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September 24, 2012

HURT: Trouble lurking for Alabama

A funny thing almost happened on the way to Armageddon Saturday night.

LSU, one of the college football comets set to collide on Nov. 3 to determine dominance in the sport (at least until January) went on the road in Southeastern Conference play and suddenly found itself in scary territory. Auburn, which brought a 1-2 record into the game, had a good plan and came within a shade of a huge upset. It would have been shocking. It would have been unprecedented.

What's more, it could happen again. Even to Alabama.

Life on the road in the SEC isn't easy, no matter how secure people are about Alabama's dominance. Yes, the Crimson Tide is a near-unanimous No. 1 in the country, with only one holdout. Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, best known for butting heads recently with USC head coach Lane Kiffin, was the lone holdout. Yes, Alabama has one SEC road game under its belt but that was at Arkansas, a program exploding from its own internal pressure.

A quick glance at Missouri, or Tennessee, or even Texas A&M, probably doesn't inspire fear at the moment. Either one might elicit a shrug, or a 30-second review consisting of "they're terrible" and not much else.

But how many people were saying the exact same things about Auburn last week, particularly among the Alabama fan base, which grows smug as quickly as Kenyan Drake hits a hole at the line of scrimmage? My theory on how that Auburn-LSU game would go was not much different.

I thought the LSU defense would swallow up Auburn's struggling offense, force turnovers and turn the game into a rout. But Auburn dared LSU to throw and Zach Mettenberger didn't respond very well.

So Auburn made it to the fourth quarter - almost to the very last second - with a chance. It shouldn't be lost on anyone with a sense of history that the unusual final score - 12-10 - was exactly the same score in Alabama's even-closer-call win over Tennessee in 2009, and that was an eventual. BCS championship team.

Nick Saban knows the road isn't always going to be smoothly paved with prone opponents, a point he made emphatically after Saturday's win over Florida Atlantic.

"This game is about getting ready for the conference," Saban said. "We have got a lot of good conference games coming up, so we need to still focus on improving and doing things that we need to do to make our team better, get more players in a position to play winning football to contribute to that."

A quick glimpse at the season so far doesn't hint that day will come, except perhaps in Baton Rouge.

But the Crimson Tide overwhelmed Michigan early, and may have caught Arkansas at that program's all-time lowest, from a psychological standpoint. At some point, instead of getting the opponent's worst effort, Alabama is going to get the best, just like LSU did on Saturday night.

LSU survived, and Alabama probably will as well. But don't think the possibility of a scary Saturday isn't out there somewhere.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.




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