Scott Cochran said it with a sledgehammer.
Emphatically, in other words.
The other day the steely-eyed, bald strength and conditioning coach for Alabama took matters into his own hands and shattered any illusions that the Crimson Tide have any interest in being second-best. So what did he do?
He smashed last year’s College Football Playoff national championship runner-up trophy to the floor of the Alabama dressing room, then took a sledgehammer to complete the deal. Bama don’t do runner-up trophies. The profanity-laced video went viral. He’s so intense, he’d frighten a cobra.
Cochran told me Saturday that his boss, Nick Saban, knew he was going to do it. “I don’t do anything without him knowing about it,” he said.
And why did he do it?
“It was a participation award,” Cochran said, almost spitting out the words in disgust. “We needed a little juice.”
Yeah, like just getting to the title game isn’t near enough. Which is why the Tide are primed to win their fifth championship in 10 years. Georgia’s equally motivated to win the big prize, something that hasn’t happened in 37 years. That’s a lot of participating but not much winning on the big stage.
“I don’t think it’s like Alabama has come down to anybody’s level,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I think the league is trying to catch up with them. It’s been that way for how many years?”
And it’s not exactly lost on the national audience that the clearly top-heavy SEC somehow managed to qualify two teams for the ultimate game in a year in which the league had what most consider an extremely off season.
For starters, eight of the 14 SEC teams finished 7-6 or worse. Four had losing records. Hey, somebody’s got to lose in the best conference, right? The East was so pitiful that Georgia all but had a layup to the SEC title game.
As many as five SEC coaches were fired this season, with Dan Mullen swapping Mississippi State for Florida to give the league six head coaches at new spots.
The SEC didn’t have outstanding quarterback play, relative to some other conferences.
Not a single SEC offensive player made the Football Writers Association of America All-American Team. Only two were named to the defense, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. But six Big 12 players were first-team selections. Heck, four players from Group of Five teams made the first team.
The perception got worse in the postseason when only two SEC teams won their bowl games and five lost. Auburn, which beat both of these finalists, fell to unbeaten Central Florida, prompting the Knights’ own claim to a mythical national championship.
The SEC will claim an actual one, the ninth since 2006 for the league, as Alabama and Georgia both won their national semifinals as underdogs.
“That’s truy rewarding,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told me. “The likelihood two teams from the same conference get in the championship game is pretty slim.”
Yeah, the SEC is, uh, down. Way down.
So down that the Big 12 would love to be this down. By the way, it still hasn’t reached the CFP title game, the only Power Five conference that hasn’t. The Pac-12? It can’t even see down from where it sits even farther below.
“I think the SEC is a great league from top to bottom,” Saban said Saturday. “I thought this was a good year. Has there been more years when I thought there was maybe a few more really stronger teams? Maybe. But I guess any league would be criticized for being top-heavy when two of the teams are playing in the championship game.”
On the contrary, Sankey said the preseason notion was that the SEC might be a one-team league. So it dispelled that by qualifying two teams in the ultimate game, played in Georgia’s backyard, of all places.
“We’re in a time of transition,” Sankey said. “And in a so-called down year, we’ve generally performed well. There’s a competitive intensity about this league. Now, I would like to win every bowl game, but we’ve undergone a lot of change.”
Since January 2015, the league has seen 22 different presidents and chancellors take office. Six athletic directors have assumed command at SEC programs in the past 18 months, and that will increase to seven when Auburn’s Jay Jacobs retires as planned.
Don’t ever think the SEC is complacent, especially where Cochran is concerned.
“That trophy has been sitting in my office for a year,” he said, “and the players were getting sick of it. They asked me, ‘Why is it still here?’ They were fighting over the sledgehammer. The trophy wanted to be destroyed.”
Cochran swept up all the pieces and put them in the trash. He didn’t think anyone wanted a souvenir. And did he hear any voices of protest from the CFP folks?
“Nah,” he said. “They don’t have my number.”
And until other leagues prove otherwise, no one else has the SEC’s number, either.
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 4 Alabama, 7:15 p.m., ESPN, 104.9