Missions accomplished on a dramatic November Saturday that saw the Nos. 1 and 2 teams lose on the same day for the first time since 2007.
The Crimson Tide, coming off of an emotional loss to Texas A&M and playing a week prior to the Iron Bowl, accomplished its first two tasks in its 49-0 rout of hopelessly outmanned Western Carolina.
The latter came much later Saturday, as a badly needed bonus, with Baylor stunning BCS No. 1 Kansas State 52-24 and Stanford upsetting No. 2 Oregon 17-14 in overtime. That left No. 3 Notre Dame, a 38-0 winner over Wake Forest, as the lone unbeaten in the race.
Meanwhile, No. 4 Alabama (10-1) and No. 5 Georgia (10-1), on a collision course for an SEC Championship showdown, have the SEC very much back in contention for its seventh consecutive national title. Georgia has already clinched the SEC East Division title and its ticket to Atlanta for the Dec. 1 SEC Championship. Alabama must beat rival Auburn (3-8) this week to clinch the SEC West.
“It’s for the West and all our hopes and dreams, and also, it’s Auburn,” senior center Barrett Jones said. “It doesn’t matter what Auburn’s record is or who its coach is. They’re always going to be ready.”
What an amazing turn of events, a week after the Tide’s 29-24 loss to Texas A&M seemed to dim the Tide’s hopes of back-to-back national titles and three in four years.
The odds appeared long, with SEC fatigue palpable among college football’s poll-voting class and long memories of how the once-beaten Tide got a controversial second crack at LSU in last season’s BCS final.
Alabama, the team that held the nation’s No. 1 ranking from Week 2 until losing in Game 10, came into the day needing to win out and get help. The Tide needed at least two of the three unbeaten teams ahead of them in the BCS standings to lose.
A new set of BCS standings will come out today, with only Notre Dame (11-0) left unbeaten. Kansas State, Oregon, Alabama and Georgia form the quartet of one-loss teams with a realistic shot for the No. 2 spot.
The top two teams in the standings on Dec. 2 will play in Miami on Jan. 7 for the BCS title.
So, a week after Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel seemed to scramble all hopes, stars aligned and fell on Alabama. Events worked in the Tide’s favor, just like they did last season, when upsets around the country helped the Tide overcome a November loss to LSU.
Hours after a noticeably less-than-capacity crowd, generously announced at 101,126, showed up in Bryant-Denny Stadium to see Alabama throttle an overmatched opponent, many more Alabama fans likely watched Kansas State and Oregon lose in nationally televised games.
On a day when a fan dressed in a Santa Claus costume drew applause and photograph seekers to an otherwise empty section of Bryant-Denny bleachers, Santa came early for Alabama.
Suddenly, cornerback Deion Belue’s 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown on a botched lateral became a footnote in a dramatic fall Saturday.
Suddenly, backup quarterback Blake Sims’ 97 yards in total offense and two touchdown drives lost headline power.
Suddenly, quarterback AJ McCarron’s school-record 21st touchdown pass of the season hardly mattered.
The team that drove 99 yards en route to McCarron’s record-setting pass suddenly found itself goal-to-go, with only Auburn’s worst team in years and a formidable Georgia team in the way.
“Obviously, we are going to have a difficult game next week,” a diplomatic Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “You throw everything out the window in terms of records when you play rivalry games.
“It’s going to be important that we have a good week this week.”
Indeed, more important than even Saban realized when he said it.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.