As the old adage goes, “That’s why they play the games.” Alabama had just vanquished their great nemesis. They were unbeaten and seemingly unstoppable and the remainder of this season had an air of inevitability to it. Alabama would finish number one, and someone else would take a desperate shot at dethroning the Tide for the crystal ball. Then along came Southeastern Conference newcomer Texas A&M. The Aggies had been respectable this season, but fell short in the second half in their two games against elite competition. Still, A&M had overachieved its expectations significantly this season and was ranked fifteenth going into the game. The Aggies executed their up-tempo spread offense to perfection in the first half, taking a stunning 20-0 lead on the home-standing Tide. Alabama was forced to play catch-up, which they have rarely been forced to do, and the transition to a comeback-oriented passing game was one that Alabama could not make. They pulled to within three points, but A. J. McCarron threw an interception on fourth-and-goal from the two yard line late in the fourth quarter to seal Alabama’s fate. McCarron threw two interceptions in this game after avoiding throwing any over the entire season so far. Suddenly, one year after featuring both participants in the BCS title game, the SEC is unlikely to get even one entrant. Instead, Kansas State will move up to the top spot in the BCS, with Oregon close behind. If the Wildcats reach the national title game, they will do it despite a preseason ranking of 22, the lowest of the BCS era for a championship participant, eclipsing even the record of Cam Newton’s Auburn team. Kansas State truly came out of nowhere this season.
The impact of Alabama’s loss is resonating across college football. Texas A&M is preparing for a potential BCS bowl appearance, snagging a trip to one of the big games in its first year in the SEC. The Aggies also have at least a hypothetical chance of winning the SEC West given another Alabama loss; the same is true of LSU. Oregon and Kansas State are cheering, as they are both comfortably in the national title game should they avoid losing. Notre Dame had misfortune strike one of the four teams standing in its way to the title game; a loss by Oregon or Kansas State should put the Irish in the title game. Any further chaos would likely bring Alabama right back up to the top of the pile.
In the meantime, Georgia clinched the SEC East division, while archrivals Florida used a blocked punt return in the final seconds to avoid a humiliating homecoming defeat to the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette. Undefeated Louisville was exposed by Syracuse, LSU flexed its newfound offensive muscle by overpowering Mississippi State, and Stanford won a thriller against Oregon State to effectively end the Beavers’ Pac-12 title hopes. Oregon will clinch a spot in the conference title game against the USC-UCLA winner with one more conference victory. Kansas State needs one more win for a Big 12 championship, while Alabama can win the SEC West by beating Auburn in two weeks. Nebraska controls its fate in the Big Ten, although a loss could let Michigan back into the picture; one of these teams will play Wisconsin for the conference title, as the Badgers do not need to worry about postseason-ineligible Penn State and Ohio State in their division and could very well finish behind both in the standings and .500 in conference play. Rutgers, Louisville, and Cincinnati have a complicated tangle at the top of the Big East, while Louisiana Tech has the possibility of reaching a BCS bowl with a top-16 finish and either a Cincinnati win in the Big East or a loss by Nebraska. This is all because college football’s postseason makes complete sense.
Looking forward, the SEC looks poised to maintain its strength even if its title streak is ended at six. The SEC West can once again claim to be the toughest spot in football, with three legitimate national title contenders in LSU, Alabama, and Texas A&M, as well as Mississippi State, the best fourth-place team in the nation and a squad that would probably win the Big Ten with little difficulty this year. In the East, the triumvirate of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina will battle for national contention as well, while Missouri will try to rebound after a disappointing inaugural season and Vanderbilt will try to build on its surprising relevance this year. In short, the SEC could have ten teams in next year’s preseason top 25, including potentially six of the top ten. Electrifying freshman Johnny Manziel, the A&M quarterback nicknamed “Johnny Football,” has three more years to potentially turn the Aggies into a title-winning juggernaut; with a bit of luck in two key games, Texas A&M would be unbeaten, top-ranked, and potentially on its way to a national championship right now. Nick Saban’s Alabama defense will continue to be monstrous, and the Tide will be spending the entire offseason trying to fix the problems that LSU and the Aggies have caused them these past two weeks. Meanwhile, LSU appears to be finding an offensive identity around Zach Mettenburger, also a freshman, and should be better next season than they are now. This season may end in a celebration in Oregon, Kansas, or South Bend, but it is looking like a SEC West-dominated future.