Alabama head coach Nick Saban
When No. 2 Alabama and No. 8 Michigan square off in the Cowboys Classic at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, national title aspirations will be on the line.
But the crystal football may not be the only thing.
Conference pride is always at stake in big out-of-conference matchups.
The SEC has been sticking its chest out for six straight years at the expense of every other conference, including the Big Ten.
With the Crimson Tide rolling into Jerry World as 14-point favorites, according to VegasInsider.com, a loss to the Wolverines would be devastating to their title chances and take destiny out of their hands.
But would it reflect negatively on the SEC?
That would, or course, depend on how the game plays out. Assuming it's a close game, it wouldn't.
Michigan is a top-10 team, and Denard Robinson is an electric player at quarterback, and that plays right into Alabama's weakness, which is experience across the defense.
Sure, Alabama is filling the holes left from last year's defense with players who have seen big games like cornerback Dee Milliner and nose guard Jesse Williams, but now those guys are being counted on to be the leaders atop the depth chart, which is a different animal.
A hallmark of any inexperienced defense is a lack of discipline. Discipline is usually a staple for any Nick Saban defense, but with so much turnover from last year's squad, that's easier said than done.
Alabama could play great defense for most of the game, but four blown assignments could result in 28 points.
Robinson is that good.
As long as it's close, an Alabama loss to Michigan wouldn't reflect negatively on the SEC.
Clearly voters think that Alabama will reload considering that the No. 2 currently sits in front of its name, but we don't know that until we see it.
Perception is reality in college football, and the SEC has earned the reputation of being the top conference in the country thanks to those six crystal footballs that litter athletic complexes across the south.
One game won't change that.
Especially one at the beginning of the season when there's plenty of football left to be played.