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January 2, 2013

HURT: SEC's woes mean nothing to Alabama

Alabama and Notre Dame landed at separate South Florida airports Wednesday. According to reports, there was no woofing, no posturing, no intimidation, just the get-down-to-business demeanor of two teams ready to settle things on the football field.

But in the rest of America, where I remain until Friday, the rhetoric is flying thick and fast, almost as thick and fast as Jadeveon Clowney himself. And it gets thicker and faster with each passing bowl game. Some of it is just healthy speculation - every conceivable angle for predicting the Alabama-Notre Dame outcome has been explored. Analyzing bowl results for insight probably isn't any more effective than reading Tarot cards, it probably isn't any worse than some methods. For instance, Flipper the Sea World dolphin picked the Notre Dame ball with his nose, predicting an Irish win and proving that while dolphins can communicate, they have not yet heard of Harvey Updyke. And, really, did anyone expect a dolphin to pick Nick Saban?

I have talked about the nation's case of Southeastern Conference fatigue (and, in particular, Alabama fatigue) often in the past few months, so much so that there have been accusations of paranoia pointed this way. That may be true - but there has never been more effort devoted to "proving" that the SEC "is not that great" than there is today. The extension of that is that because the SEC is overrated, Alabama will not win Monday night. That isn't my logic, but it is the thinking of a lot of people out there.

It was thick on New Year's Eve, when LSU, facing Clemson, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a way that only Les Miles has truly mastered. That is taking nothing away from a fine win for Dabo Swinney. It's just that LSU, a remarkable group of specimens, doesn't always capitalize on its physical advantages with mental acuity. SEC fans know this.

The drumbeats of "over-rated" continued when Mississippi State lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, although anyone who saw MSU in November was hardly surprised. As New Year's Day wore on, and both Georgia and South Carolina found themselves in close games, the drums grew deafening. Both the Bulldogs and Gamecocks won, and things grew quieter. But when Florida took the field in New Orleans on Wednesday night looking as if it had come from an all-day bender at Pat O'Brien's piano bar, the drums grew deafening once more. The comparisons to Alabama's 2008 performance against Utah were inevitable, annoying but ultimately fair. The Gator disaster (at least it looked disastrous at halftime) led lots of people to the conclusion that Alabama might as well not even show up against mighty Notre Dame.

Time will tell. A few things are worth noting. First, the SEC is not the league it was last year when either of its two BCS finalists, Alabama or LSU, would have destroyed any other team that showed up in New Orleans. Alabama's current team probably isn't as good as last year's team, which does not mean it won't win Monday. The SEC is still the best league, but even if you don't believe that, you don't have to come from the best league to have the best team. Ask Kentucky's basketball champions from last year about that.

Could this be the year that the SEC reign ends? It's possible. But if it does, it will have nothing to do with what happened in the Gator Bowl or in the mind of Les Miles. Nothing whatsoever.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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