For fans with rooting interests that lie outside of the Southeastern Conference, Monday’s BCS National Championship Game may be an easy call.
Despite the fact that Notre Dame has long been college football’s favorite villain, the domineering string of success the SEC has enjoyed during the past six years is almost certainly enough to force even the biggest Irish-hater to break out the four-leaf clover in hopes that ND can knock off SEC Champion Alabama in south Florida.
While the majority of SEC fans will be rooting for ‘Bama to valiantly continue the conference’s streak, the hope almost certainly is that this year’s rolling of the Tide will mark the end of one dominant era, in turn giving way to their own team’s hoisting of the football-shaped crystal next year.
There’s no denying that Alabama has been the benchmark of the SEC since 2009. The Tide have earned it. But before Alabama became well, Alabama, Nick Saban’s group endured the same hardships that many a program have faced head on en route to college football glory.
For the Tide, the beginning of their dynasty started with a loss.
While ‘Bama will certainly stand in a league of its own if it brings home a third national championship in four years — the first time since 1997 — there is one program in college football which appears to eerily resemble the juggernaut from Tuscaloosa (Ala.).
That program is Florida — and it was the Gators’ 33-23 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville which all but confirmed it.
No, there will be no premature declarations about how the Gators will roll to a national title next year like their SEC cohorts — after all, Florida’s embarrassing outing showed they have a lot to work on during the next eight months.
But, like Alabama, who in ’08 made an unexpected run during the regular season only to flounder after the New Year, the Gators have a chance to learn from their uninspired performance against an opponent they were supposed to pound into submission in the Superdome.
The Tide came into 2009’s Sugar Bowl as a team still reeling from a devastating SEC Championship loss to Florida, and many speculated how Nick Saban’s squad would get up for a game against a Utah team that was sound, but perhaps unworthy of the chance to contend against an SEC-heavyweight.
What resulted was a complete laugher, as Alabama trailed the Utes 21-0 at one point in the first half, en route to a 31-17 defeat.
After a surprisingly remarkable regular season in which the Tide had rebounded from a disappointing 7-6 finish in Saban’s inaugural campaign the year before, Alabama folded down the stretch, casting early doubt on the following season’s outlook.
7-6 in year one.
An unexpected run to the Sugar Bowl in year two.
Florida coach Will Muschamp’s two-year tenure has undoubtedly been in-line with that of his mentor Saban.
While year three’s outcome may presently be a mystery, Florida’s uninspired and sloppily contested performance against Louisville is not an indictment of the program, but perhaps the beginning of a team’s realization of its own potential.
Alabama used their finish in 2008 to propel them towards an unscathed national championship season in 2009, which also served as a launch pad into their current dynastic run.
Now, it’s the Gators’ turn to see how much fuel they can muster from an embarrassing loss.
“Come January 7th, we’re going to be refocused and ready to go for next season,” said Florida’s junior-to-be quarterback Jeff Driskel after his team’s loss to Louisville.
January 7th also marks the day the Tide will gun for that third national championship in four seasons. It’s the same dynasty defining-title that eluded both Southern Cal and yes, Florida in recent seasons.
Florida’s quest for number three ended at Alabama’s hands. The hungry Tide returned from their lackluster close of 2008 to reign supreme in 2009, and they haven’t looked back since.
‘Bama’s run started in the oddest of places — the losing locker room in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Perhaps that’s where a run for the Gators will commence as well.