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November 2, 2010

Alabama appears to again control its destiny

TUSCALOOSA _ Lest there be any doubt, while a number of University of Alabama football players were doing nothing but relaxing during the open date, senior quarterback Greg McElroy was perched in front of a television.

"We're pleased and happy with what happened Saturday," he said. "I was screaming louder for Nebraska, USC and Iowa, I was rooting for those teams as hard as ever."

It wasn't so much that McElroy, like many Crimson Tide fans, was cheering them on, but against their opponents which were all ahead of Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Previously unbeaten Missouri and Michigan State fell by the wayside, but Oregon won handily.

Consequently, although there's no way of knowing for sure, it's believed that Alabama once again (or already depending on the point of view) controls its destiny. Four straight wins in November will definitely have it back in the SEC Championship Game, with win No. 5 likely resulting in another trip to the BCS title game, this time the Fiesta Bowl site in Glendale, Ariz.

"This team, we understand that it all starts Saturday with LSU," McElroy said. "If we can get a victory there then we can focus on Mississippi State, and Georgia State, and Auburn, in that order. Just one game at a time at this point and we just want to get better week in, week out."

Although Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) is only sixth in the BCS standings it appears poised to leapfrog undefeated No. 3 TCU, No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Utah, if it can avoid another loss. While that's not a certainty, it would take something extreme for that not to occur.

So in essence heading into the home stretch the only win-and-in teams are No. 1 Oregon, 2. Auburn, and the top one-loss team, Alabama. All others need help.

"I think there are a lot other people in the same boat so it's who can take care of their business the best down the road by what you control," Coach Nick Saban said. "What we control is how we play so I think that's the most important thing that we want to be able to focus on and that's why we need everybody's best right now at this time of the year.

"I think the teams we play in the SEC have won 23 out of 25 games, the teams we have left on this side of (the schedule) so we're going to play some of the best teams and we need to be playing our best football of the year if we're going to be able to accomplish what we have an opportunity to accomplish."

It'll certainly be challenging. That schedule, featuring at No. 10 LSU, No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 2 Auburn, is the nation's toughest even without factoring in the final seven opponents of the regular season all coming off bye weeks. Alabama lost to the first team it faced following its open date, at South Carolina, which was also the Tide's third straight ranked opponent.

But just because the Alabama doesn't have to scoreboard watch any more doesn't mean that it won't, and all three ranked opponents have something to play for as well.

LSU (7-1, 4-1) has to beat Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas, and also have Auburn lose to both Georgia and Alabama, to advance to the SEC Championship Game. Trying to beat its former coach, Saban, only adds incentive.

Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2) is off this week, but finishes with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs have already been eliminated from making the trip to Atlanta (due to the loss to Auburn), but can still make one of the biggest bowl appearances in program history.

Auburn (9-0, 6-0), of course, is the team to beat right now with quarterback Cam Newton the clear leader for the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers host Chattanooga and Georgia before visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 26.

Considering the potential pairings for the SEC and national title games, Auburn at Alabama could be the game of the year ... if both sides take care of business.

"I just feel like if we keep wining everything else will take care of itself," junior running back Mark Ingram said.


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