The new kids on the SEC block spoiled No. 1 Alabama's perfect season.
With a 29-24 win over its new conference foe, Texas A&M certainly did not make any friends in its first field trip to Tuscaloosa Saturday.
Through nine games, Alabama appeared destined to make it to a third national championship game in four years. But those hopes have been put on hold and are now in the hands of Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame.
So where does the Crimson Tide go from here?
A calm and exhaustedly red-faced Barrett Jones was the first player to take the podium in the post-game interview room Saturday evening after the loss. Reporters badgered him with questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What happens now? As the unofficial team spokesman, Jones was mature and held his head high like he always does. His tone was strong. There was no melancholy ring to it.
"It feels like somebody just died, but we still have a chance to win the SEC and we have a lot this team still can accomplish," he said.
After trailing the Aggies all game, the Crimson Tide had a chance to win it in the end. But rather than look to its trusty running game on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard-line with less than two minutes to play, the offense ran a pick play that failed as A.J. McCarron was intercepted at the goal line.
Do you wish you could get that play call back and run it in?
"You can question everything and go back and say you would rather do this, but we just didn't execute," Jones said.
After the game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he would not criticize the play call.
"But I'm like everybody else," he said. "When it doesn't work, I wish we would have done something else."
The Tide has not been in this position in over a year. The last time they lost was 9-6 to LSU in early November 2011. But somehow things worked out for Alabama in the end. Teams ahead of them in the polls lost games and they ended up playing in and winning the national championship.
There are still three weeks left in the regular season and anything can happen in college football.
"Two of the three national championship teams that I've coached both lost a game," Saban said. "This team still has an opportunity to win the West, go to the SEC Championship game and have a chance to win the championship game. There is still a lot for this team to play for, and a lot for them to set their mind to and recommit themselves to."
Before Saturday's game, Saban noticed his players lacked the right mental focus and emotional intensity and credited a trying few weeks—a trip to rivaled Tennessee, a home game against ranked and undefeated Mississippi State, and a Game of the Century night in Death Valley—as an explanation.
"We have had a pretty tough stretch here, and that's no excuse," he said. "We knew [Texas A&M] was going to be a difficult game…We were going to need to play our best game and we didn't do it and that's my responsibility."
Now Saban has the task—much like he did last year—of challenging his team to understand there are still two games left that they must be ready for. Part of the coach's famous "Process" keys in on ignoring external factors and focusing solely on your team and yourself.
The only thing Alabama can do now put the loss in the past and finish strong.
"Things aren't always going to go your way," said McCarron. "It's over and done with now. We have to refocus. We don't have an option. We've got to get back to what we do."
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