The SEC didn't die Saturday night. Any last, remaining notion the SEC is purely a defensive conference died. No. 1 Alabama avenged the "Kick Six" in typical college football fashion for the year 2014: A good, old shootout in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl ever.
It didn't seem possible, but "Iron Bowl: The Video Game" in many ways provided a more compelling game over most of the duration than the "Kick Six" last year. The SEC lives on to avoid cannibalization, pending Alabama-Missouri at the SEC Championship Game. Alabama plays on as the SEC's last, best chance to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.
"The way we're headed in college football, you have to win games like this," Saban said, "and there will be more games like this."
It was football as pure entertainment, a reminder why we watch college football -- whether our favorite teams win or lose or aren't even in a particular game. For a few hours on Saturday, we were riveted to the television, sharing emotions with 200 players and a hundred thousands fans in the stadium and the millions of people watching across the country -- from Charles in Reeltown to Boyz II Men.
In short, it was what we want football to be. And now that this kind of game won't keep him from his pursuit of the national championship, even Nick Saban might be able to admit that.
Leave it to Saban's wife, Terry, to shed perhaps the best perspective on this new-age Alabama as she traded jubilant high-fives with a fan while exiting the elevator on this record-setting night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"That's what you call 'doing whatever it takes,'" she exclaimed.
Her husband would tend to agree, even though he likes giving up 44 points and 630 yards of total offense (the most ever given up by any Alabama team) about as well as he does perusing message boards and listening to sports talk radio. For the record, it's not like Saban and Phyllis from Mulga are phone pals.
Starting cornerback Eddie Jackson was pulled in the second half as freshman Tony Brown got meaningful playing time once again. Jackson commented on his performance on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.
"I played a horrible game yesterday I apologize to all my fans but all I know how to do is Bounce Back Believe that," Jackson wrote. Jackson was covering both Coates and Williams at different points in the game. He was on Coates on touchdown plays of 34 and 68 yards in the second quarter.
Nick Saban on Sunday said replacement Bradley Sylve "did a nice job" in relief. He started the season against West Virginia, but hasn't played many meaningful snaps since then.
"We'll see how things go in practice this week and make a decision later on in the week about that," Saban said.
"It was a dog fight," defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson said.
"Coach came in and told us we weren't doing our job quite well. So we took that really personally." After halftime, Auburn managed just 42 rushing yards on 17 tries for a 2.4-yard average. Leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne had 19 second-half yards while Marshall managed 21. Artis-Payne ended up with 77 yards on 25 runs while Marshall had 49 yards on 13 attempts.
The Tigers finished with 174 yards on 47 carries, well below the 266 yards it averaged.
"You're not going to let one play dictate the entire rest of the game that was left," Robinson said. "So we figured, knuckle up. It's time to do what we do."
"I was frustrated," Sims said. "I tried to keep my body language up [and] let my team know that my spirit was still up. I felt like, if my body language got down, the team was going to get down, and this wasn't the game for that."
So Sims let go, and by doing so, he let Alabama and the SEC back into the playoff picture. He let his instincts take over. He let all the apprehension fall by the wayside because, as Saban put it, "When we got behind, what's there to be anxious about?"
Facing a crucial fourth-and-3, Sims kept his cool and fired a pass to DeAndrew White for a first down. He followed that with a 39-yard touchdown to Amari Cooper to make it a one-possession game. On his very next play, Sims found Cooper again for a 75-yard bomb that gave Alabama the lead.
After throwing his third interception, Sims ended the night with 10-of-12 passing. He led five touchdown drives and was responsible for four scores (three passing, one rushing), and Alabama won 55-44.
A wild shootout in the Iron Bowl set overnight records for viewership on ESPN.
No. 1 Alabama's 55-44 win over No. 15 Auburn drew a 7.2 overnight rating, according to tweets from ESPN publicist Mike Humes, a mark that ties the highest ever recorded for a regular-season game on the Network.
But, really, find another team that best captures 2014, an exciting season that happens to have two left feet. Florida State, going undefeated while achieving the football equivalent of a 2.0 GPA? The Seminoles skate by so well they might win College Football Playoff and the Frozen Four.
TCU or Baylor (choose one)? What about Ohio State, with its loss to Virginia Tech and its quarterback in a cast? Arizona, which is 0-2 against Los Angeles and 10-0 against the rest of the country?
Only Oregon, playing better every week at just the right time, is beginning to look the part. Alabama is looking like the guy leading the U.S. Open even though he's 4 over par.
Alabama is now No. 1 in both major college football polls.
Last week, Alabama (11-1) had cut the gap with unbeaten Florida State (12-0) to just 13 points. This week, the Crimson Tide leapfrogged the Seminoles into the No. 1 spot, while FSU dropped to No. 2. Alabama and FSU each have 28 first-place votes. Oregon has six first-place votes. Alabama has 18 more total votes than Florida State.
