How Does the USA Today Preseason Poll Alter Alabama's BCS Path?

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIAugust 7, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 09:  AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a 34-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson #3 in the fourth quarter against the Louisiana State University Tigers during the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LSU sits atop the 2012 Preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll by a scant margin of four points over the Crimson Tide. How will this affect the Tide's attempt at a repeat national championship?

The fact that the Tide starts so highly means that, should the Tide win all 12 of their regular-season games and the SEC Championship, Alabama will be in the BCS title game.

Starting so highly also gives Alabama a huge advantage should it lose a game. The Tide could fall to Michigan or Arkansas and still make it to the title match, but not without some help.

If the Tide loses to Arkansas, they would have to beat LSU and LSU would have to beat Arkansas in order for the Tide to have the hope of getting to Atlanta.

Also, there would need to be no more than one team that stands undefeated at the end of the season. If two conference champions have no losses, then the Tide would likely be shut out of the title game.

A loss to LSU would almost certainly spell doom for the Tide's national championship hopes. After the hoopla over the Tide's inclusion in the game, the voters will likely have an anti-Alabama bias whenever possible. (The voters aren't petty enough to vote against an undefeated SEC team, so they will have to wait for the opportunity.)

This year's LSU/Alabama game on Nov. 3 will likely be an elimination match, even if the score is 9-6 in overtime. The loser will have to have a lot of help to get back into the BCS title picture.

Alabama's path to the BCS title game requires one thing: winning. Had the Tide started outside of the Top 10, they may have needed some help getting there.

Alabama is in control of its destiny from the first week of the season, and that won't change without a loss. If the loss is early enough in the season, it will simply be a speed bump.

Alabama's path to the championship is straight and narrow. If the Tide runs the table, they are staring down the barrel of championship No. 15. Everyone in Tuscaloosa is aware of this, especially Nick Saban.