At the beginning of the day on Saturday, there were three teams alive in the hunt for the SEC West title, and you could make a case for why each of them should be considered the front-runner. By the end of the day, there were only two with a plausible route to Atlanta, and one of them had taken a commanding lead. It was Alabama. Of course it was.
This week followed an all-too-familiar pattern. In past weeks, college football observers and fans built up Georgia as a favorite against Alabama, only to watch the Tide blow the doors off the Dawgs. We considered Texas A&M as a possible death knell for Alabama's SEC title hopes, only to see the reigning SEC champions coast by the Aggies once more. LSU became the top team in the SEC Power Poll, and we wondered if the Tide could stop Leonard Fournette like they stopped Nick Chubb. But by the time the clock ran out on Alabama's 30-16 win against LSU, there was little room to doubt that Nick Saban's team is once again the best in the SEC.
It was a game in which LSU only seemed competitive in spurts. Alabama took a quick 10-0 lead before the Tigers seemed to wake up and claw their way back into the game, with a pair of quick drives to tie it at 10. Alabama responded with another field goal and took a 13-10 lead into halftime. LSU would never be that close again. On the first play from scrimmage for LSU, Brandon Harris was picked off by Dillon Lee, and Alabama hit that gear familiar to every fan who's watched Alabama beat their team over the last few years. By the end of the third quarter, it was 27-10, and a few minutes later, Alabama's lead was 20 points. LSU was held to 55 yards in the second half, to 246 for Alabama.
Could Alabama shut down Leonard Fournette? The former Heisman front-runner ended up with 31 yards on 19 carries -- an average of 1.6 yards a carry, which would be impressive even if the Tide were playing a less talented back. Fournette's struggle was just one sign of how Alabama's defensive line mauled LSU's offensive one, racking up seven tackles for loss and two sacks. The Tigers had almost as many tackles for loss (six) and one more sack, but were otherwise pretty easily handled by the Alabama offensive front. The Tide's running game churned out 250 yards on 55 carries -- 281 on 52 carries if you remove sacks -- and Derrick Henry (38 attempts, 210 yards) is now in the thick of the conversation about college football's most prestigious award. Alabama ended up 8-for-16 on third and fourth down.
Paired with Ole Miss' loss to Arkansas just moments before, the easy win in Tuscaloosa made Alabama the overwhelming favorite to claim its third SEC West title in four years. The Tide still have to maneuver conference games at Mississippi State and at Auburn, either of which would love to ruin Alabama's season but neither of which will be favored when their respective games kick off. If there's a reason to pick one of the other teams in the division as a possible champion, it's hard to see.
No, the favorite in the SEC West is Alabama. The only thing that's mysterious about it is why any of us ever bothered to think it might be someone else.