We'll start by stating the obvious: Of all the interested parties in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama was the one that lost the most in its 42-35 defeat at the hands of Ohio State. It is Alabama, after all, that saw its season come to a crushing end and its hopes for national title die. And the Buckeyes benefited the most from the win, which will send Ohio State to the national championship game against Oregon.
And it might have been more than just a loss for Alabama. The way in which the Tide was to some degree exposed on Thursday night will revive an idea first voiced here a year ago, one that I later dismissed as premature as Alabama found itself in the hunt for yet another national title: The dynasty based in Tuscaloosa is thoroughly, definitively over. The Tide is still one of the nation's elite teams, one that can be counted on to be in the Top 10 on a near-annual basis and playing for conference and national honors on a regular basis. But Alabama is now just another elite team. It is no longer a colossus towering over the sport.
Because a singular program doesn't give up 537 yards of total offense to an opponent led by its third-string quarterback in a must-win game. It doesn't show the kind of play-calling ineptitude that allows a player averaging 7.3 yards a run (Derrick Henry) to carry the ball just 13 times, while asking ask a clearly struggling Blake Sims to throw the ball 36 times. And it doesn't go 2-for-13 on third down while allowing its opponent to convert 10 out of 18 third-down opportunities.
All of those things happened to Alabama on Thursday night. And while the Tide piled up 407 yards of total offense on 70 plays, it also turned the ball over three times and often watched as its defense wasted the great efforts of punter J.K. Scott, who pinned the Buckeyes inside their own 20-yard line five times. In one memorable sequence late in the fourth quarter, an errant Ohio State punt gave Alabama the ball at the Buckeyes' 23-yard line; the first play the coaches called was a pass that was intercepted and ended Alabama's best chance to tie the game late.
Part of the loss, of course, came down to Ohio State being a better team than a lot of people gave them credit for being. Cardale Jones looks like a future star, and shook off some early-game issues to go 18-of-35 for 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 43 yards on 17 carries, a number deflated by some sacks. Ezekiel Elliott added 230 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
But the fallout from this game will reach far beyond Alabama and Ohio State. The SEC's reputation as the strongest conference in the sport was already under fire Thursday after the other teams from the SEC West, the stronger division, went a collective 2-4 in their bowls. The conference now stands at 5-5 overall, and in four of its five most prominent postseason games -- the Sugar Bowl, the Peach Bowl (Ole Miss), the Orange Bowl (Mississippi State) and the Outback Bowl (Auburn) -- the SEC team lost. That, combined with the SEC East's 0-4 mark against the ACC on the last weekend of the regular season, stands as a devastating indictment of the conference's supposed strength.
And then there's the simple fact that no SEC team will be playing in the national championship game for the first time in almost a decade. The last time that was true was after the 2005 regular season, when Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Steve Spurrier had just started at Florida, LSU and South Carolina, and Nick Saban was still a year away from even taking the head coaching job at Alabama. Being remembered requires you to be there, and the SEC won't be for the first time in a long while.
None of which means that the SEC's reputation is irretrievably smashed, but it is heavily damaged after this year. Its best members were almost universally wiped out in the postseason -- with Georgia and possibly Missouri the only exceptions, depending on where you put the Tigers -- and the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are now vying for the title that the SEC champion virtually considered its birthright just a few years ago.
The Alabama dynasty is dead. And unless something dramatic changes soon, the SEC dynasty will quickly follow it to the grave.