ATLANTA -- No. 3 Alabama walked into the SEC Championship Game against No. 1 Georgia on Saturday as 6.5-point underdogs. It marked the first time it had been an underdog since these same two teams met in Athens, Georgia, in 2015, and with good reason.
Seven days prior to the Crimson Tide's 41-24 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday, it looked like all was lost. Sure, the quadruple-overtime win over Auburn counted in the win column and kept them in the College Football Playoff race, but the seven sacks that the offensive line gave up and their inability to consistently move the football on the ground again showed the imperfections that have existed on this team all year.
Those imperfections disappeared, however, when it pitched a perfect game at the perfect time.
"I think what these guys really wanted to gain was more respect," coach Nick Saban said. "Not just the fact that they were underdogs because I think we had a tremendous amount of respect for Georgia, their team, and what they accomplished. But you guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison. The rat poison that you usually give us is usually fatal, but the rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy."
Alabama did not give up a sack and allowed only four tackles for loss despite having given up an SEC-worst 85 heading into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It gave quarterback Bryce Young time to set multiple SEC Championship Game records, including passing yards (421) and total offense (461).
It's one thing for Young to light up lesser defenses without a stable rushing attack. It's an entirely different thing to light up a Georgia defense that, coming into the game, was considered one of the best defenses this century.
It's like that scene in "Happy Gilmore" when Happy learns how to putt. This time it's the collective college football world, not Shooter McGavin, thinking "uh oh."
"We've probably had to overcome more adversity, and this team has had to endure and have more resiliency from a competitive standpoint than probably most of the teams we've ever had," Saban said. "Nobody thought we had a chance to win and really go out and perform well against a really good team."
Alabama punched its ticket to the playoff on Saturday night and changed a lot of minds in the process. Saban might have been one of them. He went off on fans during his coaches show prior to the Iron Bowl to a point where he called them "self-absorbed" for being upset at wins that haven't been as dominating as those in previous seasons. Only Saban can get fans to cheer when he's insulting them to their faces. It's almost as if he was content with the imperfect DNA of this particular team.
It went from imperfect to perfect within a span of 60 minutes.
Alabama's name is going to be called shortly after noon ET on Sunday as one of the four participants in the CFP. Whichever team winds up on the same side of the bracket better watch out because the same old Alabama -- the 900-pound gorilla that has owned college football for a decade-and-a-half -- is back with a vengeance.
This Crimson Tide team took a much different path to reach a very familiar destination. Saban is widely regarded as the best coach of all time, but even the very best face unique challenges throughout their career. This challenge was much different, and Saban's Crimson Tide aced it when it mattered most.
Now they're bringing the chip that was on their shoulder to the final table.