Alabama closes case on BCS title game
AUBURN, Ala. – In the climactic Apollo Creed-Rocky Balboa fight scene in “Rocky,” the fighters clung to each other after the bell in mutual admiration and exhaustion.
“Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” Creed mumbled.
“Don’t want one,” Rocky responded.
Yet they made “Rocky II,” and they fought again.
And now football imitates cinema.
Alabama and LSU punched each other’s lights out in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5, and at the end of that 9-6 alley fight, neither battered side probably would have relished a rematch. But now they have one, Jan. 9 in the Superdome. The BCS national championship will be at stake.
It’s not official yet, of course. There is the formality of a final weekend of football to be played – a set of anticlimactic games that will put the lie to the bowl cartel’s assertion that every week is a playoff. When the least-impactful final full Saturday of games ever is over, the table will be set for the final frontier in SEC worldwide domination.
The league will win its sixth consecutive national title by default after wiring the title game with both entrants. If America already was fatigued by Dixie’s football superiority complex, well, sorry. Open wide for a large spoonful of some more.
LSU can contest the SEC championship game against Georgia wearing oven mitts and high heels, and it won’t prevent the Tigers from playing for the crystal football – even a loss to the Bulldogs should be survivable. That was assured when the No. 1 team in the land blew out No. 3 Arkansas on Friday in Baton Rouge.
And thanks to its 42-14 clubbing of Auburn, Alabama can sit out next Saturday and feel secure of its place in the title game. None of the other one-loss teams out there – Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State, Virginia Tech – can match the Crimson Tide’s resume. Nor can unbeaten Houston.
“I feel like we kind of showed the world we are national championship contenders,” Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “I want to play anybody, but I would much rather play LSU in the national championship game.”
In one of those nonsensical twists that only the BCS can produce, the team that did not even win its division is more solid in its position in the title game than the team that beat it earlier this month. If for some reason Georgia ransacks LSU by 40 in the Georgia Dome, we can re-open the discussion. Until then, the debate is over.
Bama-LSU II. Bring it on.
[Recap: Alabama 42, Auburn 14]
“A rematch is what a lot of people want,” Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. “It’s what we want.”
It’s what the Tide gets after three turbulent weeks in which everything broke their way. They needed help, and they got it.
On Nov. 12, unbeaten Stanford lost to Oregon and unbeaten Boise State lost to TCU. On Nov. 18, unbeaten Oklahoma State was shocked by Iowa State. The next day, Oklahoma and Oregon removed themselves from any championship argument by enduring their second losses of the season.
Alabama players had harbored hope of a second shot at LSU, and suddenly the path was clear.
“I never had one doubt,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “My son [5-year-old Deandre] even told me we’d get ‘em back.”
All Alabama needed to do was avenge a crushing loss from a year ago to its most bitter rival. As usual, Saban demanded tunnel vision from his team – he banned them from watching the Arkansas-LSU game – and he got it.
[Photos: No. 2 Alabama routs Auburn]
The Tide delivered another in a season-long series of dominant defensive performances, holding Auburn’s offense scoreless. The Tigers’ two touchdowns were scored by their defense and special teams, and they had just one first down in the third quarter.
Alabama also scored six defensively on an interception return by DeMarcus Milliner, which came two plays after Kirkpatrick and Auburn’s towel-waving mascot of an assistant, Trooper Taylor, exchanged words.
Kirkpatrick tightly covered Auburn’s Emory Blake on a deep incompletion in front of Auburn’s bench. After the play, Taylor yapped at Kirkpatrick, who turned and motioned Taylor to come onto the field and back it up.
“He told me they’re going to keep coming at me,” Kirkpatrick related. “But I treat him as family – he recruited me for Auburn. We were just joking around.”
Alabama took control of the game with touchdowns on consecutive offensive plays in the first quarter – a 41-yard flea-flicker pass from quarterback A.J. McCarron to Kenny Bell, then – after a shanked Auburn punt – a 35-yard pass from McCarron to tight end Brad Smelley.
Alabama got a career-high, 203-yard Heisman Trophy statement game from junior tailback Trent Richardson. Richardson has the vote of 2009 Heisman winner and former teammate Mark Ingram – and after this game, he finally received the endorsement of his coach.
Saban would rather sing show tunes on the Oxygen network than spend time during the regular season talking about individual awards. It runs counter to everything he preaches to his players all year. But with all of Richardson’s Heisman hay in the barn, he put in a plug for his guy postgame.
“To me,” Saban said, “Trent Richardson is the best football player in the country.”
And just in case any voters needed a push in Alabama’s direction, he also put in a plug for his team.
“This team only lost one game in overtime to a very good team that is No. 1 right now,” Saban said. “I think we have a great football team, a great bunch of young men who have done a wonderful job, and they have played some really dominant football on both sides of the ball.”
Saban votes in the USA Today coaches’ poll, which cravenly keeps all ballots secret until the last one, which will be cast next week. Saban was asked whether he would vote his team into the title game.
“Yeah,” he said, twice. “Y’all are going to get to see my vote. So now you know what it is.”
The final vote will be as suspenseful as waking up early to see whether the sun will rise in the east. LSU and Alabama took care of their business. There’s gonna be a rematch.
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