From the Press Box: A tough road made even more difficult

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Over 101,000 can wedge themselves into Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. As a quick visit to google maps will show, there is no parking -- none -- within a few blocks of the stadium, and what is available is taken by alumni RVs, who begin arriving Thursday afternoon -- sometimes earlier -- for a Saturday game.

Already facing what the pundits universally called the toughest schedule in the country, the road for my beloved Alabama to repeat an appearance in the College Football Playoffs has now been made even more difficult thanks to a 43-37 home loss to Ole Miss Saturday.

Five Alabama turnovers — including two fumbles kickoffs inside the 25-yard line — and a fluke-play-of-the-year to boot — gave Ole Miss 17 points, with another seven coming when the officials missed an offensive lineman seven yards downfield on a broken-play Rebel TD (I saw it immediately — ESPN noticed it on the fourth replay, and not until after the commercial break). So, what should have been 37-19, instead became a devastating loss.


Credit goes to Ole Miss, because they did make the plays they were put in position to make. Their miracle win in Oxford last year was called by the university’s sports information department “the biggest in school history” with Saturday’s win sure to replace the 2014 victory, all of which says more about Alabama than it does Ole Miss.

A gentle reminder of THE Tradition in college football ...
A gentle reminder of THE Tradition in college football …

Now the Crimson Tide must beat Georgia on the road, top a resurgent Tennessee (remember the Vols, Hawkeye fans?), beat always-tough LSU, survive a still-good Mississippi State and then defeat The Enemy, with this years game at their place, a.k.a. The Dump on the Plains. After that, a win in the SEC championship game will be required.

Four of those opponents have the week before the Alabama game (always the biggest on their schedule) as ‘bye’ weeks, making the challenge for the Tide even tougher.

Along the way Bama must hope four teams do not survive the season undefeated. Although the Tide has fallen to 12th (12th!) in the rankings, winning-out will take care of some of the mess above them. Of course, two Ole Miss losses will be of huge help.

In short, the Tide must do what Ohio State did last year, all while facing a schedule so much tougher than OSU’s it does not bear further discussion.

I will stand by my assertion that any SEC champion, even one with one loss, should be an automatic entrant in the College Football Playoff.

The odds have shrunken considerably that the 2015 conference winner will be Bama, and, as my friend Lyle down in Tuscaloosa informed me Sunday afternoon, the mood in title town is nothing short of apocalyptic.

The very idea that the Tide might go three consecutive years without winning their 16th National Championship has the Bama faithful in a state of despair. Such is the spoiled state created after winning titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

As the team poster sent out with the media guides for the 2013 season (which turned out to be a disastrous 11-2 campaign) so perfectly stated “At some schools they play football. At Alabama, we live it.”

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Naturally, any Alabama loss will result in a veritable deluge of disparaging remarks and digs sent my direction. I actually appreciate this, as it reveals how important it is for others to see the top program be proven beatable — it gives hope. I get it.

As it was halftime, I did switch over to see the final 90 seconds of the Iowa-Pitt game. I told my friends Doug and Dan that, after seeing Kuehn kick at Jack Trice the week before, if the Hawks got him to within 60 yards they had a chance.

“He has the leg for 60, trust me. I saw it myself,” I said, knowing full well that leg strength is one thing, doing it under game pressure is another.

Then came the boot. Probably the biggest since the ’85 win over Michigan as far as dramatic final-second FGs in Kinnick are concerned (or so my limited remembrance of exciting Iowa wins tells me).

So congrats to the Hawkeyes and their fans. I thought before the season they might reach nine wins, and that seems quite likely. A nice bowl game is certainly in line.

Nice by Hawkeye — not Crimson Tide — standards.

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Were you, like me, stuck watching the Dallas at Philadelphia game late Sunday afternoon? I cannot remember seeing a professional game played at such a tedious, boring pace and level. Even Troy Aikman was grumpy, saying at one point that “this has become embarrassing.”

The only real passion in the game came from the Philly fans, who always seem to be ready to riot and who apparently revel in barking at their own teams.

Passionless football — another reason why the college game is so more entertaining.

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While I normally enjoy ESPN’s broadcast crews, Chris Fowler proved during the Bama vs. Ole Miss game that he should have stayed on College GameDay. Alabama grad Rece Davis is a fine host, but he, too, is not so grand on play-by-play.

Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge are an excellent pairing and easy to listen to. Kirk Herbstreit is a top-level color man and deserves better than Fowler, even if Fowler is a major upgrade over Brent Hyperventingburger.

The worst crime ESPN is guilty of (outside of ever giving the horrible Beth Mowins a booth job — Shawn Kenney crushes her like a grape) is the incessant airing of the “big check” Draftking.com ads, which have quickly become annoying.

That said, the highest crime and greatest assault on the viewer is the near-psychic trauma caused by any and all of the idiotic Dr. Pepper College Football Playoff ads. I cannot grab the remote fast enough the nanosecond I see one starting.

Truly maddening, it is. But not as much as a loss to Ole Miss.

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