Blown call doesn't matter as Alabama edges Tennessee

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"He took his helmet off!" they screamed. "That's a 15-yard penalty! Tennessee should have gotten another kick!" (Agitated SEC and/or Bama haters typically use a lot of exclamation points.)

I'll explain why that sentiment is wrong in a few paragraphs, but if anything, Tennessee-Alabama should have helped the conspiracy theorists relax. They worry the league, ESPN, CBS, the tri-lateral commission, the United Nations and the second shooter on the grassy knoll are conspiring to match an undefeated Alabama with an undefeated Florida in the SEC championship game. Sure, several of those entities would love such a matchup, but there's no conspiracy.

If Alabama-Tennessee taught us anything, it's that the odds seem against the Crimson Tide and Gators reaching Atlanta without a loss. Florida almost lost to Arkansas last week. As I write this, Mississippi State just tied Florida at 13 in the third quarter.

The Tide and Gators seem to expose more soft underbelly every week. Alabama still must play LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. If Florida survives Starkville, it still must play Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State. Except for LSU, none of those teams is considered elite, but all of them have enough pure athletes on their roster to put together one lights-out game and ruin the SEC's dream matchup.

So calm down, tinfoil hatters. Odds are, you're going to get your wish.

Now, about that non-call on Cody. Yes, an SEC officiating crew screwed up again. This time, it didn't matter.

Howls erupted after Cody's goal block saved Alabama's bacon. Cody indeed removed his helmet while still in the field of play. That's a big no-no, and it usually merits a 15-yard penalty. But here's where the howlers are wrong. Even if officials had flagged Cody, Tennessee wouldn't have gotten another kick.

Because Alabama blocked and recovered the ball, Alabama had possession. The game can't end on a defensive penalty, but because of the possession change, Alabama wasn't on defense. We'll let SEC spokesman Charles Bloom take it from here.

"The foul for taking helmet off is a live ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul," Bloom wrote in an e-mail Saturday night. "That is, if it happens on a play where time does not expire then the penalty is enforced on the following play. However since the clock ran out on that play, then there is no next play, so there is no penalty to mark off."

Still, only a week after an Arkansas-Florida debacle that got an SEC crew suspended for three weeks, the conference could ill afford for another crew to miss such a clear call. It would have been nice if an official could have flagged Cody. Then referee Matt Austin could have explained to a national television audience why, despite the penalty on Cody, the game was still over.

Instead, the conspiracy theorists got more ammunition. Of course, that may not matter for much longer, because the SEC's elite teams look vulnerable enough to disprove the theories all on their own.