With two weeks remaining in the Southeastern Conference regular season the bowl picture has started to a clear a bit, although the University of Alabama's bowl destination still has numerous possibilities.
Granted, no one has any idea what may come of the swirling controversy at Auburn (and this is neither the time nor place to speculate), but it and South Carolina have clinched the divisions and are set to meet in Atlanta on Dec. 4.
Meanwhile, LSU is in the driver's seat to be the SEC's second BCS team, but may need to win out.
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For now, that puts Alabama on target to play in the Capital One Bowl against a Big Ten team (maybe Michigan State?) on Jan. 1.
Only two teams have a chance to leapfrog Alabama in the SEC pecking order, but both need the Crimson Tide (8-2, 5-2) to lose against Auburn on Nov. 26. South Carolina (7-3, 5-3 SEC) is done with conference play except for the title game, while Arkansas (8-2, 4-2 SEC) is at Mississippi State before hosting LSU in Little Rock on Nov. 27.
Regardless, Saturday's 30-10 victory against Mississippi State made it very likely that Alabama will be playing Jan. 1 or later. Should the SEC have two BCS teams as usual, the Crimson Tide is looking at the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 7) or better.
Here are this week's awards.
Player of the game: Even though his punt return for a touchdown was brought back due to a penalty, junior wide receiver Marquis Maze still led the Tide with 166 total yards. His 45-yard touchdown, when he ran through a poor sideline tackle, sparked the Tide's offense in the second quarter.
Play of the game: Junior running back Mark Ingram had the longest play of his career when he turned a screen pass into a 78-yard touchdown. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Darius Hanks had the key blocks while Ingram just needed to make the incoming third defensive back hesitate to break into open field and pull away.
Statistic of the game: Alabama scored on three consecutive offensive snaps, from 45, 78 and 56 yards. Combined, the 179 yards were roughly 40 percent of the Crimson Tide's total offensive production.
Hit of the game: Junior defensive lineman Nick Gentry's sack, one of a season-high five, put an exclamation point on the first half. It also came a couple of plays after he took an extra shot from an MSU player.
Did you notice? Former Alabama player Patrick Hanrahan had a 15-yard reception and made a special-teams tackle for the Bulldogs.
Barrett Jones' injury: Although the ESPN crew was totally oblivious to it, Barrett Jones sustained a sprained ankle on the first play of Alabama's third possession, Ingram's 1-yard gain to the right side. The sophomore guard was engaged in a block with linebacker Michael Hunt when linebacker Brandon Wilson apparently landed on the back of his leg while making the tackle. Jones limped off the field and was replaced by redshirt freshman Anthony Steen. Incidentally, with junior Alfred McCullough having some problems as well, Alabama inserted redshirt freshman D.J. Fluker (groin) at right tackle at the start of the second quarter.
Ingram checked two times: Trainers checked on Ingram twice after he came off the field. The first was when he limped off, after a short carry when his right foot got tangled with pulling left guard Chance Warmack's right foot while he was making a block. Later he briefly came out after being essentially body-slammed by defensive end Fletcher Cox at the end of a 13-yard gain.
Explosive plays: Alabama had eight explosive plays and five big plays, its best overall showing since Duke. As a reminder, Coach Nick Saban defines a big gain as a run of 16 yards or more or a pass of 21 yards or more, and an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. Ingram's 78-yard touchdown was the Tide's second longest play of the season, with Julio Jones' 56-yard touchdown the fifth longest. In comparison, the defense gave up four explosive plays, the third-fewest this season (San Jose State and Ole Miss both had two).
Yards after the catch: Alabama finished with an unofficial 172 yards after the catch, the second most this season behind the 179 at South Carolina. However, the Crimson Tide attempted only 23 passes (14 completions) against the Bulldogs compared to 35 (27) on the Gamecocks. Ingram's 82 yards after the catch on his touchdown were more than he had the rest of the season, 69. Although Julio Jones leads the team with 361 yards after the catch this season, he had a season-low seven.
Greg McElroy's day: The senior quarterback completed 67 percent of his passes, but after the two long touchdowns had a rough ending to his night. He didn't put an arc on the pass to Maze that was picked off by linebacker Chris White, and then got caught from behind for a fumble that junior wide receiver Darius Hanks recovered. He was 1-for-3 on third downs, and didn't have an attempt in the red zone.
A.J. McCarron's quarter: It was unclear why Saban chewed out the redshirt freshman after his first possession, but there were three possibilities: 1) Going deep to Julio Jones when Alabama was essentially trying to run out the clock; 2) Taking a 10-yard sack on second-and-goal from the 1; 3) Throwing the subsequent pass up for grabs near the end zone, which could have cost a field-goal opportunity and possibly gotten someone hurt. Regardless, he completed 2 of 5 attempts, all but one on third downs. He missed on his only pass in the red zone.
The running game: All three long touchdowns came with Alabama attacking to its right, as did Ingram's longest carries of 13, 12 and 10 yards. Overall the Tide had 105 rushing yards on eight carries around the right end. It had 24 carries for 70 yards running everywhere else and that was only due to 15-yard gains by freshman Eddie Lacy and McElroy.
Thrown at: MSU went after junior DeQuan Menzie, who returned to the star spot and nearly took every defensive snap with Alabama in the nickel package, if not dime. He had eight passes thrown his way, with six completions including the 27-yard touchdown, one dropped and one interception. Freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner had four passes thrown his way, with the one he went for and missed the interception resulting in a 33-yard gain, MSU's longest play. Although junior Phelon Jones started at left cornerback and sophomore Dre Kirkpatrick replaced him with 7:09 remaining in the second quarter (he didn't start for disciplinary reasons), the Bulldogs didn't throw in either of their direction.
Run defense: Mississippi State ran between the guards 24 times and finally broke an 18-yard gain, but otherwise averaged 3.5 yards per carry. It also broke a 20-yard gain on a nice counter that took advantage of a blitz on the other side, but those were the only double-digit gains. Consequently, the Tide's core players made the majority of tackles with freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley having a season-best 12, followed by junior safety Mark Barron (11), linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower (eight) and junior nose tackle Josh Chapman with six. The seven times the Bulldogs punted they averaged just .6 yards on first down, and the first interception came after a run for no gain on first down.
Penalties: Junior Alex Watkins' block to the back, nullifying Maze's touchdown, was a close call as the MSU player veered into him and took the hit on the back left shoulder. Freshman John Fulton was called for a block to the back later, while Maze had a false start. Junior defensive end Marcell Dareus jumped offside again and reacted as if coaches had promised he'll be running stairs with another infraction. Also, freshman running back Jalston Fowler was down before losing the ball while reaching for the goal-line, but considering there were only a handful of seconds left there was no point in reviewing the play.