Who said the SEC was overrated? The Alabama Crimson Tide are the 2016 National Champions. The team’s 45-40 victory over the then-No. 1 Clemson Tigers allowed ‘Bama to claim its fourth national title in the past seven seasons. For the SEC, the league has now watched its teams win eight of the past 10 national championships. Despite a down season and an offseason coaching change for the Mizzou Tigers, the dominance shown by the Alabama and the SEC should help to make the Tigers’ recovery a quick one.
Getting back to the big game, while this was far from the most-dominant ‘Bama team we’ve seen, the victory might have been the most-exciting. When it counted most, Quarterback Jake Coker, who was benched briefly earlier in the season, turned into Tom Brady. Tight end O.J. Howard, who amassed just 394 yards during the entire season, channeled his inner Rob Gronkowski and set a national championship record by racking up 208 yards receiving along with 2 TDs. Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards. However, it was two key plays on special teams that propelled this Crimson Tide team to a special victory.
Coach Nick Saban’s gutsy fourth quarter onside kick call will be talked about for ages. It was only gutsy because it worked. Had it failed, he would’ve been called foolish and a bunch of other names that cannot be printed in this family newspaper. I suppose with four national titles on his resume, Saban could afford to gamble. He hit the jackpot. A little later in the quarter, special teams paid off again when Kenyan Drake rumbled 95 yards down the field, diving into the end zone for the score.
Both plays left the Clemson Tigers stunned. The tremendous team and its terrific quarterback, Deshaun Watson, rallied back again and again. However there just wasn’t enough time, or maybe it just wasn’t theirs.
How does this help the Tigers of Missouri, you ask? How can the Alabama dynasty benefit a 5-7 team that won just one conference game and suffered turmoil on and off the field in 2015? Two words: money and exposure.
The big coup for the Tigers joining the SEC in 2012 was due to the fact that the SEC splits incoming revenue evenly amongst all its teams. In the Big 12, gridiron powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma took the lion’s share of the dinero. Power conferences, such as the SEC, earn millions of dollars whenever it sends one of its teams to the College Football Playoffs (CFP). For Missouri, that means more money to keep its facilities A-1 to attract recruits. The spotlight on the conference, due to its unparalleled gridiron success, will continue to help the Tigers on the recruiting trails.
Potential recruits know that all eyes are watching the SEC. Kids who don’t get scholarship offers from Alabama and those who do, but don’t feel they will earn enough playing time will give a long, hard look to other teams in the conference. With the Tigers having gained a reputation as ‘D-Line U’ by sending numerous members of its defensive line (and defense in general) to the NFL, they will continue to reel in excellent recruits, even after a down year.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 has faltered. Mizzou’s ex hasn’t won a national title since Texas wore the crown in 2005. However, this season, the Big 12 did produce a 0-12 team in the Kansas Jayhawks. If you recall correctly, the Jayhawks whined and pouted when its top rival left for greener pastures and refused to keep the rivalry alive via non-conference scheduling. I guess the only thing that might have made those 12 Ls worse is if one had come at the hands of the boycottin’ boy of Mizzou.
Back to the future, while it may be uncool to ride on another’s coattails, that’s exactly what Barry Odom and the Mizzou Tigers need to do in order to rebound back into contention. Alabama (SEC West) is not on Missouri’s (SEC East) schedule in 2016, but they’re always a potential conference championship foe. On the recruiting trail, every 10th word out of Odom’s mouth should be either Alabama, SEC or national championship. For black players concerned with the racial divide on campus in Columbia (and rightfully so), they can take solace in the fact that the players and coaches at Mizzou stood behind their players during the boycott. Not many coaches in the SEC would have done the same. For others, the bright ESPN lights, they unending gaze of NFL scouts and die-hard, raucous fans around the league will be enough to steer them to the SEC.
With the St. Louis Rams owner trying his hardest to pry his team to the West Coast, the irony is that the team from his hometown may gain a new legion of STL football fans. Who knows, in a few years, maybe the Missouri Tigers will be in the position the Clemson Tigers were in Monday night. It sounds far-fetched, but Mizzou was expected to face plant in the SEC. After one down season, the team regrouped to win back-to-back SEC East titles. If it happens again, this time under Odom, the team can thank the Alabama and SEC dynasties for paving the way.
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