As we're all well apprised, the Crimson Tide's dreams of an undefeated season came crashing down in flames last weekend. But even with a loss on their record and nightmares of Johnny Football dancing around in their head, the Alabama still has a very realistic shot at the BCS title.
Sure, the newly-minted-but-not-yet-implemented playoff system would make the Crimson Tide's road far more auspicious. With it, they'd be given a chance to control their own fate. But the crystal football Nick Saban raised last January is proof that, even in the current system, one regular season blemish does not a wasted season make.
The SEC—which has enjoyed unprecedented success in the past five years—has surpassed even its own standard of excellence in 2012. Beyond the three remaining undefeated teams, the conference boasts the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth-ranked teams in the BCS. Translation: Whoever wins the SEC Championship will have a wildly impressive computer score.
All they'll need is a few breaks to go their way. Here are the four most pivotal games left on the College Football schedule, with regard to Bama's national championship prospects.
No. 2 Oregon @ No. 16 Oregon State
Oregon doesn't get a breather the rest of the way, hosting Stanford this weekend, and potentially hosting the Pac-12 Championship Game as well. But this trip to Corvallis, the lone assured road game on its schedule, represents its biggest chance to falter.
Rivalry games always bring the best out of underdogs, which is particularly distressing (for the favorite at least) when the underdog is loaded with talent. And while the Beavers certainly can't match the Ducks' speed and creativity, their 6-0 start this season was no fluke.
Reser Stadium has hosted national-title-spoiling upsets before, too. Right, Mark Sanchez?
Oregon will have to bring its A-game to Corvallis if it wants to stay ahead of the quack in the BCS rankings.
No. 3 Notre Dame @ No. 18 USC
As Notre Dame's inexplicable run at perfection has become more and more plausible, skeptics have taken solace in this game as the one that would eventually trip it up.
USC's struggles this season have been well-documented, as its hopes of a national championship are now in the distant past. But it still has the talent, the venue and presumably the motivation necessary to bring the Irish back down to Earth.
The Trojans have been uncharacteristically vulnerable on defense this year, but it's hard to say whether Notre Dame's anemic offense will be able to take advantage of that, especially in the Colosseum. That leaves the onus on the Irish's stout defense, which will be put to the test against Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marquise Lee.
Notre Dame will be playing, ostensibly, for a shot at the BCS Title, so it'll have plenty of pep in its step. Whether it's enough to get Notre Dame past the Trojans, however, remains to be seen.
No. 15 Texas @ No. 1 Kansas State
Of all the undefeated teams, Kansas State has the easiest road to the BCS Championship. With the Big 12 Championship no longer in existence, it only needs to win out its final two games to finish 12-0.
A road trip to Waco this Saturday has "trap game" written all over it, but it's hard to see a Baylor team that's gone 1-5 in conference play ending the Wildcats' Annus Mirabilis. And that would leave only a December 1st visit from the Longhorns standing between K-State and perfection.
Texas' return to relevance has been admirable this season; it has sandwiched a two-game skid between two separate four-game winning streaks thus far in 2012. And oddly enough, its only two losses—to West Virginia and Oklahoma—have come at home. To put it more clearly: Texas is undefeated on the road.
Texas is a big, strong and experienced football team that has proven its prowess away from Austin with wins at Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. With all the pressure in the world on its opponents, there's no reason it can't pull the upset.
SEC Championship Game
The Tide would be ecstatic to see two or more of the aforementioned contests go their way. But that doesn't mean their work would be done.
A potential SEC Championship showdown with Georgia—one of, if not the only team in the country who can match Alabama's talent on defense—still looms on the horizon.
Depending on how Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State fair, this game could essentially be a play-in game for the BCS Championship. And depending on how you view the SEC's dominance, it could also essentially be the BCS Championship.
Alabama's 2011-12 season proved that one slip-up isn't the end of a title run. But only because it took care of business after that. If it can't beat the Dawgs on a neutral field, it would no longer be able to complain about missing out on the championship festivities.
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