The revised BCS standings are out, and Alabama held their second-place ranking after a 37-6 victory over Tennessee. While they were even with the Vols at halftime, the Crimson Tide defense blanked Tennessee after intermission while the offense reeled off 21.
Now at No. 2 for the second straight week, Bama controls their own national championship destiny. The road is simple: win out, win a trip to New Orleans. It shouldn't be too hard, right?
Well, not so fast. To finish the season undefeated, Alabama will have to triumph in a titanic SEC showdown with No. 1 LSU. The Tigers tread the same path of glory and have no intention of ceding the initiative to Bama without a fight. Circle Nov. 5 on your calendars and clear your schedule; this one has all the makings of a barn-burner.
Should the Tide roll, the map to sweetest sugar seems straightforward. Here's an inside look.
This, of course, is the big one. If Alabama can get a win over top-ranked LSU in two weeks, they should be well positioned to reach the national title game. Looking closely at the contest, it's almost too close to call. Both LSU and Alabama enter this showdown with perfect records, dominant defenses and solid offenses.
The only small advantage I can see is that after eight games, the Crimson Tide have been more efficient offensively that the Tigers, averaging 457.63 yards of total offense compared to LSU's 372.13. That's almost a 100-yard disparity, yet the two teams are almost dead even in scoring offense, averaging 39.4 and 39.3 points per game, respectively.
The key for both teams will be their ability to successfully run the ball against each other. Alabama and LSU each have rushing defenses that rank inside the nation's top five, with Bama leading the country in that category. The Crimson Tide have only surrendered a remarkable 44.88 yards on the ground and only two rushing touchdowns.
The Tigers' double-headed rushing attack in Spencer Ware and Michael Ford has proven too much for teams this season, but Alabama's front seven will be a different animal altogether. Likewise, Bama's Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson is 11 yards short of a 1,000-yard season. Already with 17 touchdowns, Richardson has run over the opposition game after game.
If LSU can hinder Richardson, it will put more pressure on A.J McCarron to make plays. While the Alabama QB has proven he can make them, the less they have to test the LSU secondary, the better. The Tigers already have 11 interceptions in 2011.
It's worth noting here that a loss against LSU doesn't put the Tide out of the national title picture. While they will lose control of their fate, if Boise State, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Kansas State and Stanford lose one game, the voters are likely to rank Bama as the highest one-loss team, putting them right back at No. 2. It's not a stretch to think those five teams will lose before season's end, with all of their schedules containing at least one upset possibility.
Assuming Alabama will prevail, the Tide will be well poised to run the table afterward.
If Alabama is indeed coming off a huge win over LSU, look for this encounter at Mississippi State to be a bit of a trap game. The Bulldogs should by this point have picked up their first conference win over Kentucky and be coming off a battering of Tennessee-Martin, so expect the home team to be brimming with confidence when the top-ranked Tide roll into Davis Wade Stadium.
MSU boasts a decent defense but has struggled through the air, ranked 94th nationally in passing offense. The Bulldogs balance that by not allowing the opposition to score very often, giving up just under 20 points per game.
The problem for Mississippi State is that they rely on their running game too much. Against Alabama, the Tide will most certainly stop RB Vick Ballard, forcing the Bulldogs to pass more than they want to. MSU could surprise the Tide and have an above-average day through the air, but it still won't be enough to stop a disciplined Bama squad. The final score will be closer than people expect.
LSU will most likely not be the last undefeated team Alabama will have to face during the regular season. The Georgia Southern Eagles are currently 7-0 and could very well be 10-0 when they close out their schedule with Bama.
The Eagles are perched atop the Southern Conference standings with one of the best FCS offenses in the nation, averaging 487.29 yards per game. Most of that is accounted for by their spectacular running game led by RB Robert Brown. Their 369.71 yards rushing per game is best in the nation, but Georgia Southern's passing attack leaves much to be desired.
While the Eagles may be able to run the ball well in the FCS, against Alabama, it will be a different story. Don't expect Nick Saban to underestimate Georgia Southern. The Tide should stop Brown and Co. on the ground, putting an end to the Eagles' perfect season.
This year's Iron Bowl will be Alabama's last regular season test. Should they pass it, the SEC Championship Game awaits.
Auburn has had an inconsistent season with Gene Chizik struggling to find a starting QB. For weeks, it was Barrett Trotter, but the junior has played so poorly that Clint Mosely took over the starting gig last week. Unfortunately, he did so against LSU, and the Tigers predictably gave him trouble, beating Auburn 45-10 in the Tiger Bowl.
Going against Alabama in the regular-season finale should prove no less of a humbling experience. As talented as Tiger RB Michael Dyer is, he will get little on the ground. Forced into the passing game, Bama will feast on Mosely's mistakes.
It will be a home game for Auburn, but Nick Saban has a long memory, and that 28-27 loss a year ago will provide enough motivation for the Tide to roll once again.
Assuming they finish the regular season 12-0, Alabama will make the SEC Championship Game in Georgia. Who will meet them there representing the SEC East is anyone's guess.
Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are likely out of it, with each team boasting losing records in conference. The Wildcats and Volunteers are winless in conference, while the Commodores still have Arkansas and Florida to contend with.
Florida has been crippled with injuries a QB and are coming off three straight losses. They are good enough at the other skill positions to keep their offense competitive, but they will have to beat Georgia and South Carolina in the coming weeks if they are to have any shot at making the SEC title game.
More likely to join Alabama in Georgia might be either the Gamecocks or Georgia themselves. For South Carolina, we have yet to truly see the cost of losing star tailback Marcus Lattimore. With Arkansas, Florida and Clemson still on the schedule, they might not be able to manage the wins to stay with Georgia. South Carolina hasn't had to pass the ball well, but with Lattimore gone, QB Connor Shaw will need to step up.
My pick for Alabama's championship foil are the Georgia Bulldogs, who, should they indeed make it to the SEC title bout, will essentially be playing at home. They will be tested against the Gators next week and Auburn down the road, but overall, the schedule plays out easier than either Florida's or South Carolina's.
Regardless of who they face, Alabama should steamroll any team out of the SEC East, setting them up for a shot at the national title.
Having gone undefeated in 2011, Alabama's first game in 2012 will be their biggest game of the season, looking to recapture the title they won against Texas 2009.
It will be a contested game whoever they play, be it Stanford, Oklahoma State, Clemson, LSU or even Boise State. In a title game, anything goes, but Alabama's well-roundedness offensively and toughness defensively give them enough flexibility to stay with any team. If Trent Richardson should upset Andrew Luck in the Heisman race, this would be the time to prove the voters right.
As always this season, look for their defense to carry the day. Personally, I want to see a classic SEC-Pac-12 showdown, with Luck endeavoring to unlock the Bama secondary, but the BCS voters might not see it that way.
At any rate, that is the path the Tide must tread if they hope to compete for a title come January. Sweet dreams, Alabama faithful.