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ATLANTA – Calm as could be, Nick Saban sat down slowly and looked around at cameras and reporters, his deadpan expression unchanging before he spoke.
“How’s everybody doin’?”
It was understated enough to be funny. Not as humorous, though, as Saban bringing back the “rat poison” line to explain – in his unique way – how being underestimated by the media this week offered handy, “yummy” motivation toward No. 2 Alabama’s 41-24 victory over top-ranked Georgia in Saturday’s SEC Championship game.
I'd imagine it did. That’s as close as the Crimson Tide coach got to any told-you-so, however. Act like you’ve been here before? You bet.
So I’ll say it.
Too bad, college football. Alabama (12-1) is still here. Still playoff-bound. Still capable of this type of brilliance. Still process-oriented and wonderfully coached and supremely talented. Still inevitable in a way that few teams in this sport have ever been.
Yes, still the team to beat.
Any other year, that’d be the dominant takeaway from Mercedes-Benz Stadium – besides a bunch of questions about what the heck happened to Georgia.
If you're curious, here’s Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s take on that: “For the most part this year, we've executed well. We didn't execute well tonight, and that had a lot to do with them. So give Alabama credit.”
Georgia (12-1) was far from superb Saturday, but this was a statement by the team on the other sideline.
Alabama’s performance was special in a way that few have been in the Saban era. Because it was so unexpected, even to the Crimson Tide’s own faithful – who were outnumbered in the seats Saturday and knew their 2021 team's flaws and shortcomings as well as anyone.
After shaky showings and close calls against LSU and Arkansas and Auburn, the opinions were widespread that this just didn’t look like that same type of team that Alabama is used to having.
Well, upon further review … maybe it is that team.
“We've probably had to overcome more adversity and this team has had to endure and had more resiliency from a competitive standpoint than probably most of the teams that we've ever had,” Saban said. “I'm really proud of them for that.”
The Tide has been so great for so long with Saban that it’s easy to take success for granted. But if Alabama is able to win two more games and turn its overtime escape in Auburn into Saban’s seventh national championship in Tuscaloosa, this season might go down as the best coaching job he’s done at Alabama.
That's not just possible. It seems probable. Alabama isn’t just returning to the College Football Playoff. It’ll likely be favored to win it again.
I mean, who’s beating this team if not Georgia?
For argument’s sake, let’s say the two best teams in college football comprised this SEC championship game. I don’t yet know that to be the case, but one suspects that there’s a better-than-average chance these teams will face off again for a larger trophy.
And of those two, there was no question as to the better team. We saw it on the field. Alabama’s offense rolled through that feared Georgia defense for 536 yards. Its defense forced two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Wasn't all that close.
"Our players really prepared well for this game and executed extremely well," Saban said, "fixed a lot of problems that we had. Just a tremendous victory, a team victory."
Alabama's young team is growing up just in time. Said Saban, “The big thing I like about these guys is they responded the right way when they got beat” by Texas A&M.
“Having respect for winning and what it takes to win and what it takes to prepare to win are all things that are really important,” Saban said, “and sometimes when you win 19 games in a row, you lose a little respect for that. From the Texas A&M game on, we've been able to grow as a team. We haven't always been the most consistent, but at times when we've played well like we're capable of playing, we've been very, very good.”
Never better than Saturday.
You could call that more of the same from years past, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But even more so, this was a sudden lesson about what could be out there this season.
So I ask you, Alabama fans: How’s everybody doin’ now?
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama's season might end up being Nick Saban's best coaching job yet