This Is No Time To Stumble

Were you watching the LSU-Florida game last Saturday night when it was announced that Stanford had beaten Southern Cal? USC, proclaimed by many to be a college football team worthy of its stars living in mansions, was a prohibitive favorite, as the saying goes, over the Cardinal. In a season of huge upsets, this was the biggest yet.

Once upon a time Alabama football fans hung on every result among the nation's top teams, knowing that a ripple here or there could affect the Crimson Tide's national championship aspirations. Current Bama Coach Nick Saban explains to me that I need to forget about those national titles for a while and Saban assures me the process is in place…to my mind meaning that I can begin to think about them later. I believe him.

One thing that any team in contention for any championship must do is win the games it is supposed to win.

One of those games comes this week. Alabama plays at Ole Miss Saturday at 11:30 a.m. CDT (television by the SEC's Lincoln Financial network). There are plenty of people who probably think that Bama and the Rebels have been fairly even in Southeastern Conference football play. The charter members of the league haven't played that often in the 75 years of SEC competition. But when they have, Alabama has usually won. The Alabama-Ole Miss series predates the formation of the SEC, going back to 1894, but this will be only the 55th meeting in those 113 years.

Alabama has an official 43-9-2 advantage in the "rivalry" and on the field has a 44-8-2 bulge (the Tide having had to forfeit the 1993 win). Alabama has won 17 of the last 20 on the field, including three straight.

What has gone before over three years or 113 years won't have a direct affect on the outcome Saturday. The teams that meet in Oxford are different than any teams that have played before.

But one thing that has not changed is that Alabama is judged to have more good players than does Mississippi. Alabama's bench includes two recent Mr. Football honorees in the state of Mississippi, running backs Jimmy Johns and Terry Grant.

Southern Cal certainly had more good players than the Cardinal, too. There are no guarantees.

Last week the Tide had to hang on for dear life, getting an interception on the final play of the game to defeat Houston. The Houston game was one Alabama was expected to win. Not much comes from having succeeded, but it would have mattered greatly had Bama lost. (Former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings had the memorable line, "If you think a game at Alabama isn't important, just lose it and see how important it was.")

That is the case again this week. Thus far in the season Alabama has had three games it was supposed to win (Western Carolina, Vanderbilt and Houston), and that mission has been accomplished. There have been three games considered along the lines of toss-up games and the Crimson Tide has won one (Arkansas) and lost two (Georgia and Florida State).

We won't look ahead right now. In future weeks there will be critical games – SEC games that are toss-up games, games expected to be won, and games in which the odds will be stacked against the Tide. There will be one non-conference game in which Bama will be favored about like USC was favored over Stanford.

But for now, it is very, very important for Alabama to take care of business Saturday against Ole Miss.

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