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AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Alabama football coach Nick Saban talks to players during the first half of Saturday's SEC title game against Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

It will end one day, this Alabama stranglehold on its Southeastern Conference football brethren. At some point, albeit at some seemingly distant moment in the future, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban will surely retire.

Won't he?

Mustn't he?

The storylines of No. 3 Bama's 41-24 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Georgia on Saturday will be both diverse and discouraging if you're a Bulldogs fan looking ahead to the College Football Playoff.

Two costly second-half interceptions by Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett will reenergize the preseason question posed by CBS announcer Brad Nessler early in Saturday's fourth quarter: "Is Stetson good enough to win the big game?"

Then there is the idea that it's all been just a little bit too easy for the Dawgs all season, given their average margin of victory of almost 34 points a game and only one of those 12 wins by fewer than 17, and that in the opener against Clemson.

One could also trot out the motivation argument. Having dominated as they did in those first 12 games, almost no one has even vaguely entertained the thought that Georgia might somehow miss the playoff. In truth, no one save Saban and the Tide had seemed to consider the notion that Bama could win this SEC title game and add to its preposterous collection of nine such championships prior to this one, that total already two ahead of Florida for the all-time lead.

So the Dawgs entered Saturday as 6.5-point favorites, which was also pretty much the points they were allowing per game (6.9) prior to kickoff. Nearly four hours later, Bama had done what was previously thought impossible in shredding the nation's top defense.

Or as Saban said afterward of his pride in the Tide "playing the game at a level we did today that most people probably didn't think we could."

While true, Bama had only itself to blame for the general perception that it was, by its impossibly lofty standards, mildly mediocre before this one.

Not only had it blown a late lead in its lone loss at Texas A&M, it had struggled in narrow wins over Arkansas, Florida and LSU. Then came the miracle win at Auburn, which certainly canceled out one of the Tigers' shocking victories over Bama through the years, but did little to deliver much confidence to Bama Nation that it was now ready to face Georgia.

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AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Alabama football coach Nick Saban said his players "wanted to gain a little respect" in Saturday's SEC title game.

Yet no one knows the exact level of motivation for each squad leading into this one. Yes, Georgia needs to get past so many soul-crushing losses to Alabama if it ever expects to finish a season at No. 1 for the first time since 1980. Yes, Saban now has eight wins over No. 1 teams throughout his career, the most of any coach in the poll era that began in 1936.

But the Bulldogs also wanted this one more than they needed it, as opposed to the Tide, which positively, absolutely had to beat Georgia to guarantee its spot in the CFP.

"Everybody wanted to gain a little respect, and I think maybe we did," Saban said afterward. "Everybody contributed in a positive way."

Of course, no one contributed more than sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, who threw for 421 yards — the most ever by a quarterback in the SEC title game — and three touchdowns while running for a fourth score.

It was enough to have Saban gush that "Bryce played a magnificent game," and that game would seem to guarantee a New York City invite for next weekend's Heisman Trophy presentation as a finalist for college football's top individual honor, if he hasn't already locked up the little bronze statue.

This game was also a window into part of what makes the Tide so hard to beat on any given Saturday, if not all Saturdays. Flush with unexpected victory most sweet, one might reasonably expected Alabama players to talk about celebrating this one for a bit, certainly for three or four days.

Instead, defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis told CBS: "We've got to go back to work."

It is Georgia that must now go back to work in order to get back on track with its championship dreams. Run the ball better. Defend against the pass better. Consider giving JT Daniels a second look at starting quarterback now that one of the preseason favorites for the Heisman is reportedly 100% healthy. And if receiver George Pickens is fully healthy, target him more than two or three times a game.

No less than CBS commentator Gary Danielson seemed to shrug off this latest 41-27 Georgia loss to Bama — the Tide won in Tuscaloosa by that same score last season — when he said, "It doesn't feel as devastating as those other losses were."

And he's no doubt 100% right that this one doesn't sting as much as the CFP championship game loss or the SEC title game loss to Bama inside this same Mercedes-Benz Stadium in recent years. The season didn't end this time. Only the dream of going undefeated.

But something else Nessler said during the telecast continues to ring true, especially for each school's fan base: "Third-ranked Alabama still has Georgia's number, at least to this point."

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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