- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

Color this season crimson. Alabama (5-0) and Oklahoma (4-0) emerged from a 2007-trumping upset week as college football’s favorites.

OK, it’s time to bow to Nick Saban. Sure, he’s a pick six as a human being, but Saban is unquestionably the best coach in the college game. His Alabama bunch has the two best performances of the season, posting road pastings of top-10 opponents Clemson (34-10) and Georgia (41-30). Saban has directed more damage in the Peach State over the last month than any man since Sherman hung up his bayonet.

Clemson entered the season as a prohibitive ACC favorite and national title dark horse thanks to the presumptuously nicknamed “Thunder and Lightning” backfield duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Saban and Co. simply stripped the Tigers’ manhood Aug. 30 in the Georgia Dome, holding them to zero net rushing yards and dominating the line of scrimmage.

Saturday night’s massacre in Athens, Ga., was equally impressive. Saban’s stunningly sharp, disciplined charges lock-stepped to a 31-0 halftime lead over the slightly more talented but vastly less schooled Bulldogs.

Alabama might have roughed up Georgia by double digits on the scoreboard, but that doesn’t come close to approximating the trouser-dropping hiding that Saban put on Georgia coach Mark Richt.

The scars will be lasting after prohibitive underdog Alabama emasculated the Bulldogs in their own building following a week’s worth of blackout buildup and multiple months’ worth of fawning over Georgia by the misguided media. That kind of a loss leaves a lingering mark on all things UGA. It’s the kind of loss that sets programs back entire seasons and turns coaches into psychological paraplegics.

It’s exactly the kind of loss the Steve Spurriers and Bob Stoopses of the profession used to buckle on the Phil Fulmers and Mack Browns. It’s coaching’s ultimate cuff, the kind of signature beatdown that screams, “I own you, now and forever! I know it! You know it! And worst of all, everybody else knows it!”

The game signals an SEC sea change. Previously No. 3 Georgia (4-1) is no longer the team of today or tomorrow in college football’s king of conferences. And after Saturday’s stunning home hiccup to Mississippi, neither is then No. 4 Florida (3-1).

In less than two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Saban has claimed the SEC scepter as the class of the league’s coaches a la Bear Bryant in the 1960s and 1970s and Spurrier in the 1990s. He and his teams are the league’s new standard. He might not win the league or the national title this season, but both are on the horizon. After all, if Saban can thrash the SEC’s most talented team in its own building with average players, just imagine how he will own the league once he backs up last year’s top-ranked recruiting class with a couple more hauls of blue-chip beasts.

The entire nation scoffed when Alabama threw an unprecedented eight-year, $32 million contract at Saban, nearly doubling the elite coaching standard. In just two years, Saban is already proving he is worth every penny.

Circle Nov. 8 on the calendar - the date when Saban’s second-ranked Crimson Tide visit Baton Rouge and No. 3 LSU (4-0).

The other half of the march toward Miami and the BCS title game is equally clear at the moment with Oklahoma and Missouri (4-0) holding down the first and fourth spots in the rankings. Hopefully (for the sake of clarity), the Sooners and Tigers will reach the Big 12 title game unbeaten, turning the Dec. 6 clash in Kansas City into a virtual championship play-in game.

If the Sooners get by Texas in two weeks - and that’s almost a given in years when Stoops has superior or commensurate talent to Brown - Oklahoma should reach Kansas City unblemished. The Tigers’ road to the Big 12 title game is more treacherous because of road dates with Texas (Oct. 18) and Kansas (No. 29).

Game balls and gassers - Saban should get a Rawlings factory after conducting Alabama’s aria in Athens. The week’s other heroes were Penn State’s Derrick Williams, Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.

Williams (Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt) scored rushing, receiving and kickoff return touchdowns in Penn State’s 38-24 victory over Illinois. The 5-foot-6 Rodgers rushed for 186 yards on 37 carries as the primary catalyst in OSU’s Thursday night takedown of top-ranked USC.

And Bradford, who would deserve the Heisman Trophy if voting were conducted today, passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns in the Sooners’ 35-10 rout of No. 24 TCU. As the best player on the best team, the sophomore quarterback exits the first third of the season with a 16-2 touchdown-interception ratio.

Gassers go to the three supposed BCS title challengers who looked unprepared for the task at hand. No one would have believed last week that No. 1 USC would lose to 1-2 Oregon State, No. 4 Florida would lose to 2-2 Mississippi in the Swamp and Alabama would take a 31-0 lead to the locker room in Athens against No. 3 Georgia.

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