Florida-Alabama Showcases SEC Dominance
ATLANTA - Here we are at the long-awaited Southeastern Conference championship game and . . .
Sorry, Alabama fans just happened by. Where were we? Right, about Saturday's showdown in the Georgia Dome . . .
"AINT'T IT GREAT . . . TO BE . . . A FLORIDA GATOR!"
There went a gaggle of blue and orange. These SEC zealots can be noisy, not to mention insufferable, forever chortling about their conference being the center of the college football universe.
Here's the bad news for the rest of the nation.
At the moment, they're right.
Saturday will be the freshest evidence. Florida on one side, Alabama on the other. Unbeaten and unbending, they are 1-2 in the BCS poll, 1-2 in the Associated Press rankings, 1-2 in the nation in fewest points allowed.
"This is a little bit like a title fight," Alabama's Nick Saban was saying Friday.
"You're probably lying if you're not a little overwhelmed by the whole deal," Florida's Urban Meyer said. "Our job is not to be overwhelmed, but to focus on how to go win a football game."
It is a made-for-SEC event, with all the trimmings. Even trash talking by a third party coach.
Continuing his apparent life's work of annoying Meyer, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin went on a radio show this week to analyze the game, and one quote quickly zoomed around the Internet:
"Florida has better players and Alabama has better coaches."
That valentine was presented to Meyer Friday for reaction.
"There's no comment."
They're almost always good for something juicy in this league.
"The strength of the Southeastern Conference, I think right now at least in this era, is unparalleled," Meyer said, probably even willing to include Tennessee. "There's great ways to evaluate that."
To name a few:
The SEC played 48 non-conference games this season, and lost only six of them.
Nine of the 12 SEC teams had home attendance of at least 96 percent capacity of their stadiums. The lowest was Vanderbilt at 88 percent.
Seven of the 12 were ranked and 10 of the 12 at least received votes in the polls at some point.
Now comes Saturday, which in effect is a national semifinal, with the winner heading directly to the BCS championship game, no questions asked.
The operative word of the day is "if."
If Florida wins, the Gators will stand on the cusp of a third national title in four years, which would give them every right to proclaim themselves the first college football dynasty of the 21st century.
If Florida loses, all the expectations and adulation of the past 12 months go gray.
If Alabama wins, the Tide can get back to playing for the national championship, considered a sacred duty from Tuscaloosa to Mobile. Nobody cares more than they do in Alabama.
"We understand that all the great love we get is conditional on one thing," Saban said. "And that's that we win the game."
If Alabama loses, it'll be the second straight year the Tide served as a Florida steppingstone to the BCS title game. Alabama will have become, without question, Burger King to Florida's McDonald's. Bear Bryant would be aghast.
If . . . if . . . if. But one certainty. The survivor plays next month in Pasadena, and whoever the opponent, the task won't be any more difficult than Saturday. The best argument for the league's stature is how a team must go through fire to win it. Nobody gets from the SEC to the BCS title game on the cheap.
This sort of thing runs in cycles, and nothing is forever.
"The minute you sit back and reflect on how great things are, another conference will pass you in a minute," Meyer said. "You keep grinding, keep working, keep bringing in other players."
And if need be, even rattle chains from afar, for those who intend to get here one day. Kickoff Saturday is just after 4 p.m. Guess what time Kiffin has scheduled Tennessee practice Saturday?
SEC - gotta love it, even if you hate it.