The Alabama problem

Scooter Hobbs

You may have noticed that Alabama was picked to win the Southeastern Conference again by no less of an authority than the media.

It wasn’t exactly earth-shattering news. No need to stop the presses.

It was the sixth consecutive year for the Tide to get the nod. But if you think no one was thinking outside the box, Kentucky got a vote, as did Ole Miss.

Somebody even picked South Carolina.

So there.

But, OK, Nick Saban is still there, still hungry as ever to keep stacking up national championships.

No signs of letting up.

But you want to know something crazy.

Even you young ones out there remember Paul W. Bryant and have at least seen the old photos of the wrinkled Bear.

Saban, who looks 20 years younger with a lot more pep in his step than Bear did in his final years, will turn 70 on Halloween.

Bryant was 69 (and admittedly worn out) the final year he coached in 1982.

Let that sink in.

It really has nothing to do with today’s sermon, it just startled me.

But before Oklahoma and Texas hijacked last week’s SEC Media Days, one of the idle parlor discussions was whether or not the conference had an “Alabama problem” that can’t be rectified until Saban loosens his grip.

Sure, the SEC is the richest and most powerful football conference on earth.

But can it keep bellowing about that if it’s too easy just to pencil in the same team to win it every year — even a team that just lost the Heisman Trophy winner and two others who finished in the top five.

It seemed that every coach who took the podium during the week’s endless parade of blather was asked in one form or another what the secret to catching the Tide was?

It can’t be as simple as playing harder, smarter or better. And, yes, it starts with recruiting, which Saban long ago mastered.

Some might accuse the rest of the league of wallowing in the Tide’s glory.

But a problem?

Not so sure.

Just look around.

If you really look at it the SEC is far more competitive and balanced than most in the Power Five.

Now, the Big 12 has itself genuine Oklahoma Problem — granted, it will be a much bigger dilemma for the conference if that problem goes away.

But the Sooners have won the Big 12 championship six years in a row and are the odds-on favorite to win it again this year (if they stick around that long).

It might stick out more if Oklahoma didn’t keep getting hammered sideways in the College Football Playoff semifinals, mostly by SEC teams as it were.

For that matter, look at the ACC.

The Clemson Problem over there dwarfs anything Bama is doing to the SEC.

Clemson has won the last six conference titles and the championship games haven’t been particularly close.

News flash — those Tigers are heavily favored again this season.

Check out the Big 10, regarded as the SEC closest cousin for topto-bottom strength.

Except that Ohio State, even while almost comically coming up with an unexplainable loss most every year, has won the last four Big 10 championships.

I don’t have to tell you who the overwhelming favorite is this year.

You want some parity?

The Pac-12 may be your league.

Sure, Oregon has won back-to-back titles, but three other schools also have championships since 2015.

Fat lot of good it did the league, however. Oregon made the cut for the first CFP in 2014, but the Ducks that year are still the only Pac 12 team to get in, a drought of six years and counting (until the CFP expands to 12 teams).

The SEC, on the other hand, isn’t as All Bama, Every Day and Nick at Night as you might think.

The media can pencil the Tide in all we want.

But Bama has won one consecutive conference championship and only two of the last four (and Georgia is still trying to figure out how it didn’t beat the Tide in the 2018 title game, which would have made four different champions in the last four seasons).

Admittedly, that’s a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

And when in doubt, it’s probably still smart to roll with the Tide on predictions.

It’s just not as automatic as you might think.

Of course, Saban has twice won national championships WITHOUT an SEC trophy to go along with it.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com””Scooter Hobbs updated

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