SEC title streak in jeopardy now

By: NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Alabama fans react after a loss to Texas A&M during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Texas A&M won 29-24. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Photo by The Associated Press
Alabama fans react after a loss to Texas A&M during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Texas A&M won 29-24. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

— As Bryant-Denny Stadium emptied Saturday, there were presumably no proud chants of “S-E-C” serenading Texas A&M into the night. The Southeastern Conference had won, and it had lost. The fans, who earlier in the game had bypassed individual loyalties and chanted its name, could tell this was a crime against one of their own.

SEC teams have won the last six national championships. LSU and Alabama played each other - in a rematch - for last season’s title. Before the game, the Crimson Tide were expected to win their third championship in four years. But the Aggies, in their inaugural season as members of the conference, uprooted Alabama’s dream, defeating No. 1 Alabama on Saturday behind the play of their quarterback, Johnny Manziel. With two losses - to two top-10 teams, LSU and Florida - No. 8 Texas A&M had no title aspirations and, evidently, no fear.

“In the long run, I think it’s great for the SEC,” said Gary Danielson, a CBS Sports college football analyst who called the game. “The conference will get more competitive, more teams will be able to beat each other and it won’t be dominated by two teams.

“In the short run, that’s hard to say. But in the long run, nobody likes a rivalry when the other team doesn’t win. College football needs other teams to be involved in the championship.”

The “rivalry” has been the SEC against the rest. And Alabama sat atop the rankings, making Saturday’s result that more jarring. If No. 1 Kansas State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Notre Dame stay unbeaten, the SEC will miss out on the big game. A conference with six of the top nine teams in the BCS rankings will have proved too tough to survive unscathed.

No. 7 LSU has lost only to Alabama and Florida. No. 6 Florida has lost only to Georgia. And the fifth-ranked Bulldogs have lost only to No. 9 South Carolina, which lost to the Tigers and the Gators.

If Alabama wins out, it will play Georgia for the SEC championship. A one loss SEC champion would be next in line if two of the top three unbeaten teams were to lose, said Jerry Palm, a Bowl Championship Series expert for CBSsports.com.

Alabama would not have been in this predicament if not for the redshirt freshman quarterback Manziel and the SEC addition of Texas A&M.

The Aggies also have a new coach, Kevin Sumlin, and the prognosticators said they had no chance to compete immediately in the all-mighty SEC. Give Texas A&M a few years, they said.

Instead, in his 10th career start, Manziel played loose and free against the SEC’s best. He played so well - accounting for 345 yards and two touchdowns - that he advanced in the Heisman Trophy race and frustrated Alabama’s defense in the 29-24 victory.

A week earlier, the Crimson Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to beat LSU, 21-17, and Alabama Coach Nick Saban said his team appeared mentally fatigued as it prepared for Manziel. Perhaps the schedule caught up to the Crimson Tide: They allowed 853 yards and 46 points against LSU and Texas A&M.

“This is not a vintage Alabama defense,” Danielson said. “They don’t have depth at corner, so against teams that spread them out they’re vulnerable.

“They do not have an elite NFL pass rusher like a Marcell Dareus or a Hightower,” he added, referring to Dont’a Hightower. “They’re good, and they can still beat anybody in any given game, but they can be taken advantage of when they play a quarterback that’s hot. Because they don’t have the individual star on defense that the offensive line can’t block.”

After Saturday’s game, Saban appeared cool because he had two regular-season games and a possible conference title game to rectify any issues. He said his team’s chances at a title had not disappeared.

With three games left in its regular season in 2011, Alabama lost to LSU and was paired with four undefeated teams in the top 5: The Tigers, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State.

The next week, Stanford lost to Oregon, and Boise State lost to TCU. The week after that, Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State in double overtime. Alabama won the rest of its games and trounced LSU, 21-0, in a title-game rematch that marked the pinnacle of the SEC’s reign over college football: two teams from the same division, within the same conference, playing each other for a second time, for the championship.

“There is less that has to happen this year than had to happen last year for Alabama to get into the championship game,” Danielson said. “USC and Texas has to beat Notre Dame and Kansas State. That doesn’t seem impossible to me.”

Sports, Pages 21 on 11/12/2012

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