Alabama Still Has Work To Do

In a different time, legendary Alabama Coach Paul Bryant, who had six national championship teams in his 25 years at Alabama, said that he figured that if Bama won the national title, the Southeastern Conference championship would take care of itself.

That was true in the Bryant era of Alabama football. The Crimson Tide won national championships and SEC titles in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, and 1979. (Alabama under Bryant also won seven conference titles in years when Bama didn’t win the national championship.)

When no one thought it was possible for Alabama (or perhaps any other team) to have a dominant period like Bama under Bryant, along comes Nick Saban hammering the SEC at least as thoroughly as in that 1958-82 time.

But while Saban has won three national championships, all in the Bowl Championship Series era, he did not have to win the SEC title in order to win one of those national crowns. True, without beating Florida in 2009, Bama would not have had the opportunity to defeat Texas in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. And without defeating Georgia in 2012, the Tide would not have been able to go to the Orange Bowl and crush Notre Dame for that championship.

But in 2011, Alabama didn’t win the SEC Western Division and, therefore, did not qualify for the SEC Championship Game. Still, Bama had been so impressive that the components that went into the BCS chose the Tide to rematch with LSU in the Sugar Bowl, where Alabama won the national championship without being SEC champion.

And this is yet a new time. In great part because Alabama made it to the BCS title game without a conference championship in 2011 – never mind that Alabama proved more than worthy to be there by romping LSU, 21-0 – it will take extreme results for a non-conference champion to make it to the College Football Playoff in secret voting by the Gang of 12. And if there is one team that is unlikely to benefit from such an extraordinary result, it would be Alabama.

In this new age, winning the SEC championship seems to be very important.

That may be the perception in great part because for the first time since before losing to Ole Miss on Sept. 19, Alabama is in (insert dramatic “dum dum dum dum” and pause)

Control Of Its Own Destiny.

Alabama has done its part since that loss to the Rebels, rolling up six consecutive wins, four of them SEC victories. The Crimson Tide is now 8-1 overall and 5-1 in SEC games. Moreover, on Saturday afternoon, before Bama took care of second ranked LSU by 30-16, that Ole Miss team that had been limping along with only one SEC loss was beaten by a courageous Arkansas squad, 53-52 in overtime, giving the Rebels a second loss and eliminating (for the moment, at least) Mississippi’s tie-breaker advantage over the Tide.

Now the Alabama nation sees the landscape as “beat Mississippi State and Auburn and Florida in the SEC Championship Game and we’re in the College Football Playoff.”

Assuming a non-conference win over Charleston Southern, that is true.

As an astute observer as Nick Saban has noted, however, “We play one week at a time.” Alabama does not need to get ahead of itself. First up is a trip to Starkville on Saturday to take on the Bulldogs. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CST, Bama’s fourth consecutive game scheduled to be televised by CBS.

Rarely has MSU been much of a stumbling block for the Tide, but following the emotional win over LSU, Saban and his staff have the job of getting Alabama players re-focused. State had the weekend off after defeating Missouri last Thursday night in Columbia to improve to 7-2 overall and 3-2 in SEC games.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Division has been settled. Florida’s dramatic, if not emphatic, 9-7 come-from-behind win over Vanderbilt in Gainesville Saturday means that in his first year as head coach of the Gators, Jim McElwain, the former Bama offensive coordinator, has put his team in the SEC Championship Game, to be played in Atlanta Dec. 5.

There is much football remaining in the Western Division. Here is how the West looks in conference play with all teams having either two or three SEC games remaining, and those league games listed:

Alabama 5-1 (11-14 @ Mississippi State, 11-28 @ Auburn)

LSU 4-1 (11-14 Arkansas, 11-21 @ Ole Miss, 11-28 Texas A&M)

Ole Miss 4-2 (11-21 LSU, 1-28 @ Mississippi State)

Arkansas 3-2 (11-14 @ LSU, 11-21 Mississippi State, 11-27 Missouri)

Mississippi State 3-2 (11-14 Alabama, 11-21 @ Arkansas, 11-28 Ole Miss)

Texas A&M 3-3 (11-21 @ Vanderbilt, 11-28 @ LSU)

Auburn 2-4 (11-14 Georgia, 11-28 Alabama)

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