<
>

What we learned in the SEC: Week 15

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It was the sixth time that Alabama and Florida had met in the SEC Championship Game, and it might have been the best game of all. That's saying something when you go back to the 1992 and 1994 contests between these two clubs. Clearly, it was one of the games of the year in college football and lived up to its billing as the most anticipated SEC game since the league expanded and split into two divisions in 1992. Here's a look at what we learned this past weekend in Atlanta:

1. Playing for second: Florida's the best team in college football -- period. Oklahoma will find that out on Jan. 8 in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Sure, the Sooners have set all kinds of records in blazing through the Big 12, and they score points like they're playing one of those PlayStation 3 video games. But so do the Gators, who managed to put up 31 against one of the country's finest defenses Saturday without two of their top playmakers, Percy Harvin and Chris Rainey. The difference, though, is on defense and special teams. The Gators have taken it to another level defensively this season. They've given up more than 20 points only twice all season. The Sooners have given up more than 20 points nine times, including their last eight games.

2. Gators can win without Harvin: If ever there was a question about what kind of "team" Florida is, that was answered by the way some of the not-so-high-profile players responded with Percy Harvin on the bench. Carl Moore caught the first touchdown on a nifty grab just off the turf. Riley Cooper came up big with several plays. So did David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez. How many teams anywhere could go up against a defense the caliber of Alabama's without their most dynamic playmaker (maybe the most dynamic playmaker in the country) and still win by double digits? It's a reminder of just how talented the Gators are on offense, and Harvin insisted Saturday that his sprained right ankle would be well enough for him to play in the BCS National Championship Game.

3. The guys up front are underrated: Florida's offensive line hasn't gotten enough credit all season, and that happens sometimes when Tim Tebow is running around all over the place and making plays and Harvin and Jeffery Demps are breaking loose for 80-yard touchdowns. But the truth is that the Gators' offensive line (tackles Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins, guardsCarl Johnson , Michael Pouncey and Jim Tartt and center Maurkice Pouncey) has been a big part of what this team has done offensively. That was never more apparent than the way they held up against Alabama's front seven and took over the game in the fourth quarter with two touchdown drives that consumed more than 10 minutes of the clock and lasted 19 plays. "I don't think they were real happy about hearing how they weren't too tough and wanted to come out and show the country differently," Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said.

4. Alabama deserves another shot: The odds are stacked against them and the reality is that it's not going to happen in the current BCS system, but why do the Crimson Tide get penalized so much for losing late. They lost to the best team in the country right now in a game that could have gone either way and a game that was played at a neutral site. They're as deserving as any of the one-loss teams to play in the BCS National Championship Game. They beat three top 15 teams along the way -- all three away from home -- and were No. 1 in the BCS standings the last five weeks of the season. Unfortunately for them, when you lose is a key element in determining who plays for the national title in the current system. That doesn't mean they don't deserve another shot. Is it too much to ask for an Alabama-Florida rematch?

5. Saban's worth the money: For Nick Saban to have done what he did with Alabama's program in his second year is remarkable. Before we all forget, this is the same team that lost to Louisiana-Monroe in November of last season. Again ... Louisiana-Monroe. Clearly, though, this was a different team on the field, and it started back in the offseason when the seniors bought into what Saban was selling. His handprint was all over this team. The Crimson Tide were physical, resilient, disciplined and almost obsessively focused. Nothing seemed to rattle these guys, and that's the way Saban rolls. The rest of the SEC had better get used to it, because he recruits the same way. Saban might be making an average of $4 million per year, but he goes about his business like he's coaching to save his job every day. It's what makes him so good.