HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Saban is a serious guy who, on occasion, will drop a funny line on you.
The one he delivered from the podium at SEC Media Days this week definitely falls under the category of unintentional humor, though.
He basically said Alabama is no different than any other football program in the SEC.
That drew quite a chuckle from his audience.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in this league,” the Alabama coach said with a straight face. “I don’t see us being any different than anybody else when it comes to the challenges of preparation and getting ready to play really good teams that we have a tremendous amount of respect for.”
From his perch, high on the mountain top, Saban actually can see parity. When he peers down on the rest of the league he sees 13 other programs that are fairly equal and can win on any given Saturday against each other.
That is reality. That is the state of the SEC today.
There’s Alabama. Then there’s everybody else.
“(Alabama) is the standard,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “And that’s where everybody wants to be. For what Nick has done and what that program has done, they were ahead of the curve a long time ago with how they approach things. It has basically been the model you try to follow.”
Everybody’s chasing Alabama, but it’s been a losing race. The gap only grows wider.
Alabama has won four national championships in eight years and is on a 17-game SEC winning streak (24 wins in 25 games) in which the Tide’s average margin of victory is three touchdowns (20.1 points).
While the Tide was clubbing everybody on its way to the College Football Playoff and national title game last season, every other team in the SEC absorbed at least four losses.
So, yes, there is parity among the other 13.
And those 13 all want to be like Alabama.
“You know, that’s a common question at this event,” Georgia coach Keith Smart said, when asked about the gap between Alabama and the rest of the league. “And I think the biggest thing is recruiting and development. A lot of people say it’s one or the other, do you recruit great players or do you develop great players.
“When you do both, that’s when you got something special. And I think every team in this conference is trying to play catch-up in regards to that. I think each one’s getting closer, and we’d like to see that gap closed through recruiting. But you can only do that through hard work and grinding, and that’s what we continue to do in Athens.”
If you listen to Saban, there is little or no gap.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for a lot of teams in our league,” he said. “I mean, LSU is very, very good. Ole Miss has beaten us a couple times in the last few years. Mississippi State has got a good quarterback coming back. Arkansas’s got a good quarterback coming back. A&M’s always a very challenging team.
“I think Kirby’s doing a great job at Georgia. Jim McElwain is doing a good job at Florida. Tennessee has gotten better and better every year. I am trying to think of somebody in our league that I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for. Vanderbilt went to a bowl game last year and had a winning season.”
But no one was up to the challenge of Alabama last season. The Tide shutout LSU, beat Tennessee for the 10th consecutive time, whipped arch-rival Auburn by 18 points and pinned a humbling 54-16 loss on the best from the East (Florida) in the SEC Championship Game.
That’s not parity. It’s disparity.
“They’ve just done an outstanding job,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “I don’t know (how big) the gap (is). I do understand this, they’re right now at the top, and it’s up to the rest of us to go get them.
“They’ve done a heck of a job and they’ve gotten a level of commitment that is unparalleled. I don’t know from a gap standpoint as much as they’re just doing a good job and that’s something that all of us have to do. They’ve got a pretty good well-oiled machine there.”
Alabama’s dominance has been a popular theme at SEC Media Days this week, just like it has been for the past several years.
The question is this: does having a dominant team like Alabama help or hurt the SEC.
SEC Network analyst and former LSU defensive lineman Marcus Spears said it helps.
“Yeah, because it forces everyone else to do their job better,” Spears said. “People probably felt this way with Bear Bryant when he was at Alabama. People felt this way with (Steve) Spurrier when he was at Florida.
“We’re in one of those times where someone’s just going to have to become really good to change the course of where this conference is going, and it’s going to start with recruiting and getting your players to perform on the field.
“I don’t think it hurts the league. I think it makes everyone raise their level of play. I like dominant teams. I don’t think you blame them, you just have to raise your level of play.”
That’s what Alabama is forcing the other 13 programs to do.
But as it stands now, the SEC is this: Alabama — and then everybody else.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com