Alabama Will Play For National Title

The incredible journey is almost over. When Alabama started the season, there was reason to believe the Crimson Tide could be the national champion. When Bama lost to LSU in early November, it was going to take a handful of events to make it possible. It happened.

Alabama finished second in the BCS rankings announced Sunday night and therefore will meet LSU in a rematch in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans on January 9. On November 5, the Bengal Tigers went to Tuscaloosa and defeated Bama, 9-6, in overtime. Alabama missed four field goals in the game.

LSU is coming off a romp over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and is 13-0. Alabama is 11-1.

A third SEC West Division team, Arkansas, was also in the final BCS top 10 at sixth, and South Carolina of the SEC East was ninth. Georgia was 16th and Auburn, last year's BCS champions, was 25th.

Alabama has played in one BCS National Championship Game, defeating Texas, 37-21, in Pasadena to win the 2009 national championship. Alabama Coach Nick Saban has coached two BCS national championship teams, LSU in 2003 the other. LSU also won the BCS national championship in 2007. The SEC has provided five consecutive BCS champions and is assured of making it six.

There was more than a little anticipation. Although Alabama was clearly number two prior to last Saturday's games, Oklahoma State had an impressive win over Oklahoma to tighten the race. However, Oklahoma State had been a victim of one of those several things Alabama needed to recover from its loss to LSU. The Cowboys were upset by a mediocre Iowa State team.

Other games in the "had to happen" category were Oregon beating Stanford (and just for good measure Oregon losing to USC), Boise State losing to TCU, and Oklahoma suffering its second loss at the hands of Baylor.

And, of course, Alabama had to win out, including at Mississippi State and at Auburn. The Tide was a runaway winner in both games.

Even before those things happened, football minds generally recognized LSU and Alabama as the nation's best teams. Nevertheless, Bama probably would not have made it to the title game if there had been more than one undefeated BCS team.

It also helped that LSU continued to win.

The BCS was begun in 1998 with the premise that it would put the nation's two best college teams together in a game for the national championship. In addition to the national championship game, the BCS arranges four other bowl games. They are:

Clemson vs. West Virginia in the Orange, Michigan vs. Virginia Tech in the Sugar, Wisconsin vs. Oregon in the Rose, and Stanford vs. Oklahoma State in the Fiesta.

It is unusual that two teams from the same conference, and more than that the same six-team division within the conference, would play for the national championship. The Associated Press is not a part of the BCS equation and that respected poll will have a national championship ranking following all games. There has been speculation that should Alabama defeat LSU in a close game that the AP might award its championship to the Fighting Tigers in recognition of LSU's regular season win over Bama.

Both participating coaches seemed inclined against that in press teleconferences Sunday night.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban compared the situation to the NFL, where a Super Bowl winner might lose to a team in regular season play, but come back and defeat that team later, perhaps even in the Super Bowl. That team is still regarded as the Super Bowl champion.

"It's a national championship game," Saban said. "LSU beat us and won the SEC Championship. This is a completely different venue. The system decided the two best teams. We are going to play the National Championship Game and the winner should be viewed as national champion."

LSU Coach Les Miles said, "The opportunity to play for the national championship is a completely different scenario, played with the title at stake."

Saban was with his team at the team banquet in Birmingham. The players learned of the event watching a telecast of the BCS announcement program.

The Tide coach said, "I think our team is very deserving. I'm proud of the way they competed all year. We played a great game against a great LSU team, it was 6-6 in regulation, and we lost in overtime. It was probably the greatest college football game played this year."

Saban won' get sidetracked by conversation about whether the BCS system got it right. "We all have to live with this system," he said. "I'm proud of our players who worked hard all year long and now get the opportunity to play in the national championship game.

"There's no reason to keep mulling over the system. LSU is the number one team and we're the number two team. It is what it is.

"A lot of people think these are the two best football teams in the country."

There have been allegations that the first game with no touchdowns was boring and that the rematch will be boring.

As would be expected, Saban wasn't buying any of that.

"These are two great defensive teams, but there was a lot of offensive production," he said. "They just couldn't take advantage because of great defense. This could be a completely different type of game because there are so many great players on both sides."

Alabama players are working out now. Saban said he expected to start practice "December 19 or 20" and have "four or five practices before Christmas and four or five after Christmas and then begin regular work for the game." He said he thought the team would go to New Orleans on January 4.

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