Here’s how I know Saturday was the best day in Alabama Crimson Tide sports history. Because it was the best day for any college program in history.
Lost a bit in the Tide’s shockingly convincing win over No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game was Alabama’s basketball win over No. 3 Gonzaga a couple of hours later. Just as the football win was played in front of a mostly hostile Atlanta crowd, the basketball victory took place in a great road environment in Seattle. Both venues were sold out to fans ready to see the Tide vanquished.
In both cases, Alabama rolled to victories that were void of last-minute drama.
The combination marked the first time any football and basketball program from the same school had beaten teams ranked top five in the Associated Press on the same day. If not for Gonzaga’s loss to Duke the previous week, both wins would have been over the top-ranked team in the country.
Alabama basketball is still a long way from winning a national championship, while Nick Saban’s football team is within two wins of a repeat.
The Tide is the No. 1 seed in the college football playoff and will play undefeated Cincinnati in the semifinals on Dec. 31. The winner will face either Georgia or Michigan for the title. Alabama will be favored to win against all of those teams.
Few people thought that was possible heading into the SEC Championship Game. The Tide was an underdog for the first time in 93 games.
Conventional wisdom said if Alabama’s offensive line allowed seven sacks and was dominated by Auburn the previous week, there was no way they could be successful against one of the best defensive fronts in college football history. But that didn’t happen.
Somehow, in one week, Alabama’s offensive line made a complete transformation. At one point, I was checking the sideline to see if maybe Nick Saban had sneaked in Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. and inserted them on the right side of the offensive line.
Quarterback Bryce Young wrapped up the Heisman Trophy with his record-setting performance. But it was significant he was shaky as the Tide fell behind 10-0 after one quarter.
The change came when Young realized he was going to have time to scan the field and find an open receiver, unlike the previous week at Auburn.
Young broke the SEC Championship Game record of Cam Newton for most passing yards in the first half, then surpassed former teammate Mac Jones for most passing yards in the title game. Young finished with 421 passing yards and three touchdowns. He added another 40 yards and a touchdown rushing. All this was accomplished against a defense that was yielding 6.9 points a game and was making a case for being the best in the history of the sport.
Alabama now has won seven in a row against Georgia, eight in a row in the SEC Championship Game, 16 in a row in Atlanta and 34 in a row against SEC East opponents.
The impressiveness of those numbers is hard to comprehend. But they won’t mean much if that was the last win of the season.
The standard at Alabama is not to win a lot of games. The only measuring stick is championships. Alabama has won 26 of its last 27 games. That streak started with a win over Michigan in the 2020 Citrus Bowl and includes two wins over Georgia. The Tide is also 4-0 all-time against Cincinnati, but the most recent matchup was in 1990.
So, Alabama is a clear favorite to win the national championship for the fourth time in the last eight years. If that happens it would extend the most incredible streak in college football history. Every recruit ever signed by Saban at Alabama who has played his entire career there has won at least one national championship. That streak dates back to the 2008 signing class and includes more than 250 players.
But the most recent win and pursuit of this year’s national championship is not about defending a title or extending a dynasty. It’s about this team playing to a high enough standard to win the 2021 crown.
For at least one week, on a historic day for Alabama sports, they proved they have what it takes to reach that goal.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart radio app.
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