NEW ORLEANS — The first S-E-C chant rang out almost immediately Monday night inside the Superdome, after Georgia’s 54-48 double-overtime victory against Oklahoma was announced to the sellout crowd at the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
A few hours later, thanks to Alabama’s 24-6 bludgeoning of Clemson, it had become a lot more than just a chant. It was a full-blown SEC celebration that will culminate in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game presented by AT&T (8 p.m. ET Jan. 8 on ESPN and ESPN App) with an all-SEC final in the city where the SEC plays its conference championship game every year (Atlanta).
“They say the SEC doesn’t dominate any more, but I beg to differ,” Alabama center Bradley Bozeman said.
Even SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack couldn’t resist as he strolled across the field amid the Alabama confetti falling from the top of the Superdome roof.
“I’m trying to figure out how a one-team league has both of the teams playing for the national championship,” Womack chortled.
Yep, the collective groan heard around the rest of the college football world late Monday was reminiscent of the one heard at the end of the 2011 season, when Alabama and LSU met in a rematch to decide the BCS National Championship. That game was also in the Big Easy, and it helped pave the way to the College Football Playoff.
Then, an all-SEC final was just fine in the SEC footprint, but nobody else wanted to see it. And yet, here we are in the fourth year of the CFP, and two SEC teams will battle it out for college football’s top prize.
“I think sometimes people try to put a little hate on the SEC because of some of the success that we have, and I don’t think that is really fair because I think it’s a great, competitive league with a lot of great coaches and a lot of great institutions,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is trying to win his sixth national championship and fifth at Alabama.
Of course, not only will it be an all-SEC final in Atlanta, but Saban’s fingerprints will also be all over it. Georgia coach Kirby Smart coached under Saban for nine seasons at Alabama, the last seven as defensive coordinator.
“We feel like this is just like the battle of who’s the best in the SEC,” Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison said.
Georgia beat Oklahoma in its semifinal game to get to the championship game. The Dawgs won a wild game that featured more than 1,000 yards of total offense. Alabama, meanwhile, looked like the same Alabama that Saban has guided to four national championships in the past eight years. The Crimson Tide made life miserable for Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and not only beat the Tigers but also beat them up physically.
“We just wanted to let everybody know that we’ve been through a lot of things this whole season with all the injuries and everything, and the fact we were able to get back some of our guys, I feel like we’re back to the defense we really wanted to be,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said.
The fact that it was Clemson made it personal for the Alabama players, especially those who were around for last season’s last-second loss to the Tigers in the national championship game. What’s more, the Tide players were even more ornery after hearing for the past several weeks that maybe they didn’t belong in the playoff after they lost their final regular-season game to Auburn and didn’t win their conference championship.
Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans and running back Damien Harris share their thoughts on an all-SEC title game. Video by Sam Strong
“We came into the game not disrespected, but counted out,” Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “We wanted to come in and show who was the better team, and I think we dominated from start to finish.”
Alabama was able to get a couple of its linebackers back from injury for the game, and the team looked noticeably fresher, faster and healthier to start the game. Saban made a conscientious effort to reduce repetitions in practice in the weeks leading up to the game, and the players said they felt like it was September all over again.
“When we’re healthy, we’re hard to beat,” said Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, one of the linebackers who was injured earlier in the season.
Alabama held Clemson to just 188 total yards, and for only the second time in 131 games under Dabo Swinney, Clemson failed to score a touchdown. The only other time was against Georgia Tech in 2014.
“This team [Clemson] took something away from us,” said Alabama linebacker Christian Miller, who also battled injuries earlier in the season. “It’s a new season and a new team. But the guys who were there still had a bad taste in our mouths, and we wanted to impose our will on those guys and make them quit.”
If the rest of college football was bothered by seeing two SEC teams in the playoff, the SEC will further impose its will on the rest of the college football world with its own exclusive party on Monday in Atlanta.
“We treat Atlanta like it’s our home,” Wilson said.
In other words, we haven’t heard the last S-E-C chant this football season.