Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for many of the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
Even as someone who pegged the South Carolina game as the most likely upset for Alabama this year, it wasn't like I was actually expecting it to happen. Certainly not after South Carolina lost to Auburn a week before the Tide annihilated a Florida team that was supposed to be their biggest threat of the season.
As a South Carolina fan, of course, I wanted to think it was possible that the Gamecocks could score a one- or two-point win against the Tide in a tough game. But had you told me that South Carolina would win the game by two touchdowns, I would have either thought you delusional or would have concluded that Alabama's season was dangerously close to running off the rails.
Neither of which, of course, is true. Alabama did lose in Columbia last weekend, but the Tide's season is not anywhere close to falling apart. In fact, all of the Tide's goals are still in play -- up to and including a chance to play for the national title again.
In one sense, Alabama no longer controls its own destiny in any race other than that for the SEC West. Auburn or LSU still need to defeat Alabama and avoid a couple of other losses along the way to win the West. That's not an impossible task for either, but it's also not the sort of thing that makes you think that Alabama should be preparing for a Cotton or Capital One bowl bid.
The BCS championship picture is a bit more complicated -- when is the BCS not at least a bit complicated? -- but Alabama still needs to have no more than one undefeated team from a BCS conference in the mix to go to Atlanta, once again wax Florida or exact revenge on South Carolina, then check to make sure that the reservations in Glendale are still good. And there remains a chance that some undefeated, non-name brand programs from BCS conferences could still end up behind Alabama in the rankings. (Think Michigan State.)
And, not to be too bullish on the Tide, but it's not like there's a lot that actually needs fixing here. Alabama is third in the SEC in total offense and second in total defense. Sure, those numbers were in part compiled against an increasingly unimpressive nonconference slate, but this is sitll a team that defeated two of the preseason front-runners to dethrone Alabama.
As we've noted here before, the South Carolina loss was a combination of the kind of mistakes you expect a team to make in an upset and an opponent that was playing its best game in years. The Tide is not going to run into that every week, regardless of how many of its opponents have byes; Alabama would have to be the unluckiest team in history to run into another team or two that's going to outplay reasonable expectations as much as South Carolina did.
Sure, there are tweaks that can be made. The Tide probably needs to get back to the power running game that helped it go 26-2 over the last two years. And it needs to fix some of the issues on defense that allowed Marcus Lattimore to come close to breaking 100 yards against Alabama -- or Cameron Newton probably will.
But it's not time to panic in Tuscaloosa. If a loss is the first one you've had in more than a year and a half, you're doing something right.