ATLANTA — Alabama locked up another title, with plenty of style points for the playoff committee.
Now, the Crimson Tide can go after the crown it really wants.
Blake Sims threw a pair of touchdown passes, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry each had a couple of touchdown runs, and top-ranked Alabama pulled away in the fourth quarter to win its 24th Southeastern Conference championship with a 42-13 rout of No. 14 Missouri on Saturday.
Amari Cooper did nothing to hurt his Heisman chances with 12 receptions, the most in the game’s 23-year history.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team,” coach Nick Saban said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so anxious to win a game for a group of guys.”
Missouri made it a one-score contest in the third quarter, closing to 21-13, but Alabama (12-1) put up three touchdowns over the final 15 minutes to lock up its spot in college football’s inaugural playoff. And if the committee was impressed by second-ranked Oregon’s 51-13 rout of Arizona in the Pac-12 title game Friday night, they got another equally dominating performance from the team on top of its latest rankings.
For Saban and the Tide, this one was especially sweet.
A year ago, Alabama was poised to make a run at its third straight national title when Auburn won the Iron Bowl on the final play — a 109-yard return of a missed field goal.
The sting from that one will never totally go away, but this sure helped. Even though plucky Missouri (10-3) hung around much of the game, the Tide booked a likely trip to New Orleans for a semifinal game in the Sugar Bowl.
“People minimize the importance of this game. They all want to talk about the playoff,” Saban said. “I tell you what, this is a significant accomplishment. It’s tough to win your division. It’s tough to win this game.”
Alabama was ranked No. 1 by the playoff committee after winning the brutal SEC West. By knocking off the East champion, the Tide made it three SEC titles in Saban’s dominating eight years as coach, a run that increasingly looks like the second coming of Bear Bryant in a much more competitive era.
If Saban can win two more games, it would be his fourth national title in Tuscaloosa, another step closer to Bryant’s five AP titles.
Cheered on by a predominantly crimson-clad crowd at the Georgia Dome, Alabama tried to run Missouri right out of the building.
With offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin calling a bunch of short passes and runs to deal with Missouri’s pass rush, the Tide went 68 yards in 10 plays — never even going to third down — to seize a 7-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the game.
Missouri, which reached the title game for the second year in a row despite an ugly loss to Indiana and a 34-0 blowout at home by Georgia, managed to stay in this one thanks to Maty Mauk’s deep passing. He completed throws of 63, 47, 32 and 26 yards, one of them on a Johnny Manziel-like scramble in which he threw back across his body running to his left.
The Tigers’ lone touchdown was a 1-yard pass to Bud Sasser on fourth-and-goal.
That wasn’t nearly enough against the Crimson Tide juggernaut.
Sims, the game’s MVP, pushed Alabama to a 14-0 lead with a 58-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White. Sims hung in the pocket despite a brutal hit that got Missouri’s star defensive end, Shane Ray, ejected from the game for targeting.
Sims wasn’t done.
On the first snap of the fourth quarter, the fifth-year senior who waited so long for his chance to start at quarterback, hooked up with Christion Jones on a 6-yard TD toss that stretched the lead to 28-13.
For good measure, Henry tacked on a couple of touchdown runs to make it a blowout. He finished with 141 yards on 20 carries.
Sims was brilliant, completing 23 of 27 for 262 yards. He went out for Alabama’s final possession, then was pulled after one play so he could be saluted by the crowd. He gave Kiffin a long hug when he got to the sideline.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player go through any more than what Blake went through for four years a player,” Saban said. “I’ve never seen a guy work so hard.”
Missouri struggled to run against the Tide defense, limited to 41 yards on 23 carries.
Mauk was 16 of 34 for 272 yards.
Alabama finished with a commanding 504-313 edge in total yards.
“Anger. Frustration. I feel like we were slighted,” Ray said. “It’s not how you want to end your season at all.”