Alabama looks like the cream of the crop in the college football world. The Big 12 has a team or two barreling forward attempting to push their way into the championship game again. The Pac-12 has Oregon hoping to get another title shot.
In a way, 2012 looks a little like 2011. However, one thing is for sure: if the Crimson Tide lose to LSU in November, they likely won't be as lucky as they were a season ago.
Last year, the Bayou Bengals were the No. 1 team in the country and a group that everyone respected as the nation's most impressive team. An overtime loss to Les Miles' group was the best anyone had looked against LSU, and when Oklahoma State went down to Iowa State, the Tide was rewarded for their efforts.
This year? Things are much different.
From a standings viewpoint, it is unlikely that LSU drops another game should they get past Alabama. That would land a one-loss LSU in the SEC Championship, leaving Bama on the outside looking in—again. After last year's rematch scenario, don't expect any favors from pollsters.
No 13th game, plus the loss not coming to the unanimous No. 1 in overtime would make it tough for anyone to get back into the mix. When that one-loss is to 2012 LSU, there will be less benefit of the doubt given to the Tide.
LSU, right or wrong, is viewed as a team that's overrated, over-ranked and ultimately overvalued in the college football marketplace. Playing a close game with an Auburn team that's been deemed to be universally terrible, sometimes does that. Throw in the struggle with Towson and the lack of offense against Florida, and what you have is a case being made.
Add to it this past weekend's lack of production against Texas A&M and the case gets stronger.
Folks around the nation don't respect LSU. Hell, LSU fans don't respect LSU, at least not the way the quarterback play has progressed and the team has been handled. Les Miles has again gone from the guy who orchestrates maddening genius, to the guy who is a bumbling idiot who can't get out of his own way.
Can Alabama get to the title game if they lose to LSU next week?
Certainly, some of this is due to the Bayou Bengals' performance this season. Some can also be attributed to the dismantling that took place in the BCS Championship Game. Some is deserved and some is not. Either way, the fact is, the perception of LSU as an overrated team, bloated by preseason rankings, SEC bias and undeserving of their Top 10 spot is not going away.
Which means, if you're the Crimson Tide, you cannot afford a loss to LSU.
A loss to the Bayou Bengals, even in Red Stick, would knock the Tide down several pegs. It would change the national perception of just how well oiled this machine is and ultimately it would take them out of the title hunt.
As we wrap up, I'm not saying it's right. LSU is a damn fine football team. People often confuse "not good at facet x, y, z" with "not a good team." LSU is not a good passing football team, but they're a very good football team as a whole. They're very good on defense, they have four running backs that can get things done, and they have some playmakers who just need the ball in their hands.
LSU, like Mississippi State this weekend, is going to be more of a challenge between the white lines than people on the outside and national level want to believe.
Sadly, a loss to either crushes the Tide's title hopes and that's more or less the reality of it all. Plenty of "outside factors" would have to come into play for Alabama to get their title shot, should they drop the game in Death Valley.