Not surprisingly, many of the area's top recruits headed to Tuscaloosa on Saturday for an Alabama 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. AL.com has a full list of the players spotted here, but a few of the notable names included five-star running back Damien Harris, five-star athlete Terry Godwin (Georgia commit), five-star defensive tackle Daron Payne and four-star linebacker Ricky DeBerry.
Five-star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is committed to Alabama, told 247Sports his official visit to Tuscaloosa this weekend was a "10."
"The whole game experience was probably the greatest game that I've ever been to," Fitzpatrick told 247Sports. "The fans were incredible. The way that they were involved in the game and how the players were interacting with the fans. The game was a great game, also. It was a very fast and physical game. The whole official visit was great."
Exiting a wild, long and exhausting Iron Bowl, Alabama left in relative good shape. The only real concern from the game involves starting left tackle Cam Robinson. Already dealing with a sprained ankle, the true freshman left the game with a shoulder injury. Nick Saban said he sprained the shoulder on the 11-yard Blake Sims touchdown that gave Alabama the final lead in the 55-44 win.
Robinson would be "day-to-day" moving into the SEC Championship Game preparations. Alabama (11-1) will face Missouri (10-2) at 3 p.m. CT Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Right tackle Austin Shepherd has been moving over to the left side when injuries popped up with Robinson.
Moving on to Mizzou
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, Missouri's recruiting class has been ranked 13th, last, 11th, last and 8th in the SEC over the last five seasons. Alabama's has ranked first each year except in 2010 when Florida edged the Crimson Tide.
Missouri's 2015 class of verbal commitments ranks 11th in the SEC. Alabama's is first in the country. When asked about rankings during Sunday's SEC Championship coaches teleconference, Pinkel reiterated that he's never checked those since he's been coaching.
"We do a thing called 'Mizzou Made' here," Pinkel said. "We think we've developed players as good as anybody in the country. We have a plan and infrastructure set in to do that, professionally, personally, academically, player development."
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said he expects everyone who played in Friday's SEC East-clinching win over Arkansas to be ready for Saturday's 3 p.m. CT game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That includes running back Russell Hansbrough (ankle) and right tackle Taylor Chappell (elbow).
Hansbrough was carted off late in the game against Arkansas. He leads Missouri with 949 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He ran for 91 yards against Arkansas but limped off the field late.
"Taylor just had an arm/elbow problem but he's going to be ok," Pinkel said Sunday in an SEC Championship coaches' teleconference.
"He'll able to play. (He) hyperextended it. "Russell had a right ankle sprain. We expect him to practice Tuesday. Like everybody right now, you have bumps and bruises. There's no question about it, it's been a long season. We expect everybody who played this past Friday (to be) ready to play Saturday."
It's been exactly five years since Alabama's been the underdog in a football game. That won't change this week.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide is a two-touchdown favorite over Missouri for the 3 p.m. Saturday SEC Championship Game. The VegasInsider line opened at 10 points, but moved all the way to 14 1/2 by Sunday evening. Most Vegas sports books have Alabama favored by 13 1/2 to 14 1/2.
Elsewhere in college football:
Nebraska fired coach Bo Pelini on Sunday morning, despite the Huskers finishing with a 9-3 record this season.
Might the Cornhuskers give Kirby a look?
According to a report from Yahoo's Pat Forde, the Rams coach has "emerged as a leading candidate" for the Florida job. Forde reports that Florida officials have been gathering information on McElwain for the past two weeks, and that his name might be at the top of Florida's list. Forde also writes that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is another name on Florida's list, which comes on the heels of a report from Sports Illustrated saying the same thing.
McElwain took over the Colorado State program in 2012. The Rams had gone 3-9 in the three seasons before McElwain's arrival, and after going 4-8 with the Rams in his first season, Colorado State is 18-8 the past two seasons, including 10-2 in 2014. The Rams had also been in the hunt for an access bowl bid until losing to Air Force over the weekend ruined their chances at a Mountain West title.
The biggest hitch with McElwain is that his buyout is $7.5 million, big enough that the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley crossed McElwain off of the list of potential hires not long ago. Ultimately all contracts are negotiable, and Florida could do things like line up the Rams for guarantee games in the future to bargain down the up front price for prying McElwain away.
In any event, CSU didn't insist on that large of a buyout with the intention of rolling over in discussions with other schools mere months later. McElwain will be the most expensive option for Florida no matter how those discussions might go. At Colorado State, McElwain's records have gone up each year from 4-8 to 8-6 to 10-2. He's well known for his work as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-11, four rather prosperous years for the Tide.
Nick Saban post game press conference
Blake Sims post game interview
Amari Cooper post game interview