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Why Alabama Needs SEC to Be Dominant in 2014

Jul 17, 2014; Hoover, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban talks to the media during the SEC football media days at the Wynfrey Hotel.  Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Marc TorrenceAlabama Lead WriterJuly 30, 2014

Alabama running back Kenyan Drake took one last opportunity to start some Twitter fodder among fans before fall camp starts this weekend, tweeting out an interesting theory and attempting to take a peek into the minds of some of the most rabid sports fans on Earth:

The reaction among Alabama fans was not exactly what Drake hypothesized, though. Many Crimson Tide fans said they hope for the complete opposite. In fact, teammate Nick Perry was just about the only reply that said they want Auburn undefeated.

So, Drake clarified (while also learning a lesson about the dangers of hyperbole):

Fans of college football no doubt want to see both teams at their very best when they meet in the Iron Bowl. It happened in 2013 and produced possibly the greatest ending ever to a college football game. Meeting again in similar stakes in 2014, with 2013 as a backdrop, could make for an even better finish, crazy as it may be.

But for Alabama, it’s about much more than want. The Crimson Tide needs Auburnand the rest of its SEC scheduleto be as dominant as possible in the first year of the College Football Playoff.

Nobody is really quite sure exactly how the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee will select four teams for the first playoff. West Virginia AD Oliver Luck tried to add some clarity on Tuesday but really only added to the confusion.

Regardless, the word “strength of schedule” has been thrown around plenty of times and will very likely come into play. Right now, that doesn’t look good for Alabama.

Its only power-five nonconference game is against West Virginia, a mess of a football team coming off of a 4-8 season as second-year Big 12 members. The rest of its out-of-conference slate consists of Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina—hardly an intimidating group.

Nov 30, 2013; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen reacts to a call made by the officials during the second quarter of the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-
USA TODAY Sports

In addition to its regular plate of SEC West foes and Tennessee, the Crimson Tide get Florida from the East, which usually helps strength of schedulebut not this year, after a disastrous 4-8 season under Will Muschamp.

FBSSchedules.com did an early ranking of 2014 strength of schedule using the NCAA’s method of win-loss record from the previous year (really all we have to go off of at this point), and Alabama checked in at 95 out of 128 schools.

Simply put: It’s not looking good for Alabama in the SOS department. That could be an issue come selection time.

If the Crimson Tide goes undefeated, it should get in, no questions asked. Any power-five team that goes undefeatedpresumably winning their conferencewill.

The problem for Alabama, though, is that under Nick Saban, it’s had trouble keeping an unblemished record through its modern-day dynasty of three championships in five years. In fact, in every season since 2009 (Saban’s only undefeated season in any of his coaching stops), Alabama has lost a game in November—the worst time to do so for your poll standings.

Alabama November losses since 2010
YearDateTeamEnd of season result
2010Nov. 6/26LSU/Auburn10-3, Capital One Bowl win
2011Nov. 5LSU12-1, BCS National Champion
2012Nov. 10Texas A&M13-1, BCS National Champion
2013Nov. 30Auburn11-2, Sugar Bowl loss
ESPN

It’s generally regarded that it’s better to lose a game early; that way, you have the rest of the season to climb back up the ladder. A loss in November, though, is usually killer.

Dave Martin/Associated Press

The Crimson Tide got help around it after 2011 and 2012 November losses, getting back into the title game. It could have happened again in 2013, but the Armageddon scenario didn’t play out for a third year in a row.

Under the BCS standings, Alabama still would have been one of the top four teams in 2013, but the College Football Playoff may not be as forgiving.

Again, nobody knows exactly how the committee will rank teams. Could it have left the Crimson Tide out last year in favor of another one-loss team?  If the committee is indeed looking at strength of schedule, it will be hard for it to put a one-loss Alabama team in this season over another with a better SOS.

That’s why the Crimson Tide needs the SEC to be dominant this year.

Alabama will look for teams like Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida to live up to their potential, while hoping Texas A&M doesn’t have a big drop off with the loss of Johnny Manziel and recent attrition on the defensive side of the ball. Tennessee and Arkansas don’t really look like they’ll pose much of a threat.

And so, to get a few signature wins in 2014, Alabama needs LSU and Auburn—its two marquee opponents, both in November—to be great.

Beating one undefeated SEC team and one nearly undefeated SEC team (LSU and Auburn play each other October 4) in November will prove Alabama’s worth to the committee, while helping its mediocre strength of schedule.

Alabama needs both games to be major eventswith both teams coming in unblemished (or as unblemished as possible)—despite what the fans in Kenyan Drake’s mentions may want.

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