You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Georgia, Florida or Tennessee: Who stands up to Alabama in the SEC?

Sporting News logo Sporting News 7/15/2017 Bill Bender

HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee's Butch Jones, Georgia's Kirby Smart and Florida's Jim McElwain have taken turns the first two days of SEC Media Days addressing the gap between their respective programs and Alabama.

Will any one of those three traditional powers ever catch up to Nick Saban's machine? If so, which one?

"You know, that's a common question at this event," Smart said. "I think the biggest thing is recruiting and development. A lot of people say it's one or the other: do you recruit great players or do you develop great players? When you do both, that's when you got something special. And I think every team in this conference is trying to play catch-up in regards to that."

MORE: Georgia will know if hype is real early

By catch up, that means the Volunteers, Bulldogs and Gators are simply trying to win a game against the Crimson Tide. Florida beat Alabama 31-20 on Dec. 6, 2008. That's the last time the SEC East has won the conference championship game. It's also the last time one of the Big Three from the division — Georgia and Tennessee are the others, of course — has beaten Alabama.

Since that loss ot the Gators, the Crimson Tide have won 16 straight games against Tennessee, Georgia and Florida by an average margin of 23.4 points per game heading into the 2017 season. That's a stat that matters — or hurts, depending on the point of view. The latest came in the 2016 SEC championship game, where Alabama covered a 24.5-point spread in a 54-16 dismantling of Florida. That's obscene. Nick Saban is 19-2 against those schools over the past 10 years.

Alabama is a perfect 10-0 under Saban against Tennessee, and that's against four different Vols coaches: Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Jones. The average margin of victory is 24.2 points, including 23.3 points per game in the last four meetings.

"That game means so many things to so many people," Jones said. "So, again, we take that game very, very seriously and have a lot of respect for what Coach Saban has built at Alabama and what they've done. It's also a great rivalry game, so that game means a lot to us."

MORE: McElwain must answer QB question

Since losing to Florida in that '08 conference championship game, the Tide have won six straight in the series, including three SEC championship games. The average margin of victory in those games is 24.2 points.

Georgia has fewer losses, but that doesn't make those losses any less painful. Alabama jumped out to a 31-0 lead in a 41-30 victory in the infamous "Blackout" game in 2008, which was followed by a dramatic victory in the 2012 SEC championship game and a 38-10 blowout in 2015, Mark Richt's final season in Athens.

This disparity hasn't hurt the conference yet. Alabama continues to reach the College Football Playoff and compete for national championships in the absence of a companion piece, but the Crimson Tide have won the last three conference championship games by an average margin of 19.7 points.

How will somebody catch up? Who is the closest?

It goes back to those two factors Smart mentioned at the top. That's recruiting and development. It sounds simple, but Alabama has owned the No. 1 spot in 247Sports.com's team rankings each of the past seven seasons. Smart helped turn a lot of those recruits into champions while serving as Saban's defensive coordinator from 2008-15.

Tennessee will have the next opportunity. The Volunteers are on the schedule Oct. 21 at Bryant-Denny Stadium and likely will be heavy underdogs again.

Florida will have to defend its SEC East championship first, but if it comes down to another game in Atlanta the Gators would have a chance to prevent the Crimson Tide from matching their streak of four consecutive SEC championships from 1992-95.

"They've just done an outstanding job," McElwain said of Alabama. He was part of that success while serving as Saban's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 2008-11. "I think closing the gap, as I go back to, I guess, the understanding here, each year is its own and certain things happen that you don't have control over, and yet what you hope happens is you've taken care of a lot of the details along the way, that when something comes up, you can still be successful."

MORE: Jones seeks more depth for Vols

Georgia, which lost to Florida and Tennessee last year, is the best long-term answer. The Bulldogs had the best season on the recruiting trail in 2017, are the presumed favorites to win the SEC East and could match up best from a talent standpoint in the short term.

"I think each one's getting closer, and we'd like to see that gap closed through recruiting," Smart said. "But you can only do that through hard work and grinding, and that's what we continue to do in Athens."

They'll continue to do it in Knoxville and Gainesville, too. At some point, the streak has to end, and for the SEC East's sake, it wouldn't hurt if one of the three traditional powers stepped up and did it.

Until then, you'll hear the same old answers from those coaches at SEC Media Days.

"I don't know the gap itself," McElwain said. "You know, I do understand this. They're right now at the top, and, you know, it's up to the rest of us to go get them."

Related slideshow: 2017 college football championship odds (Provided by Yardbarker) 

Alabama: 15/4: <p>The Crimson Tide lost a boatload of talent to the NFL, along with offensive minds Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. However, quarterback Jalen Hurts returns alongside running back Bo Scarbrough and wideout Calvin Ridley. The defense is inexperienced but has more than enough talent to perform. Nick Saban's team is the clear favorite, as usual.</p> 2017 college football national championship odds

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Sporting News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon