Tampa Bay Sports Day

SEC: No. 1 Alabama Wins SEC with Rout of Florida

ATLANTA — Alabama won the national championship in 2009, the last time it followed an unbeaten regular season with a victory over Florida in the SEC Championship Game and the Crimson Tide appear poised for a repeat.

Alabama, which won national titles in 2011, 2012 and 2015 with one loss, is assured of the top seed Sunday when the College Football Playoff pairings are released after routing the Florida Gators 54-16 at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

“You don’t always get what you want in life, but you get what you deserve,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “These guys have done a fantastic job all season long. I’m really proud of them.”dt-common-streams-streamserver

It was the 25th straight victory over two seasons for Alabama, which has outscored its past four victims by a combined 169-34.

The Crimson Tide (13-0) ran one of three first-half interceptions against Austin Appleby back for a touchdown and also scored on a blocked punt in even surpassing their billing as a 24-point favorite over the Gators (8-4).

Senior linebacker Reuben Foster, voted the MVP, had two of Alabama’s four sacks and Florida was held to zero yards on the ground in the second-most lopsided of 25 SEC title games. Auburn defeated South Carolina 56-17 in 2010.

“It’s big, man,” Foster said of Alabama’s third straight SEC title and thanking his teammates during the postgame celebration. “Roll Tide! I love you all boys.”

Bo Scarbrough scored two touchdowns and had 91 of the 234 rushing yards by Alabama, which didn’t have a turnover. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards and a TD.

“In my opinion, it’s the best team, top to bottom, that Nick’s had since he’s been there,” said Florida coach Jim McElwain, a former Alabama assistant. “Just the overall team speed is different.”

The game started out as if Florida might be able to give the Crimson Tide a battle.

Alabama hadn’t given up a touchdown to an opposing offense in 17 quarters dating back to October before Florida scored on the opening possession. Appleby completed 6 of 7 passes, three times converting on third down before hitting Antonio Calloway for a 5-yard TD.

“I thought we had a pretty good plan,” McElwain said.

The Crimson Tide, though, picked off Appleby the next two times Florida had the ball, with Minkah Fitzpatrick returning his 44 yards for a TD after Shaun Dion Hamilton’s interception and long return led to a 31-yard field goal by Adam Griffith.

Then Derrick Gore blocked a Florida punt and Josh Jacobs returned it 27 yards for a score. Griffith’s extra-point attempt was blocked and returned 98 yards for two points by David Reese, but the Crimson Tide led 16-9 after the first quarter despite minus-7 net yards.

It was 33-16 at intermission, Alabama scoring the most first-half points in an SEC title game. Gehrig Dieter caught a 6-yard TD pass from Hurts, Josh Jacobs scored on a 6-yard run and Griffith made a 25-yard field goal before Appleby’s 25-yard TD pass to DeAndre Goolsby with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.

Alabama erased any doubt about the victory in the third quarter, making a goal-line stand and then driving 98 yards. Scarbrough scored on a 2-yard run to climax the drive and then scored from a yard out in the fourth at the end of a 91-yard march.

Alabama’s final touchdown came on a 10-yard run by Gore.

With a likely return to Atlanta for the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, the only bad news for Alabama was the loss of Hamilton, the team’s second-leading tackler. The junior linebacker left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and is likely headed to surgery.

SEC NOTES: Florida DT Taven Bryan was ejected in the fourth quarter. … With Alabama winning the last three and five of the past nine, a team from the East Division hasn’t beaten the West representative since Florida defeated the Crimson Tide in 2008. … After 23 years at the Georgia Dome, the championship moves to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium next door in 2017. A new contract will keep the game in Atlanta at least through the next 10 years. … Alabama and Florida played in the inaugural title game at Birmingham in 1992, as well as the first when the event moved to Atlanta in 1994. This was the ninth time that the schools have played for the championship and second in a row. Alabama has a 5-4 edge