- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala -- The hype began before the season had even started. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke watched film of the Alabama offensive line before the season opener and said it was the best he'd seen in college football. Barrett Jones was the defending Outland Trophy winner at center, Chance Warmack was arguably the most talented lineman in the country as a guard ,and D.J. Fluker was a potential top-20 pick at right tackle. Even sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who hadn't started a game in his career, had credentials as the former No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the class of 2010.
The front five didn't disappoint in Dallas as Alabama manhandled Michigan up front. The Crimson Tide tallied 431 total yards of offense in the 41-14 win, 232 of those yards coming on the ground.
"The offensive linemen are great," running back Eddie Lacy said just days after the game. "They've played together for years. Everybody's big, strong and physical. They're a great bunch of guys, and they're very good."
Michigan learned about the offensive line's strength. So did every other team that faced Alabama throughout the season. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, "It's one of the best I've seen," in late September, pointing toward the trenches as the reason Alabama was ranked No. 1 at the time. The Tide would slip with a loss to Texas A&M, but regained traction in the weeks that followed, securing a trip to the BCS National Championship Game with a win over then-No. 3 Georgia in the SEC title game. Alabama set a record for the most rushing yards in the conference championship with 350.
"They didn't do anything new," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They just lined up and played inside drill for a while. ... I don't even know if they threw it, it might have been one pass and two drives or something like that, but they just lined up and knocked us off the ball."
Richt was left without answers, but Kouandjio wasn't.
"We would not be denied," Kouandjio said, citing an attitude the unit possessed since Week 1 of the season.
"We didn't want to settle for average," Warmack said. "We all want to be exceptional."
With just one game remaining, it appears as if the promise of the Alabama offensive line has been fulfilled. Jones won the Rimington Trophy for the nation's top center, Warmack and Fluker were both All-SEC selections, and UA averaged more than 224 yards per game on the ground, good enough to finish 20th in the country.
If success in the SEC starts up front, it's no wonder Alabama ended the season on top of the conference with a shot at being on top of the college football world.
5dSam Khan Jr.