Before Title Games, Tide Has Hurdle

Tongues are still wagging regarding the losses by number one Kansas State and number two Oregon in Saturday games, opening the door for teams behind the Wildcats and the Ducks. And most of those doing the talking are projecting the winner of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game into the BCS National Championship Game.

Alabama is hoping that it can take advantage of fortuitous losses by front-runners in the late season to return to the BCS title game – this year in Miami – and repeat as national champion. First, though, Bama must get into the SEC title game as Western Division champion. After that, it will require a win over Eastern champion Georgia.

And that's if everything goes as expected, which as we all saw Saturday evening doesn't necessarily happen in college football.

The best route for Alabama begins with a victory over Auburn in Tuscaloosa Saturday. Bama is 10-1 overall and 6-1 in SEC games. Auburn has had a surprisingly disappointing season, 3-8 overall and winless in seven SEC games. Kickoff for that game will be at 2:30 p.m. CST at Bryant-Denny Stadium with CBS televising the game.

If Alabama wins, the Tide will be in the SEC Championship Game. If Alabama loses, it would take LSU losing to Arkansas on Friday and Texas A&M losing to Missouri on Saturday for Bama to be West champion, and in that unlikely event the national championship game would be out of reach.

Georgia is 10-1 overall and has already clinched the East crown with a 7-1 league record. The Bulldogs play their rivalry game Saturday against Georgia Tech.

If Alabama loses to Auburn and Texas A&M and LSU both win, LSU would go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. If both Bama and LSU lose and A&M wins, the Aggies would make the championship game in their first season in the SEC.

The SEC Championship Game has been played since 1992, when Alabama defeated Florida en route to winning the national championship. In 11 of 42 divisional races (counting 2012), an SEC championship game berth has not been decided until the weekend prior to the SEC Championship Game. That occurred in 1997 (Tennessee), 1998 (Mississippi State), 2001 (Tennessee and LSU), 2002 (Arkansas), 2003 (Georgia and LSU), 2005 (LSU), 2007 (Tennessee), 2011 (LSU) and 2012 (Western Division).

Alabama's 49-0 win over Western Carolina on Saturday is its 21st shutout since 1992, the most in the SEC during that time.

SEC has seven teams in the Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 with six teams in the top 13. Alabama is ranked second in both polls, Georgia third in both, Florida sixth in both, LSU seventh in USA Today and eighth in AP, Texas A&M ninth in AP and 10th in USA Today and South Carolina is 12th in USA Today and 13th in AP. Mississippi State returns to the poll at 24thin USA Today and 25th in AP.

This is the sixth week this season that the SEC has had seven teams ranked in the AP poll and 15th week since1999. Since 1992, the SEC has had at least 5 teams ranked in the AP Top 25 a total of 252 times, an average of 11.95 times per year. Since 1992 (counting 2012), the SEC has had at least 5 teams ranked for at least 10 weeks in 17 of the last 21 years.

Alabama continues to be highly ranked in a number of national statistical categories, including being first in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 10.09 points per game. Bama is fourth in the nation in pass defense (164.45 yards per game) and seventh in pass efficiency defense. The Tide is third in rushing defense (75.64 yards per game) and second in total defense (240.09 ypg).

Alabama is 19th in the nation in scoring offense (38.09 points per game). Although Alabama is not ranked in the top 40 in passing offense, the Tide is second in passing efficiency. Bama is 27th in rushing offense (209.36 yards per game).

Bama is 13th in turnover margin at plus 1.09 per game.

Alabama is 14th in the nation in average kickoff return (25.53 yards per return), 37th in punt returns (10.25), and 27th in net punting (39.05 yards per punt).

Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency. Georgia's Aaron Murray ranks first in the nation.

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