National champion. SEC champion. SEC West champion two years in a row.
Most recently, college football’s chattering class called the Crimson Tide the best one-loss team in the country, a real contender to be the first repeat national champion since the mid-1990s.
It’s all most likely gone after Alabama‘s 24-21 loss at LSU on Saturday, and Alabama has one last, outside chance for a title — spoiler to rival Auburn.
That’s what’s left after Alabama became arguably the best two-loss team in the country.
And even if the Tide manages to hand undefeated Auburn its first loss of the season on Nov. 26 in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers will still win the West and play for the SEC title.
Win the SEC and Auburn’s hefty schedule strength will boost its argument for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series final as a one-loss team.
To spoil anything for Auburn, the Tide must hope for the Tigers to lose to Georgia then beat them. That would send LSU to Atlanta, assuming LSU doesn’t trip against Ole Miss or Arkansas.
If Auburn, LSU and Alabama each end up with two SEC losses, then Alabama goes back to Atlanta but with little chance to play for a national title.
How’s that for a kick in the houndstooth hat?
From national contender to spoiler hopeful in one afternoon.
From a likely BCS bowl to a more likely berth in the Cotton or Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Alabama’s big picture shrank Saturday. It shrank almost as much as oft-booed coach Les Miles and quarterback Jordan Jefferson grew in the eyes of LSU fans.
The loss at LSU reduced national chatter about the Tide from a case-for conversation to reasons why, and Alabama coach Nick Saban offered ideas about reasons why.
“This whole year, everyone around us has been very concerned about the results that the team gets in comparison to what was accomplished a year ago,” he said. “And I think that that has not been the best thing for the development of this team.
“They have become too result-oriented, and we’ve never really ever developed to become as good of a team as we can be.”
It’s good thing he went on to talk about the team’s competitive spirit and pride.
Good thing Saban brought up how the Tide should use disappointment as motivation to finish strong, because the first part of his comment smacked of a season epitaph with three regulars and a bowl to play.
And how about Saban’s ominous acknowledgement that he failed to guide the Tide through the outside world’s hype and expectations? Those things are supposed to be routine for post-sanctions Alabama.
In fairness, that’s college football.
There are reasons why no team has repeated as national champion in the BCS era.
There are reasons why Saban once again fell short a season after winning a national title, and he spelled out one of them with his comment after Saturday‘s game.
It’s all part of the vicious trap of hype, attrition and parity in the era of scholarship limits. It sucks the strongest programs in just as surely as Alabama’s loss Saturday sucked air from the Iron Bowl’s swollen excitement balloon.
Just ask Texas and Florida.
Alabama gave the look of a team above it all while handing Florida the first of the Gators’ three consecutive losses, but reality’s revenge came in the form of two road losses in SEC play.
Then throw in nine first-year starters on defense. Saban outlined a litany of coverage busts and missteps that helped LSU produce the biggest plays in Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
That’s college football, and that’s how Alabama became a lame-duck champion and wannabe spoiler.
“We can still play to have a 10-win season and go to a New Year’s Day bowl,” Tide running back and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram said. “There’s still a lot to play for.”
Just not the things the Tide was playing for.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.