You’ve heard the saying that three is a magic number. That certainly seems to be the case for Alabama’s football team. Three is the number of consecutive SEC Championships that the Tide own after dispatching Florida 54–16 at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Three is the number of consecutive times Alabama will compete in the College Football Playoff, each year the playoff has been in existence.
The Tide also completed a hat trick of SEC Championship Game wins over Florida at the Georgia Dome — the 2016 teams joining the 1999 and '15 squads. With this SEC win, Alabama has only two more games on the road to claim its fifth national championship in eight seasons.
The Tide followed a familiar recipe in their 25th consecutive win. Their defense made the big plays, their special teams chipped in, and a platoon of running backs burst between helpless Florida defenders.
Even after they surrendered a touchdown on their first defensive possession, they did not panic. And they proved they could win without playing good offense in the first quarter. Florida’s defense blanketed Alabama’s offense in the opening period, but Alabama scored two non-offensive touchdowns in 3:24 to lead 16–9 before the offense had earned any positive yardage.
Saturday’s lopsided win means Alabama will again play at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which is often called “Tuscaloosa East.” By locking up the top seed in the College Football Playoff, the Crimson Tide earned a berth in the geographically friendly Peach Bowl semifinal game.
On December 31, Alabama will play the University of Washington at the Georgia Dome, the venue Saban’s team has visited the most during his tenure (11 times). The other semifinal playoff, the Fiesta Bowl, is in Glendale, Arizona, between No. 2 seed Clemson and No. 3 seed Ohio State. The two winners will meet nine days later at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for the national championship.
Against Florida, on a day when the history of the SEC was being celebrated everywhere you looked, Alabama added to the conference’s storied past. Tide coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense set the record for most points in the first half of an SEC Championship Game, scoring 33. Corner Minkah Fitzpatrick became the first player since Morris Claiborne in 2011 to get a pick-six in the SEC title game, and the Tide’s special teams set a pair of historical marks as well.
Alabama’s touchdown off of a blocked punt in the first quarter was the first in the history of the game, and the ensuing extra point became just the second to go for two the other way. (Florida linebacker David Reese returned it 98 yards.)
Gators quarterback Austin Appleby now co-owns the rather ugly record of three interceptions, tying an SEC Championship single-game mark. Alabama toppled another game record in the third quarter, piecing together the longest scoring drive, 98 yards in 3:16.
Florida’s season was something of a sideways step after another loss to Alabama in Atlanta, but the Gators have the chance to build some momentum heading into 2017. They won’t have to go very far to find it, with the Outback Bowl in Tampa calling their name. The 8–4 Iowa Hawkeyes await the Gators in what should be a compelling New Year’s Day matchup.
Florida’s bowl game will be an experiment for what might work in the 2017 season. The Tide will use theirs to try to win the grand prize. The quality gap between these two teams is obvious given their holiday plans, and it was certainly obvious on the field during this year’s SEC title game.
Photographs by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images (2)