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November 12, 2012

Tide trips at home for third year in row

TUSCALOOSA | For the third consecutive year, a November loss at home for the University of Alabama has sent fans exiting Bryant-Denny Stadium with not only the sting of a loss, but with a missed opportunity that has gone with it.

Each of the three, in its own way, came with different aspirations at stake.

The Crimson Tide's 29-24 loss to Texas A&M Saturday took the opportunity a national championship out of the Crimson Tide's hands and into the hands of three unbeaten now leading the BCS standings - Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame. But one thing it did not cost Alabama was a chance at its second Southeastern Conference championship under coach Nick Saban. With a win over Auburn on Nov. 24, Alabama would clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game against Georgia.

Nick Saban press conference

Last year in a 9-6 home loss to LSU, Alabama lost not only control of its destiny for a conference championship, but the national title as well. With the benefit of a couple of upsets elsewhere in college football, UA found its way back into the BCS National Championship Game without even playing in Atlanta for the SEC crown.

Back in 2010, Alabama's home loss to Auburn was less about championships and bowl standing and more about pride. But surrendering a 24-7 halftime lead at home to an archrival carried a sting for fans all its own. In each case, however, the Crimson Tide was tangling with a top-shelf opponent. The 2010 Auburn, 2011 LSU and 2012 Texas A&M teams have combined for a 35-3 record, two SEC titles and a national title.

Following each loss, the Crimson Tide rebounded strongly. In 2010, it was a Capital One Bowl win over Michigan State, while in 2011 it followed the LSU loss with wins over Mississippi State, Georgia Southern, Auburn, then took its rematch with LSU for the BCS title.

Running back Eddie Lacy said this year's team must rebound just the same.

"Just finish," Lacy said of the task. "If we finish the rest of the games we have left, then hopefully we'll have the same chance we had last year to play for the national championship. But we just have to take it one day at a time and one week at a time and see what happens."

Strangely enough, Alabama has played better football away from home this season than it has at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"I really don't know. I really don't know the answer to that question," UA coach Saban said. "I don't know if it's the challenge, the focus, the players can be more serious because they're a little more confined (on the road)."

Away from home, UA has dispatched Michigan, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee by blowout scores. A narrow road win at LSU may rank as Alabama's most impressive victory of the season based on strength of opponent, but Saban pointed out that the victory over the Tigers wasn't the result of a well-played game for the Crimson Tide. To illustrate that point, he recalled the Bluegrass Miracle from his days as coach at LSU, a last-second touchdown to beat Kentucky that was followed by a 31-0 loss to Alabama.

"The last two games we played, one at home, one on the road, and I'd put both those in the same category - we didn't play well as a team," Saban said. "You guys don't think so because we won one and lost the other one. If we'd won this one, you wouldn't be concerned, either. I was concerned then. But you all live in the results world, we kind of live in the process world. It's hard to get people to respond. It's kind of the Bluegrass Miracle phenomenon. You play bad, you win the game, then the next week you (lose) because nobody responded to playing bad. Because you won on the Bluegrass Miracle."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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