitude of the game and the pregame message reflected that.
“The message was that we were the standard,” offensive lineman Tyler Booker said. “There would be no Georgia without Alabama. The standard can only be imitated and not reproduced. There is an Alabama and there will always be an Alabama. It’s been a slow couple of years, but the norm is there. We are the standard.
Alabama has won each of its last nine appearances in the SEC Championship Game. This latest victory made it possible to achieve the historic objective of the program: “To be a champion”. And as the sport’s forward thinking looks toward Selection Sunday, Alabama’s journey is worth a look back.
Minutes removed from a double-digit home loss to Texas, Saban’s message was clear: This game was the midterm, not the final exam. Alabama had been upset, in a way we weren’t used to seeing losing, but their goals were still achievable. There was no linear growth between that September night and that December evening, but no team improved as much from start to finish as Alabama. And it’s undoubtedly one of Saban’s best coaching jobs to date.
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The Crimson Tide lost both of their center leaders to the NFL Draft in Bryce Young and Will Anderson, with the first round pick Jahmyr Gibbs and seven other draft picks. They also had to replace the two coordinators. Losing star talent and replacing coaches is nothing new for Alabama, but this year has had some unique challenges, including a quarterback controversy that stretched into the first month of the season, a defeat in September and matches that were closer and more dramatic than the program. generally encountered under Saban. Yet this Alabama team continued to find ways to win, culminating in another SEC championship.
“I think other than this team (2015), this team is the most improved group we’ve ever had in terms of passion, fun, training, focus to try to get better,” said Saban in his weekly newspaper. radio show Thursday. “I mean, this team has gone through a total transition as a football team.”
From a big picture perspective, the status of the Crimson Tide program cannot be denied, although what happens next will largely control the narrative on how this season is viewed. Of course, the team won’t be satisfied without a playoff bid.
“We’ve come too far to get here,” Booker said. “The committee will give us two more games to play. We’re going to make these playoffs. We deserve it, we earned it.
(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)