Grown men, proud and rough of neck and Southern, felt like crying.
With less than two minutes to play in one of the most hostile environments in the universe not devoid of oxygen — LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Saturday night — the Alabama Crimson Tide was losing 17-14 and didn’t even have the ball. Back home in Alabama, men sank with a despair reserved only for the death of a dream.
Like the rest of us, Alabama fans had been conditioned to think their team was unbeatable. Just last Wednesday, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told radio host Dan Patrick that No.1 Alabama looked “like they could beat a couple of those NFL teams I watched on Sundays.”
Any discerning football fan understood what Spurrier meant. Even the best college team would lose handily to the worst of the NFL but Alabama, by golly, sure looked more like a professional team than a collection of unpaid amateurs.
Yet with 94 seconds left on the scoreboard in Death Valley, LSU was lining up for a 45-yard field goal with a chance to go up by six points. In Kansas and Indiana and Oregon and basically everywhere else not in the Deep South, red solo cups full of beer and shot glasses full of whiskey were being brought together in a collective toast. The Southeastern Conference’s six-year dominance of college football, it seemed, was likely coming to an end.
But LSU kicker Drew Alleman missed that field goal and, with it, the best chance to wrest away control of the sport from the SEC floated away harmlessly into the night.
Alabama’s offense had gained exactly four yards in the fourth quarter when its quarterback, A.J. McCarron, trotted onto the field for that final, desperate drive. He needed only four completions to win the game.
With its timeouts gone, Alabama went 72 yards in 43 seconds to salvage its undefeated season and its top spot in the BCS standings. In Alabama, they’ll paint portraits of the move freshman running back T.J. Yeldon put on helpless LSU safety Craig Loston during that game-winning, 28-yard screen pass.
In a lifetime of Alabama football, only one moment might stand atop Yeldon’s magical catch-and-run in the Heart of Dixie. You guessed it, Miami fans, the 1993 Sugar Bowl: When Bama defensive back George Teague, beaten badly on a pass by Heisman winner Gino Torretta, tracked the play down and pulled the ball away from Lamar Thomas on a would-be touchdown run. In Alabama, they simply call it “The Strip.”
Whether “The Drive” surpasses the “The Strip” in college football lore only time will tell. Alabama still has a long way to go this season before it can really even be debated. For now, “The Drive” saved a potential championship season while “The Strip” prevented any chance of a comeback for the Canes.
With the euphoria of Alabama’s come-from-behind victory in Baton Rouge, La., still fresh, Alabama’s defense, reality check in hand, now gets a visit from Texas A&M. The Aggies’ potent offense — tops in the SEC (550.8 yards per game) — isn’t the final obstacle between the Crimson Tide and a return trip to the BCS national championship game, but it’s probably the rest of college football’s last best hope of preventing another national title for the SEC.
Kansas State, No.2 in the BCS, continues to mow through the Big 12 but the Wildcats could get locked out of the championship game if Oregon, No.3 in the BCS, continues its onslaught of the Pac-12. The Ducks moved ahead of Notre Dame in the BCS standings this week and play Stanford, ranked No.15 in the AP Poll, on Saturday. Oregon still has No.13 Oregon State on its schedule, in addition to a potential rematch with No.18 Southern Cal in the Pac-12 title game.
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein sustained an undisclosed injury last week against Oklahoma State and speculation points to a concussion. KSU coach Bill Snyder said on Tuesday that he expects Klein to play Saturday at Texas Christian but — in the case of concussions — medical staffs (and not coaches, thank God) determine when a player is fit to return to the field.
(Not a representation of my ballot if the season ended today.)
1. Manti Te’o, senior linebacker, Notre Dame. 2. Barrett Jones, redshirt senior center, Alabama. 3. Collin Klein, senior quarterback, Kansas State.