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Two-team SEC dominance of Alabama, Georgia recalls 2009 season

Alabama coach Nick Saban, Georgia coach Kirby Smart
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Alabama and Georgia look like they’re miles ahead of the SEC chase pack. The biggest gap behind the top two in SEC history, though? Not necessarily.

In a year with two sure-fire national championship contenders in the SEC, along with a dozen teams that haven’t been in the same ballpark so far, it’s easy to imagine this pattern is an all-time first. That’s especially true for fans who remember 2012, when five SEC teams finished in the top nine and six won double-digit games.

Where has the depth gone? And is it ever coming back?

Don’t panic. The SEC saw something similar to this less than a decade ago.

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In 2009, Alabama and Florida, under Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, respectively, blew away all opposition on their way to the conference championship game in Atlanta.

That season, defending national champion Florida went 8-0 in conference play, with Tim Tebow in his senior year at quarterback. Alabama similarly went 8-0 in its SEC games. And few teams really challenged them – only three teams (Tennessee against Alabama, Arkansas against Florida and Auburn against Alabama) lost by seven or fewer points in 16 chances.

Meanwhile, everybody else ranged from slightly above average to awful. LSU and Ole Miss managed to win nine games, squeezing into the back end of the year-end top 25 poll, but no other SEC teams were ranked. Most remained huddled together around the seven-win mark.

Florida won the East Division by four games; Alabama won the West by three games. Six of the SEC’s 12 teams had league records below .500.

In other words, it looks a lot like 2017.

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Right now, Alabama and Georgia stand far above the rest of the conference. Texas A&M, which held Alabama to an eight-point win, is the only SEC team that has avoided being completely swamped by the Crimson Tide. Georgia has crushed its opponents, too, winning each conference game by at least 25 points.

Two other SEC teams are ranked in The Associated Press poll: Auburn at No. 19, and LSU at No. 23. (Texas A&M is also ranked in the coaches’ poll.) Both sets of Tigers are 6-2, for now. But both must play Alabama and Texas A&M; in Auburn’s case, there’s Georgia as well. Thus, their records likely will take a hit or two.

That means, barring a stunning upset along the way, Alabama and Georgia appear likely to finish the season with two, three or even four wins more than their nearest SEC opponents – just like 2009.

That scenario would set up a titanic clash in the SEC championship game in Atlanta on December 2. For what it’s worth, though, the 2009 title game didn’t deliver on the sky-high expectations.

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That matchup – No. 1 Florida against No. 2 Alabama, former Heisman winner Tebow against future Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Meyer against Saban – was expected to determine a national title favorite, which it certainly did.

But the game itself was anticlimactic. Alabama took an early lead and didn’t look back, winning 32-13. Ingram rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns, and Trent Richardson added 80 more. Florida, meanwhile, wound up with a wildly unbalanced offense – 35 pass attempts, just 14 runs.

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