The clock will strike midnight about six hours early come next Saturday in Atlanta, and the fairy tale that has been the 2008 season for the Alabama Crimson Tide will have ended. One may even venture that this will be the high-water mark for Nick Saban's tenure at the Capstone.
Sure, Alabama will handily defeat Auburn on the way, but that is as good as it gets for Nick Saban's second edition. There will be no BCS championship or SEC Championship for the Crimson Tide, so they must be content with a Western Division title and a Sugar Bowl win against Utah.
There is no denying that Saban has done a masterful job in his second season. The Tide are ranked No. 1 in all the polls, but voters have long suspected that this was a smoke and mirrors performance by an excellent coach.
Once this game is over, Alabama fans will have to come to terms with the fact that another era of Gator dominance has unfolded and Florida enjoys advantages that the University of Alabama does not. Florida is a superior team and has a slight advantage in the coaching department. They have a superior recruiting territory and nearly unlimited resources. This is not just bad news for Bama, it is unwelcome news for the rest of the SEC.
In fact, if 'Bama fans are honest with themselves, they will admit that the Alabama job is really only the third or fourth best job in the Southeastern Conference behind Florida, LSU, and maybe Georgia. Many factors contribute to this reality, such as fan expectations, hero worship of a long-since deceased coach, and an unstable administration.
It is reasonable to believe that Nick Saban will likely take the Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals job this year or next and would annually be among any candidates for premier openings in the NFL or college football.
Saban and the NFL are merely speculation at this point so we must look at the facts as they offer insight to the way the 2008 SEC championship game will unfold.
Alabama has struggled for entire halves throughout the season against inferior competition. The Tide only led Arkansas State by 14 at the half and Mississippi State 12-7 at the half. In disappointing second halves, they only outscored Western Kentucky 10-0 and Tulane 7-3.
These scores and sub par performances will certainly happen from time to time throughout a long college football season but indicators of a national championship caliber team they are not.
Alabama is simply not as tough of a football team for four quarters as the Florida Gators have been throughout the season. There is no question that the Gators have understood the importance of four quarters of hard-nosed football based on winning margins of 58, 51, 50, 39, 31, 30, 28, and 24 points. Most impressive, seven of these eight margins of victory were in SEC competition.
Imagine, however unlikely, if Saban were to win the national championship this year. There would be no more mountains to climb in college football for this relatively young coach, and a failed stint in the pros to redeem.
Oh, and he would only be five national titles behind the Bear. Better work a little harder, Nick.