SEC Championship: Back in the Saddle Again

Here we are again. Same place. Same stakes. Kirby versus Saban. Same overwhelming feeling. Once again, a national title hangs in the balance. As Steven Tyler once sang, ‘we’re back in the saddle again’. “Come easy, go easy, all right until the rising sun,” sings the Aerosmith front-man. It is Alabama versus Georgia and it is likely that nobody is going to come or go easy, and some will only be comforted by the rising sun on Sunday morning.

The last time the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs walked off the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Alabama was celebrating what was an improbable rally by back-up quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to win the national championship. Fast-forward 11 months and the sophomore signal-caller has yet to miss a beat, whether it be zinging touchdown passes to the Tide’s talented receivers, or demoralizing LSU with a 44-yard touchdown run on an injured leg.

Tagovailoa, a native of Hawaii, by way of the American Samoa, has given the Crimson Tide fans plenty to cheer about this season, as he enters the SEC Championship Game with 36 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. The first-year signal caller has been surrounded by a plethora of talented receivers by the names off Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith, and freshman Jaylen Waddle. However, Waddle isn’t even the most recognizable Ja(y)len on the team, as fan favorite and former starting quarterback Jalen Hurts entered the game and tossed a 53-yard touchdown on his first and only pass of the Iron Bowl.

Those players are surrounded by a loaded backfield of Damien Harris, Najee Harris, and Josh Jacobs. With the emergence of Quinnen Williams and Patrick Sartain Jr., along with other defensive stalwarts such as Raekwon Davis, Dylan Moses, Isaiah Buggs, Mack Wilson; this year’s team has a chance to be very special. Reports have even surfaced that linebacker Terrell Lewis, who tore his ACL before the season, was back at practice this week and could be available against the Bulldogs this Saturday.

There are not many programs in the nation that can boast a national championship winning quarterback who has a record of 12-0 as a starter, paired with a back-up quarterback who is 26-2 and has guided his team to two national championship games in his two years. When Hurts tossed his touchdown pass against Auburn on Saturday it felt like more of a culmination of his UA career, which began on September 3, 2016 when the then-true freshman found ArDarius Stewart for a 39-yard touchdown pass to give Alabama a 7-3 lead over USC in Cowboys Stadium. Most expect Hurts, who will earn his undergraduate degree next week, to use his final year of eligibility and transfer to another school after Tagovailoa’s ascention to stardom.

Nonetheless, Hurts will always be adored by Alabama fans for his character, dedication, aura, and his willingness to be a selfless teammate. Regardless of what happens from this point forward, Jalen has been a prime example of what Nick Saban expects from his players, and he should be lauded for that. Hurts’ toughness truly shined when he fumbled a snap against Ole Miss in 2016 that was returned for a 44-yard score to put Alabama down 24-3. While most were calling for Blake Barnett to enter the game, the freshman calmed his nerves and helped lead the Tide to a 48-43 win on the road.

Getting back to the task at hand, however, lets look at a few things that are at stake for each team in the SEC Championship this Saturday.

What’s at stake for Georgia?

Well, there’s a lot at stake for UGA. If anyone knows Kirby Smart and his ire, it is probably Alabama fans. There’s a large community of Alabama fans who still share some love for the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator, while there is another group of fans that despise Smart for his supposed gambit of snapping a photo of the recruiting board at UA and spinning it against UA recruits once he arrived at Georgia. In all fairness, it’s the SEC. It’s the second-coming of Hunger Games and Saban is Seneca Crane, right?

There is a lot of pressure on Kirby, due to last season’s finish and his team’s talent, to be the first of Saban’s assistants to finally defeat the so-called demigod. So, there’s not only the revenge factor of last year’s national championship game, but also the fear and loathing that a loss to Alabama will indeed extend their national championship drought to 38 years. Georgia really needs to win this game, but the Bulldogs still may not be out of the woods even if they do win. Why? (See Below)

What’s at stake for Bama?

Greatest college football team of all-time. The Crimson Tide are sailing into unchartered waters, similar to when Christopher Columbus stepped off the Mayflower in Cape Cod. Alabama’s closest game this season has been a 45-23 win over Texas A&M in late-September. Most might wonder if Columbus were in the stands with a shaker the last time a team won its first 12 games by 22 points or more though, because it was the 1888 Yale Bulldogs. As far as modern football, 1995 Nebraska is the closest to doing what Alabama has. The Tom Osborne-led Cornhuskers ran roughshed through the regular-season, with the closest game being a 35-21 win over Washington State en route to a national championship after demoralizing Steve Spurrier and Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl.

This is where we conclude the (See Below) from the UGA argument. Many pundits are stating that Alabama has already wrapped up a spot in the College Football Playoff, as they would likely be the 4-seed having lost to Georgia. If the Bulldogs defeated Alabama Saturday, they would slide into the #2 (Notre Dame) vs #3 (Georgia) matchup, leaving us with Clemson vs Alabama again.

This is likely the most talented team the Capstone has ever seen and it should be 15-0 or bust at this point. Nick Saban’s first national championship team in Tuscaloosa went 14-0 in 2009 and since then, UA has won four national championships with one-loss. However, this team has the ability to not only go undefeated, but the first team to ever finish 15-0, and quite possibly stake its claim as the best team of all-time.

Hopefully the Crimson Tide will keep up their pace and bring home a championship and undefeated season that will be unrivaled in Crimson lore. Sure, we could still possibly win the national championship with a loss, but who wants the mashed potatoes without the brown gravy?

“Ain’t never been nothing but a winner,” Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant

Roll Tide Roll Champions!

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