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story.lead_photo.caption Alabama head coach Nick Saban poses next to the NCAA college football championship trophy at a press conference in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Alabama beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime to win the NCAA college football playoff championship game on Monday night. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

What much of America witnessed Monday night in the national championship game was two great teams slugging it out into overtime, and Nick Saban tightening his grip on the college football world.

Alabama got to the winner's circle by first knocking off ACC champion Clemson in the opening round of the College Football Playoff and SEC champion Georgia in the finals.

Georgia had eliminated Big 12 champion Oklahoma. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were not quite good enough to be invited, and the selection committee got it right by putting two SEC teams in its Final Four.

While coaches all over the country should have been making calls to their assistants to tell them they have work to do if they are ever going to play for a national championship, Saban made the biggest halftime adjustment of not only the game but also his career.

He benched two-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was 26-2 as a starter and is just 19 years old.

Bama was trailing 13-0 at the half, and it could have been worse. Hurts was 3-of-8 passing for 21 yards, and he hadn't looked good.

Saban realized the Crimson Tide weren't going to win a smash-mouth football game, and he needed someone who could get them yardage through the air.

Saban didn't have to look far in the locker room. Tua Tagovailoa -- who would later say he was praying out loud in tongues during the game -- had been waiting for weeks to hear his name called. Fans too. Word leaked and spread about how good he was in practice.

Hurts had led the Tide to the championship game last season, so Saban wasn't giving up on him easily. Tagovailoa, a native of Hawaii, had thrown passes during mop-up duty in seven games but hadn't seen the field since Nov. 18, but his prayers -- and those of the Alabama Nation -- were answered in the second half Monday.

Tagovailoa completed 14 of 24 passes for 166 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the perfect strike to DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard game winner in overtime on second and 26.

That is when every coach in the SEC and every coach who hopes to play for the championship realized what they were seeing.

Five freshmen contributed to Bama's win -- along with Tagovailoa and Smith were running back Najee Harris, who finished with a team-high 64 yards rushing, and wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy.

Yes, Alabama's vaunted defense was bailed out by five freshmen playing on the other side of the ball.

Now everyone knows what it has to do to catch the Tide, and it won't be easy for anyone, especially teams such as Arkansas in the SEC West. Those other six teams have to play Alabama every year.

Don't put too much stock in Saban saying he wasn't going to coach forever, because with talented freshmen like that he's going to be around awhile. After all, he's only tied with Bear Bryant for most national championships with six. He will break the record and end the argument of best coach ever.

Several months ago, it was suggested that every SEC team put up $2 million and use the $26 million to buy Saban out of the SEC. He could have the money and still coach, just not in the SEC.

After Monday night, Saban's value increased: The 13 other SEC schools now should offer $4 million each to chase away the great Saban. Even he would be tempted by $52 million.

As for all the other schools in the Power 5, they should hope he doesn't come to their conference.

Saban and Alabama have a stranglehold on greatness. They are kings of the college football hill, and what the nation saw Monday night isn't about to change soon.


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Sports on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: Saban, Bama more entrenched than ever

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