Ever since a very good Texas A&M team upset the Alabama Crimson Tide last Saturday, the college football world – apart from the vast expanse that is dedicated to the University of Alabama – has been giddy with Schadenfreude. Members of the pundit class are practically falling all over themselves to claim that they were The First To Predict An Alabama Loss, and talk radio shows are dominated by callers from SEC also-rans chortling about how Alabama people are (insert derogatory word or phrase of your choosing).
Alabama fans certainly aren’t happy with last Saturday’s results. One hears things like, “we didn’t play with any intensity until we were 20 points behind,” or “we were not emotionally and mentally ready to play,” or “we took the wrong lesson away from the LSU game the week before.”
Okay granted, we heard all these things from Nick Saban, but every Alabama fan would agree with the sentiment.
Despite the loss to A&M, Alabama is in position to play its way into the BCS Championship Game by winning the first round of the four-team playoff – or they would be, if the BCS format that goes into effect next year was in effect this year.
Nevertheless, Alabama could yet find itself playing for the Big Crystal Football. Here are five reasons why:
1. Each of the teams ranked ahead of Alabama must play games over the next three weeks they could easily lose.
The shortest path for Alabama to get to Miami for the championship game is for two of either Oregon, Kansas State or Notre Dame to lose at least one of their remaining games.
The Ducks face Stanford this Saturday and finish the regular season against Oregon State. The 8-2 Cardinal lead the Pac 12 in total defense and rushing defense, prompting Oregon head coach, Chip Kelly to acknowledge that Stanford will field the best defense his team has faced this year.
Oregon State (7-2) could also prove to be a test for the Ducks. The Beavers’ starting quarterback completes 61.3 percent of his passes and has thrown for nearly 1600 yards, while their defense has recorded 16 interceptions. Assuming they get to the PAC 12 Championship Game, the Ducks are likely to face UCLA or a rematch with USC. Either team is capable to beating the Water Fowl.
Kansas State may have the easiest path to the BCS game of any of its late season rivals. The Wildcats play Baylor (4-5) this weekend and finish the regular season against Texas (8-2).
Baylor, which allows on average 39 points per game and surrenders 200 yards per game in rush defense, does not pose much of a defensive threat.
Texas, on the other hand, while not the strongest defensive team in the country, has a points per game differential of +10 due to the work of quarterback David Ash, who completes 69 percent of his pass attempts and averages 235 yards/game passing. Ash is ably assisted by a pair of running backs who have combined for 1157 rushing yards through 10 games.
The Irish will have no trouble this weekend with Wake Forest, but a road trip to Southern Cal is Notre Dame’s season finale. The Trojans have not lived up to their preseason hype, but they are a still a very dangerous team and Notre Dame’s excellent defense will face its greatest test of the season. With an offense that has managed to play just good enough, Notre Dame could find it very hard to score enough points against the Trojans to salvage its national championship hopes.
2. Alabama has time to heal and recover from three bruising games.
The Tide is banged up coming off consecutive games against Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M. Finishing the regular season against Western Carolina and the 2012 Auburn squad is just the thing that bruised bodies and psyches need in order to regain speed, power and confidence in advance of the SEC Championship Game.
3. Georgia is Georgia.
Alabama matches up very well against UGA. The Dawgs have apparently shaken off their loss to the Fighting Chickens and may be peaking at the right time. Nevertheless, they are capable of some horrific performances, even in winning games. They have fumbled the ball 12 times, losing 7, and although Aaron Murray has completed 66 percent of his passes he has thrown 7 interceptions. Moreover, the Dawgs have not exactly been a disciplined team this season. Through ten games, Georgia has been penalized 72 times for 533 yards, and when they played Florida – a game that had all the finesse of a prison riot – the two teams combined for 24 penalties costing a total of 227 yards.
4. Fundamentals usually win.
It is a cliché that there are three keys to playing winning football: establish the run, stop the other team from running, and play well in the kicking game. Clichés become clichés because they are true. Alabama has proven that it can run the football and stop the other team’s running game. And if there is one area where the 2012 Crimson Tide is vastly improved over last season it is the kicking game.
5. Nick Saban is the Tide head coach.
If you think that this point needs further explanation, you’re probably on the wrong site.
All of these reasons, especially the last, help explain why Alabama will play for the BCS Championship again this year. Now here are the five reasons why it won’t:
1. Two out of three isn’t good.
Alabama may well be at the head of the parade of one-loss teams in the BCS standings, but there is little chance that it will be able to leap over an undefeated Notre Dame or even Kansas State. If only one of the three teams ahead of Alabama loses a game in the next two weeks, Alabama will find itself shut out of the top two.
2. Bad injury luck has made Alabama thinner when it matters most.
The Tide started the 2012 campaign with the deepest roster of running backs and receivers in the country, but injury luck has worked against the Tide this year. Alabama now finds itself thin at both positions and two starters – Eddie Lacy and Amari Cooper – wrapped with enough tape to circle the Quad.
3. Jim McElwain is coaching at Colorado State.
CBS’s Gary Danielson said it earlier this week on a radio show. When asked about the Tide’s play calling with first and goal from the A&M 6-yard line, the CBS analyst said, “I thought to myself that for the first time this year, Alabama misses Jim McElwain.” I believe that most Alabama fans would agree.
4. Alabama still has to play three more third quarters.
In the first four games this season, Alabama scored on each of its initial offensive possessions of the third quarter, accumulating two touchdowns and two field goals. Over the last six games, this is how the Tide has begun the second half:
- three plays, -2 yards, punt
- three plays, -2 yards, punt
- six plays, 47 yards, missed FG
- six plays, 31 yards, punt
- three plays, 6 yards, punt
- three plays, 5 yards, punt
The reason for this offensive regression must be found and corrected over the next two games or Alabama will not beat Georgia for the SEC Championship.
5. Nobody wants to see a seventh consecutive national champion from the SEC.
At least, that is what the sports media believe. Broadcasters and writers are saying that college football fans are tired of the sport being dominated by traditional southern teams. They want to see games that resemble costume parties with gaudy offensive statistics where defense is an afterthought.
Maybe they are right. Perhaps what most viewers want are games with combined scores north of 100 and total offense in excess of 1,000 yards. But I don’t believe it for a minute.
In my opinion, the best thing for college football, in the season following scandals on and off the field at formerly prestigious programs, would be for the national championship game to be between the two programs with the greatest legitimate claim to the historic legacy of the sport. Is there a college football fan worth his weight in nachos and hotdogs who wouldn’t be captivated by a game between Alabama and Notre Dame?
Give me that match up this January in Miami.