Round One goes to Alabama.
The question now is will this be the first of two meetings between the second-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia? Or maybe the first of three?
The Southeastern Conference is the only league to put multiple teams in the College Football Playoff and is always a threat to do so again.
There will not be another regular-season game this season between two better teams than the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs on Saturday night. On pure talent, you could put both in the CFP right now. But results have to count for something, or why even play the games?
The result was Alabama and its COVID-19-free coach running away from the Bulldogs in the second half. Nick Saban is now 22-0 against his former assistant coaches and the Tide has beaten Georgia six consecutive times.
“I sort of knew it was going to be a 15-round fight and we wouldn’t be winning until the late rounds,” Saban said.
Is there still a path for the SEC to put two teams in the CFP? Not unless somebody can beat Alabama, but the prospects of that don’t look good.
The SEC West already is in tatters. LSU and Auburn have each lost twice. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are more interesting than good. Arkansas is a nice turnaround story. Texas A&M has a chance to be the second-best team in the division and ’Bama already rolled the Aggies.
With an offense that hardly missed Tua Tagovailoa and two first-round draft pick receivers, Alabama is set to rampage through the rest of its season behind Mac Jones and Najee Harris.
In the East, it looked like a Georgia-Florida race at the start of the season and nothing that has happened over the first four weeks has changed that. This strange season in which the SEC is playing nothing but conference games — and has already had to postpone three of them — appears filled with parity. Except at the very top.
The best-case scenario for the SEC is an Alabama-Georgia rematch in the SEC championship game, with Round Two going to the Bulldogs to leave both them and the Tide at 10-1.
There is so much season left to play, but let’s be realistic: The Big 12 has already taken massive hits. Do you really think No. 7 Oklahoma State has the stuff to put together an undefeated season? Do you really think a one-loss champion of a league that went 0-3 against the Sun Belt will get the nod over one of those SEC heavyweights?
A Pac-12 champion that plays only seven games? C’mon.
Unbeaten BYU? Not happening.
There is good news for the rest of the country and the SEC haters, however.
After watching Georgia try to keep up with Alabama, there is no reason to believe a sequel in Atlanta would be any different than Part I in Tuscaloosa.
Georgia led 24-20 at halftime and didn’t score another point. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV is a great story for the Bulldogs, but ultimately he is a 5-foot-10 former walk-on trying to beat Alabama.
Maybe Florida would be a better a matchup against Alabama? The Tide would probably drop 50 on the Gators, but at least they have an offense that might be able to keep up with a break or two.
Georgia has the only defense in the SEC, maybe in the country, with a chance to hold down Alabama. And the Tide averaged 7.2 yards per play Saturday night. On its last four possessions, Alabama scored three straight touchdowns and then ran out the clock.
Two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff? Only if somebody can stop Alabama. And there is no reason to think anybody can.
A week after getting a harsh dose of reality against elite competition, No. 13 Miami and No. 18 Tennessee had a chance to brush themselves off and get back on track to hopeful seasons.
The Hurricanes took a step forward, taking care of business against Pittsburgh at home.
The Volunteers took a step backward, getting drubbed at home by a Kentucky team that had not won at Neyland Stadium since 1984.
Nobody is handing out trophies for beating Pitt or Kentucky — does Miami’s turnover chain count? — but for two programs with championship pedigrees and mostly mediocre results for about two decades, this is how progress should be measured.
It was no surprise Miami couldn’t keep up at Clemson last week.
But before Miami can challenge Clemson, it needs to finally separate from the ACC’s second tier. The likes of Pitt, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Duke have too often taken down the ’Canes and their blue-chip recruits.
“We put Clemson behind us and tried to put a W anyway we could. We knew we had a tough challenge in back-to-back weeks,” Miami quarterback D’Eriq King said.
Tennessee has been stuck in a similar rut as Miami. Probably worse. Playing in the SEC gives the Volunteers a rougher road back to contending for division titles with Georgia and Florida. And an annual rivalry game against Alabama is not something a rebuilding program needs.
The Volunteers rode an eight-game winning streak under coach Jeremy Pruitt into last week’s game at Georgia. They hung around for a half and then got buried. Kentucky picked up where the Bulldogs left off.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Kentucky football. But while Kentucky aspires to break long streaks of futility — the Wildcats won in Knoxville for the first time since 1984 — Tennessee wants to win SEC titles.
“There’s lots of areas we need to improve obviously, but it’s more about creating the right habits,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt got a contract extension right before the start of the season and in many ways the Tennessee roster looks better than it has in a while. This rebuild feels different than Butch Jones’. Still, Pruitt, the former Alabama assistant, is now 15-14 with the Vols. Jones was 14-15 in his first 29 games.
And Tennessee gets Alabama next week.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: North Carolina almost certainly would not have been the No. 5 team in the country under normal circumstances, but it was still surprising to see Florida State beat the Tar Heels. Behind elusive quarterback Jordan Travis, new coach Mike Norvell’s Seminoles seem to have found a way to salvage a season that appeared bleak after starting 0-3 in the ACC … UNC coach Mack Brown is now 0-10 against his alma mater … No rivalry in the last few years has produced wilder games than UCF-Memphis. The Tigers finally came out on top, snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Knights that dates back to the Conference USA days. The last four meetings have been crazy. Including two American Athletic Conference championship games, Memphis and UCF have combined for an average score for 50-44. On Saturday, UCF’s Dillon Gabriel became the first FBS quarterback to pass for more than 600 yards and five touchdowns and lose since Pat Mahomes did it for Texas Tech against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in 2016 … No. 1 Clemson’s M.O. in recent years has been to take about four or five games to really hit its stride and start laying waste to the ACC. The Tigers appear to be in full Death Star mode a bit earlier than usual and Georgia Tech never had a chance. … Notre Dame has won 22 consecutive home games and the key to the streak is not letting games like Saturday’s slog against Louisville get away … No. 14 BYU stayed unbeaten Friday night against Houston. The Cougars don’t have enough big-stage games to make a real playoff run, but quarterback Zach Wilson is a good bet to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. But it’s probably Trevor Lawrence’s Heisman to lose … Coastal Carolina should be ranked when the new AP Top 25 comes out Sunday.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/