I think you've figured out by now the biggest challenge for Alabama the rest of the season. Staying awake. That's a problem, and don't be surprised if [coach Nick] Saban calls his mentor and friend Bill Belichick for advice. In 2007, Belichick was on the roll of a lifetime. The Patriots were unbeatable, running the table in the regular season, finally falling to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. That game, too, was in Glendale, and the Patriots were a two-touchdown favorite. The Giants scored in the game's final minute to shatter the perfect season.
Bottom line: There is no one left on Alabama's schedule that is better than the Tide or even within three time zones. Only one team can get in their way. And that's Alabama. Much has been made out of the fact that six SEC schools have bye weeks before playing Alabama -- starting Saturday with South Carolina. Many screamed about this being unfair. I think the SEC got it right. They were merely trying to make the league more competitive. But it won't work.
That's master troll-baiter Paul Finebaum, who's more than a little prone to hyperbole. But it's right in line with the team's mindset this week going into a classic "trap game" at South Carolina – the Tide's third straight date against another top-20 outfit, and fourth in five weeks – where the obstacle isn't the Gamecocks, but the limits of human achievement:
"We've still got a lot of room to improve," Alabama safety Mark Barron said. "We didn't play a perfect game. We played closer to the way we wanted to play, but it wasn't perfect for us."
"We might have shut things down a little early mentally," [quarterback Greg] McElroy said. "When you have that kind of lead on somebody, it's so hard to stay focused and I think that shows just a little bit of the immaturity on this team, and it’s something we’re going to have to work on and improve. It's inexcusable and we've got to do better next time."
These things change quickly, but looking ahead from Oct. 5, 'Bama seems more entrenched and unmovable from the top of the polls than any team since USC went coast to coast at No. 1 in 2005. After dispatching with Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame by mid-October, there was nothing standing in the Trojans' path to the Rose Bowl showdown with No. 2 Texas except the Trojans. Even the two teams that spent the entire regular season on top since then, Ohio State in 2006 and Florida in 2009, were both aiming for months at a winner-take-all finale against an obvious equal (No. 2 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama, respectively) to justify their ascension to the BCS title game. Even if you include an SEC Championship rematch with Florida or South Carolina, Alabama doesn't have anything like that in front of it right now.
I say right now because a) There's a long, long way to go, and b) Auburn's matriculation into the top 10 this week makes the Tigers by far the most dangerous test over the last seven games (or even eight, if you count the SEC Championship), and obviously the most intriguing. Unless Jeremiah Masoli suddenly convinces Chip Kelly to defect from Oregon to become Ole Miss' offensive coordinator within the next two weeks, Alabama won't see a more formidable player than the Tigers' übermensch quarterback, Cam Newton, operating in a perfect offense for his assorted talents. If it gets out of upcoming dates with Arkansas and LSU (both on the Plains) with its own perfect record intact, Auburn could be barreling just as inevitably toward the most hyped Iron Bowl ever.
But we still have a lot to learn about the Tigers, especially the SEC's eighth-ranked total defense. After Saturday, we already know all we need to know about Alabama. So does Alabama. From here, it's just a matter of finishing the drill.