Programs have won past two SEC, national championships
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida and Alabama have regular-season winning streaks that most programs only dream about.
They have trophy cases dedicated to Southeastern Conference championships, national titles and individual awards. They lose talented players every year to the NFL but plug in the next guys seemingly without missing a beat.
They have high-profile coaches who scour the country for top talent, focus their energy on winning and rarely slow down, unless it’s to take on unscrupulous agents.
Everyone else is chasing them, too.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0) and the seventh-ranked Gators (4-0, 2-0) are the envy of the SEC. Alabama has won 28 straight regular-season games, and Florida’s streak sits at 24.
Here’s the good news for the rest of the league: One of them will stumble Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Here’s the bad: Neither powerhouse appears ready to relinquish its spot atop the SEC — or the national scene — any time soon.
“We both want to be considered that top program,” Florida cornerback Jeremy Brown said. “Every time we play each other, and from here on out, it’s going to be, ‘Who’s No. 1.’ They’re a great team, well coached, their players are very talented. It’s almost like looking in a mirror. They have everything we have.”
Alabama took everything Florida wanted last season. The Tide upset the Gators in the 2009 SEC title game, ruining Florida’s bid for a perfect season, a second straight conference title and a third national championship in four years. Even though most of Florida’s key players have moved on following that 32-13 loss in Atlanta, the Gators haven’t forgotten.
“Any loss hurts, but when you lose for a championship, it’s more devastating,” center Mike Pouncey said.
The Gators aren’t going to get sympathy from anyone else in the league or around the country. After all, they are 61-10 under coach Urban Meyer, including 15-1 against rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State.
The Tide have been equally dominant since coach Nick Saban took over in 2007. Alabama is 31-8 under Saban, but 30-2 the last three years.
“The thing they have over every other team in the country at this point is talent and experience,” said Meyer, who landed the nation’s top recruiting class in February and has played more freshmen than anyone in the country this season. “So they would plus us a little bit at experience right now, but as far as talent, I kind of like where our team’s headed.”
The SEC has seen runs like this before (Alabama in the 1960s and 70s, and Alabama and Florida in the early 1990s), so it’s nothing new. But it’s anyone’s guess how long it will last.
“It’s not all that uncommon,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s happened from time to time. It’s not like it’s never happened before, but it usually doesn’t last forever. The job that Nick and Urban are doing right now and the momentum that they’ve created through it when it comes to recruiting and everything else, you sit there and go it’s going to be tough.
“It’ll probably be a while for them to slow down, but it just means that other people have to rise up and get better. It’s not easy to do, no doubt, because it doesn’t happen all the time. But when it does, everybody’s doing everything they can to take these people down.”
Some thought NCAA investigations might take the two down this summer.
The NCAA investigated Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus and suspended him two games for accepting nearly $2,000 in improper benefits from an agent during two trips to Miami. The NCAA is still looking into allegations that former Florida center Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent between the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
The probes prompted Saban and Meyer to call for harsher sanctions against agents caught breaking the rules. Saban organized a conference call that included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association.
Both coaches delved into the issue during fall practice, insisting they’re trying to save college football and make it better for players everywhere.
But once the season started, it was back to business. And back to winning.
Florida hasn’t dropped a regular-season conference game since losing 31-30 to Mississippi in 2008, the one that prompted quarterback Tim Tebow’s promise.
“Consistency and performance is really what defines success,” Saban said. “You can have one good team one year and all that, but to do it year-in and year-out and be dominant as they have been, I think that’s the ultimate respect that anybody deserves in terms of having a successful program.”
Alabama’s streak dates back to the 2007 finale, when the Tide capped a four-game losing streak with a 17-10 loss at Auburn. Saban’s team has only lost twice since, in the 2008 SEC title game against Florida and against Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
“It’s good that we’ve been able to sort of restore that (tradition) to some degree, but you’ve got to keep on keeping on,” Saban said. “You’re only as good as your last game and only as good as your last play, so consistency and performance are the telltale signs of success.”
Saturday night’s game has been touted as an SEC showdown, the third meeting in three years between the league’s top two teams. No doubt, it’s meaningful. But the loser can win out and reach the SEC title game and probably still play in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.
As for the rest of the SEC, and maybe others around the country? There’s one thing they can root for:
“If they get complacent in any way through their success, that could hurt them,” Richt said. “It doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon.”