College football is by far one of the most unpredictable sports at any level of play, so why is it people already think they know who the national champion will be just six weeks into the 2012 season?
2011 was one of the craziest roller coaster rides in the history of the BCS rankings. Upsets dominated the headlines and after most of the contenders had been wiped off the board only two teams remained: LSU and Alabama. Bama, who had been beaten in a field goal war on their home turf by LSU earlier last year, got sweet revenge dominating the Tigers in the national title game, earning the right to bring the crystal football back to Tuscaloosa.
After the NFL draft, it became obvious that the Tide would have some holes to fill on both offense and defense with the loss of Dont’a Hightower and Trent Richardson. However, Nick Saban's team reloaded seemingly overnight producing bigger and meaner players, and now after just four weeks of the 2012 campaign the Tide are number one again. But in the immortal words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, sweetheart." The Crimson Tide have a long way to go, and three major obstacles to hurdle before they can call themselves champions again.
1. The SEC
The SEC West has become the premier division within the premier conference in all of collegiate athletics. With Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss, among others, there is no arguing that this is the best collection of teams in NCAA football. The very league that Bama takes pride in being a member of could end up being the step they stumble on, on their way to repeating as champions.
Even though the Tide have the luxury of playing the majority of what remains on their schedule at Bryant-Denny Stadium, there are two perilous road tests that remain this year. Alabama will have to travel to play Tennessee, and then go to Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 to face off against LSU in the game that could decide the winner of the SEC West. Even if the defending national champions make it out of the regular season undefeated, they will still have to play the SEC East champion in the Georgia Dome in early Dec.
2. The BCS
If Alabama were to fall somewhere along the line in their SEC schedule it could prove the end for the Crimson Tide's title hopes. After placing a one-loss Bama team in the national championship game last season against undefeated division rival LSU, it’s unlikely that the selection committee will repeat their decision, even if it yields the best game.
In order for Alabama to keep their fate out of the committee’s hand they must finish the season undefeated. Recent history has shown that SEC teams that finish the season without a loss and win the conference championship are almost guaranteed a spot in the title game. It’s very likely that the winner of the LSU-Bama game will advance to the championship, and barring any absurd upsets there will be unbeaten teams behind them who are considered worthy of a shot at the title.
3. The New Guys
Over the past seven years the SEC has been deemed the premier conference in college football and has produced the last six national champions. It would appear, however, that a new style of play could put an end to the southeast’s reign of dominance.
The option attack is a gameplan that has been around since the beginning of college football, but a new spin has been put on an old offense that has made it even more potent that ever — the no-huddle. Oregon’s Chip Kelly has used this organized mayhem to revitalize the Ducks and transform them into one of the most potent offenses in college football. After seeing the successes in Eugene, other programs like West Virginia have adopted the style of play in an attempt to overwhelm defenses, and so far it has worked flawlessly.
Both of these programs are legitimate threats to take away the national championship from the SEC, and come season's end it would be surprising if neither were involved in the championship conversation. Oregon, who lost a close game to Auburn and Cam Newton in 2011, has proved that it can hang with the SEC. And the Mountaineers, who are led by Heisman front runner Geno Smith, are eager for a shot at the best in the country to prove that they can compete.
No matter what happens, this season promises to have some great matchups and possibly a repeat champion. But who really knows, college football has a way of keeping people guessing.