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October 28, 2012

HURT: Tide starts 'playoff' portion of schedule

The possibilities contained within the latest BCS rankings are so tantalizing that it's almost impossible not to indulge in at least a bit of speculation.

For instance, imagine a season that began with Alabama-Michigan and ended with Alabama-Notre Dame, perhaps the three most illustrious programs in college football history.

Picture a pairing of Nick Saban on the opposite sideline from Kansas State's Bill Snyder, arguably the two best coaches in the sport today, a pairing that would also very likely contain two Heisman Trophy finalists at quarterback if the Crimson Tide and Wildcats finish undefeated.

Then there is the chance of an Alabama-Oregon game, the clash of styles that America is salivating to see.

Not one bit of it matters. It is still October, not December. And the two teams that people were picking in the preseason, LSU and USC, still control the destiny of other teams, even if they have lost control of their own.

Saban, the high priest of football focus, was only beginning to shift out of Mississippi State mode after the Crimson Tide's 38-7 win over the Bulldogs. He had not quite reached the gear where he was calling LSU by name. Saban isn't into silly euphemisms, so he will certainly call his former employer by name today.

When speaking of bruised but unbroken quarterback AJ McCarron, he simply pronounced McCarron "ready for next week's game." The subliminal message is that even in this much-anticipated game, it isn't really about the opponent. It is, as more and more people are coming to recognize, about playing to the standard of perfection, never quite reachable but occasionally close for this UA team.

When asked about the upcoming game directly, though, Saban's comments had their usual ring of truth.

"I think at this point in the season it's kind of like the playoffs in a way," Saban said. "You've got a tough game the next week. You've got a good opponent the next week. You've got somebody in your division that's a really good team. We are going to have to continue to improve and learn from our experiences today in terms of the good things that we did and also correct some of the things we didn't do very well. Every game has a history, a life of its own. It's up to us to try and do the best we can to put our players in the best possible position to be successful."

That is a long way to articulate the matter but he's right. It is like the playoffs this week, and there is no sense in talking about the Super Bowl before you have advanced through the preceding rounds. One can argue, based on last season, that a loss might not mean absolute elimination for Alabama but, looking at the current rankings, a one-loss Crimson Tide, evicted from the SEC title game, would have a very difficult time getting to Miami. In LSU's case, of course, this is not 2006 and there is no BCS hope with a second loss.

Saban said it best. It is like the playoffs, and Alabama has a road playoff game, and there is no sense in talking about the Super Bowl - or, in this case, the BCS game - before that is done.





Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 295-722-0225.



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