Four games are all that separate top-ranked Alabama from a chance to represent the Western Division in the SEC title game for the second straight season.
After a dominant October that saw them win their past four games by a combined score of 190-20, the 8-0 Tide cruises into their bye week with time to prepare for the final month of the regular season.
A win in the SEC title game normally means an automatic bid to the BCS title game, but with Nick Saban’s club representing the league’s last unbeaten team, the only way to guarantee a spot in Pasadena on Jan. 6 is to run the table.
Let’s take a look at the best and worst case scenarios for the Tide in November.
LSU – Nov. 9
Best Case – Even though LSU has had more success than anyone in the SEC against the Tide recently, Alabama has won three of the past four meetings. The Tigers' defense is a few notches below Les Miles' recent teams. While LSU’s offense is better, Alabama appears to have the more balanced roster. The best case for the Tide would be to buck the recent trend of close games in this series and put this one away quickly.
Worst Case – Forget what the records say. Miles' Tigers are perhaps the only team confident enough to walk into Bryant-Denny Stadium and win. Zach Mettenberger and LSU’s offense shredded the Tide last season, but were unable to finish late. If the Alabama’s secondary struggles to contain LSU’s explosive wideouts, LSU is capable of winning in Tuscaloosa for the sixth time in its past seven trips to Tuscaloosa.
at Mississippi State – Nov. 16
Best Case – Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs have struggled this season—especially in their first three games against ranked opponents. Mississippi State lost those games by an average of 18 points. Road dates against No. 14 South Carolina and No. 12 Texas A&M precede the game against the Tide. Given those circumstances, the Tide could put a beat down on the home-standing Bulldogs--even worse than last year’s 38-7 pasting in Tuscaloosa.
Worst Case – Tide fans know all too well how the team has struggled playing a tough opponent the week after the LSU game. The last time this scenario played out in 2011, Alabama went deep into the fourth quarter against Mississippi State before pulling away for a 24-7 win. If the Tide don’t come out sharp, this game could be a struggle.
Chattanooga – Nov. 23
Best Case – Simply put, the Mocs occupy the spot reserved for the Tide’s annual scrimmage one week before the Iron Bowl.
Worst Case – The Mocs pull a Georgia Southern and actually make the Tide sweat for a half. Don’t bet on that.
at Auburn – Nov. 30
Best Case – As I noted last week, Alabama would benefit from getting a 9-2 or 10-1 Auburn team at the end of the year in the Iron Bowl. An impressive win—especially on the road against a ranked opponent—over its most-hated rival would reinforce Alabama’s standing as the nation’s best team. This will be the most hostile environment Alabama has played in since the trip to College Station.
Worst Case – Alabama has won its past two trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the 2009 game serves as a reminder of how tough it can be to knock off an amped Tigers squad. Gus Malzahn had some measure of success against the Tide when he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11. Given the circumstances and what Auburn could have on the line, the Tigers will pull out all the stops.
The remaining conference games present their own set of challenges, but Alabama should be a heavy favorite in all three. LSU and Auburn are the toughest tests, but Saban and his staff should use the bye week to get prepared for the run at SEC and national title.
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