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Saban, Alabama state CFP case after beating No. 1 UGA to win SEC


ATLANTA — Nick Saban didn’t even wait for the question to be asked.

His Alabama team, with the emphasis on “team,” just had done what nobody else in college football had been able to do for parts of the past three seasons — beat No. 1 Georgia. But on the mind of Saban, and everybody else in the college football world, was what would happen Sunday when the College Football Playoff committee chooses the four teams that will play for the national championship.

Saban said it was pretty simple.

“If they really want the four best teams to compete,” he said, then Alabama will be in the playoff.

The comment came after his No. 8 Crimson Tide snapped the Bulldogs’ 29-game winning streak with a 27-24 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was Saban’s ninth SEC title at Alabama and extended the team’s winning streak to 11 games since a Week 2 home loss to Texas.

It’s that loss that has everybody in Crimson, and a few folks in the SEC offices, a tad nervous.

Saban didn’t go overboard during his postgame news conference, but he left little doubt that his team is one of the best in college football.

“We beat the No. 1 team in the country, and they won 29 straight games,” Saban said. “If we needed to do something to pass the eye test, I would guess that probably contributed to it significantly.”

Saban shrugged over the notion that the committee might disagree with him.

“I disagreed with them before. I disagreed last year,” he said. “So I’ll respect them. I know they have a tough job. I know there are a lot of good teams. But I’m just speaking up for our guys on our team who have busted their butt all year long to accomplish what they’ve accomplished. I think that needs to be recognized.”

Alabama outside linebacker Dallas Turner shied away on what his message would be to the playoff committee.

“I mean, honestly, I don’t really like to talk too much,” he said. “I like to perform on the field, and we clearly had a very good game tonight, a very big win. We’ll let our play do the talking for us.”

About the time Miller finished answering his question, Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe leaned up to the microphone and said, “I’ve got something to say.” It was fitting, too, because no player has had more to say — certainly with his play — than Milroe, who has mirrored the meteoric rise of this Alabama team this season.

“Georgia’s No. 1, right?” Milroe said as he scanned the room full of reporters. “You beat the No. 1 team. What do you consider us?

“At the end of the day, that’s out of our reach [the playoff selections]. The biggest thing we’ve got to do is trust the process and keep getting better. But we beat the best team in the nation considerably, so what do you consider us?”

It seems like an eternity since Milroe was benched in Week 3 against South Florida. But since that game — and since he was given the entire set of keys to Alabama’s offense — he’s accounted for 28 touchdowns against just five turnovers.

He passed for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia. And it was his play in the fourth quarter that proved the difference. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt sophomore was masterful during a 75-yard touchdown drive that put Alabama ahead 27-17, and his 30-yard run on first down after Georgia pulled within 27-24 was the dagger for the Bulldogs.

“The biggest thing about this team is we know there’s unfinished business,” Milroe said.

Saban had a little fun with the media as he settled into his seat for his postgame news conference.

“I know you’re going to ask me, so I might as well just get to it,” he said with a big smile. “Having anticipation is something that’s important to being a good coach, not that I’m a good coach.”

And with that, he made his pitch as to why Alabama should be in the playoff despite its shaky start to the season.

“We’re not the same team we were when we played Texas. We’re not the same team when we played South Florida. I don’t think we should be considered as that team right now. I think people should look at the whole body of work in terms of what the team was able to accomplish and what they were able to do. I think this team is one of the four best teams, one of the teams that’s deserving to be in the playoff.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban

“We’re not the same team we were when we played Texas,” he said. “We’re not the same team when we played South Florida [in a 17-3 win]. I don’t think we should be considered as that team right now. I think people should look at the whole body of work in terms of what the team was able to accomplish and what they were able to do. I think this team is one of the four best teams, one of the teams that’s deserving to be in the playoff.”

Standing outside the Alabama locker room, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey doubled down on comments he made earlier Saturday, when he said it wasn’t the “real world” for the SEC to be left out of the playoff.

“Anybody that knows anything about football knows those were two of the best teams in the country out there,” Sankey told ESPN. “It’s not even a question. It doesn’t matter what I say now. The committee is going to make its selections. But I will repeat what I said: It’s not the real world if at least one of those teams isn’t in the playoff.”

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne admitted he probably would have a hard time sleeping Saturday night, but he said Alabama’s résumé should speak for itself. The Crimson Tide have beaten four teams in the most recent CFP rankings. No. 7 Texas, its only loss, routed Oklahoma State on Saturday to win the Big 12 championship.

“We just beat the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 team for multiple years, and we play in the toughest conference in the country,” Byrne said. “If it’s truly supposed to be the best four teams, this will be the ultimate test. How can you argue that we’re not one of the top four? And I also think that good scheduling will be recognized.”

Whatever happens Sunday with the committee, Saban said it’s important to recognize that this Alabama team won the SEC championship when so many had counted it out. Entering Saturday, Alabama (12-1) had overcome five second-half deficits in SEC games to win this season.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of guys on a team that has come as far as these guys have from where we were in the second, third game of the season,” said Saban, who has led Alabama to 17 straight wins in Atlanta.

Earlier this season, Saban said this team had taken years off his life with some of its mistakes and growing pains. Asked if he got some of those years back with this SEC championship, Saban said jokingly, “You know how tired I am right now?”

He said his speech to the team in the locker room was one word: “Celebrate.”

Saban said he barely had enough left in him to dance with the Tide in the locker room. He hopes to get a few more chances to do so this season.

“There are a lot of elements that allow our team to keep pushing toward the final step,” Milroe said. “But we’re nowhere near the finish line.”



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