Alabama Again Controls Destiny

Alabama football seems to attract headlines, perhaps because of its easy recognition. There is only one Alabama, one Bama, one Crimson Tide. Over the years the headline "Bama's Back" has followed critical Tide victories. The headline may be appropriate today following an open date.



Alabama once again controls its destiny. After opening the season as the nation's top-ranked team and reaching near-unanimous support as college football's best team, the Tide had the pins knocked out from under it by South Carolina. The Tide tumbled in the polls.

Fortunately, Alabama has a name. Knowledgeable voters, be it coaches or sportswriters, recognize that Bama has the players and the coaches who can live up to the mantle of national champion. Nevertheless, Alabama couldn't be elevated above other undefeated teams from big boy conferences. The Tide had to have help.

This is not a new phenomenon. Alabama's national championship reputation was built before the days of the BCS and computer nerds being able to affect the outcome. It was particularly noteworthy in the era of Paul Bryant, who coached the Tide to six national championships. that from time-to-time Bama would need help. Often, Alabama got that help.

For instance, in 1965, going to the bowl games of January 1 in 1966 the Tide was ranked behind Michigan State, Arkansas, and Nebraska. During the afternoon, UCLA defeated Michigan State and LSU beat Arkansas. Alabama – which had suffered a regular season loss and a tie -- and Nebraska were playing at night in the Orange Bowl and the game was billed throughout the evening as the "national championship game." Alabama won and had a back-to-back championship since the Tide had won the title in 1964.

More directly, in 1978 Alabama lost a regular season game to Southern Cal, which catapulted the Trojans to number one and put Bama on the outside looking in. Obviously, Alabama needed help. USC had to lose, of course, but that wasn't all. The Trojans did lose. Alabama still had a problem. Penn State moved up to number one and was willing to play Alabama, number two, in the Sugar Bowl, but Alabama wasn't going to the Sugar Bowl is Georgia beat Auburn (as the Southeastern Conference rules were in that time).

Alabama found itself in the position of having to be for Auburn if the Tide was going to have a chance to win the national championship.

(One of the enduring lines from that era was the Alabama fan who said he still wouldn't be for Auburn, even if it meant the possibility of a national title for the Tide. "We've got plenty of championships," he said. "Auburn can't have enough losses.")

As it turned out, Bama got the best of all worlds. Auburn and Georgia played to a tie, which was good enough to get Alabama into the Sugar Bowl and the opportunity to play Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions. That game included the famous goal line stand and resulted in yet another national championship.

After Alabama's loss to South Carolina, the Tide was well down the list in the top 10. Bama needed help.

And it has come. Oklahoma knocked Texas out of the ranks of the undefeated. Texas did the same to Nebraska. Missouri got Oklahoma and Nebraska beat Missouri. In the Big 10, Wisconsin beat Ohio State and Michigan State beat Wisconsin.

This weekend provided more opportunity for Alabama to move up as two teams the Tide had to have help with went down. Not only that, two teams Bama needed to win did so.

First the losers: Michigan State lost to Iowa and Missouri fell to Nebraska.

Alabama also got important winners. The 1978 Bama fan's sentiment notwithstanding, at this point in the season it is important for the Tide that Auburn continue to win. Although the Tigers gave up 31 points to Ole Miss, Auburn scored three touchdowns more than that for an easy victory and AU will remain among the top teams. Alabama gets to play Auburn, and it will be best for the Tide if the Tigers are undefeated.

Going into the weekend, it was thought that Alabama needed two or three teams – the aforementioned Michigan State and Missouri, and number one ranked Oregon. When Michigan State and Missouri won, a case could be made that Bama needed Oregon to defeat Southern Cal, which the Ducks did. That should keep Oregon at the top of the polls and a worthy BCS National Championship Game participant.

Most pundits believe that responsible voters and correctly programmed computers will not allow a non-BCS team into the BCS Championship Game. That takes care of those teams that rarely if ever have to worry about a regular season loss, the Boise State types of weak leagues.

That doesn't mean Bama has a cakewalk to Glendale, Arizona, site of this year's title game.

After an open date, Alabama is back to important business this week. The Tide goes to LSU, which like Bama has a 7-1 overall record and 4-1 SEC mark. That game in Tiger Stadium will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT and televised by CBS.

Following that the Tide takes on an improved Mississippi State, a breather against Georgia State, and then a Tuscaloosa game against Auburn. Ideally the Tide wins out, which puts Bama in the SEC Championship Game. To make it really ideal, put South Carolina in that game and give the Tide a chance to avenge its one defeat.

Again, it's not going to be easy. Winning the national championship is never easy. But at least it appears Alabama does have control.

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