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Jumbo Package: SEC Championship Gump Day edition

Get excited!

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban is the forgotten coach of the year candidate

For better or worse, these awards are about the coach who has surpassed expectations. Never mind the coach who was saddled with the highest of expectations -- like, say, a preseason No. 1 ranking -- and actually met them, or the coach who had to rebuild and refocus a locker room after winning a national championship the year before. Are we to believe that one is more difficult than the other? And if we are, which is it? Because there’s certainly less pressure when scaling the mountaintop than there is trying to stay atop it.

Now this is the part where someone usually argues to look at the talent in that locker room, to see the litany of future NFL players on Saban’s roster and compare it to other less endowed programs having success. With Jonathan Allen, Calvin Ridley, Reuben Foster and so many other potential All-Americans, it’s no wonder that Alabama is the best team in the country. Anything less than a playoff berth would indeed be a disappointment.

But that argument is foolhardy, because who do you think recruited those players? And, more importantly, who do you think developed them? Besides, if talent was everything, we wouldn’t be entering a bowl season absent Texas, Notre Dame and Oregon. Tennessee would have run the table in the SEC East on talent alone, rather than finish 8-4 with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Saban has worked wonders with the roster at Alabama. People seem to forget, but he lost a Heisman Trophy-winning running back in Derrick Henry and has used four backs to replace his production, all of whom are underclassmen. People don’t seem to remember, but he lost three-fifths of his offensive line from the season before. And while it’s easy to look at the players who returned on defense, the heart and soul of last year’s front seven -- Reggie Ragland, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed -- are in the NFL now.

Nick Saban faces the same issue that Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll face in the NFL: their teams are so consistently good that no one looks at them as a choice for “Coach of the Year” type awards. Now, I know it doesn’t matter one iota to Nick Saban that he isn’t getting these awards, but I am a fan who doesn’t have to be Processed, and I care.

Saban is the best coach every single year, yet the award will probably go to a rags-to-riches story of a coach. For sure, Chris Peterson is working wonders in the Pacific Northwest, but if you asked anyone if they’d rather have Saban or Peterson, you’d be hard-pressed to get any votes at all for Peterson.

Why Nick Saban loves Jonathan Allen so much

But as a matter of human nature, someone has to be the best. And he just so happens to be a 6-foot-3, 294-pound senior defensive end with seven sacks, a team-high 13 quarterback hurries and, for an added bonus, a pair of touchdowns. He's a finalist for the Nagurski, Bednarik and Hendricks awards, and if the Heisman Trophy wasn't slanted toward offensive skill players, he'd be on everyone's top list of nominees.

He's Jonathan Allen, and if you don't think he's Heisman-worthy, just ask his head coach.

That's right, the ultra-team-focused Saban has bent the rules to accommodate for Allen. Last month, after he sacked Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight in Superman-esque fashion and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery, Saban openly vied for him to be considered for the Heisman, lamenting the fact that the award overlooks linemen. Saban called Allen a "fabulous" player and a "great candidate."

This is a great semi-long form story from ESPN on Jonathan Allen. They talk a little about his personality, his background, and how much he reflects everything that Nick Saban wants in a player.

He could have gone pro last year and done quite well for himself, but returning for one more season, he now stands a chance to be drafted in the top-10, maybe even top-5, this spring. He’s been a perfect representation of the Alabama program ever since his freshman year, and is now the face of the team. I’m going to miss him after this year.

How Alabama's defense can make history Saturday

It's never been done before.

Not by Alabama's Eric Curry, John Copeland and company in 1992. Not by the Crimson Tide's Reggie Ragland, A'shawn Robinson and friends in 2015. Nor by anyone in between.

Great defenses have been a common ingredient of SEC champions. In the last quarter century, they all have a curious distinction in common. None of them has thrown a shutout in the SEC Championship Game.

Ay Ell dot com is going full Gump today too. I’m not going to hold out hope that the Tide pitches a straight shutout in the SEC Championship game, even if Florida’s offense can be quite dreadful. If anything, the Gator defense and special teams will probably be enough to at least get Eddie Piniero into field goal range a few times, even if the offense lays a complete egg.

Don’t be surprised to see a very low scoring game this time around, akin to the LSU game. Regardless of field goals, it will be amazing if the Tide defense can prevent a touchdown for YET ANOTHER game this season.

What Florida players said about Alabama offense, top-ranked defense

The pass-catching combo of ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley also drew attention.

"Just know you can't half-step going into this game," said cornerback Jalen Tabor. "... I remember just last year, just how fast those guys were and how quick they were and how strong they were. When they got the ball, it was a little tougher than it normally is in the SEC.

"I was like, when we see these guys next in the Championship, make sure my preparation and my whole off-season is going to be just as good, if not better than theirs. So, when we see them again, it's going to be a little different story."

Even Florida is participating today!

For really the first time in the Nick Saban era, Alabama has more than one game-changer at wide receiver. While Julio Jones and Amari Cooper were stand alone superstars, Ridley and Stewart make up a dynamic duo, which means the opposing team has to have two, not just one, elite cornerback.

The best part? Unless Stewart surprises us, both will be back, along with the quarterback, next season. And they’ll bring another year of chemistry to the table.

Its defense is full of dogs, but who is the biggest one on the team?

Alabama defenders define what it means to be a dog

“It’s a tie between Reuben (Foster) and Ryan (Anderson), I’d say,” Hamilton said. “Those guys are some hard-nosed football players.”

Allen vouched for Foster, who leads the defense with 83 total tackles. Ryan Anderson, on the other hand, leads the team and is tied for second in the SEC with 16.5 tackles for loss.

Although the moniker is usually reserved for defensive players, it isn’t completely exclusive to that side of the football. After the Iron Bowl, Anderson tagged wide receiver ArDarius Stewart with the title after a 10-catch, 127-yard performance against Auburn.

“What I always see from him. He’s a dog, man,” Anderson said of Stewart after the Iron Bowl. “He’s like a receiver out there with a defensive mindset. He just punishes people. You see him? Shit.”

Even the team itself is joining in on festivities. ArDarius being nominated as a “dog” by the defensive players is nothing short of exceptional, and a real indication of just how good of a player he really is.

NOTE: The mothership people gave us a new toy to play with in our articles. How does this last link and it’s format look compared to the usual link/quotes? Let me know in the comments.

This set of linebackers is setting up to be the best on paper since the 2012 class that gave us players such as Ryan Anderson and Reggie Ragland.

Chris Allen joins Markail Benton, VanDarius Cowan, and Dylan Moses for an already loaded linebacking class of the future.