Being preseason favorites is no guarantee for Tide
HOOVER, Ala. - Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was talking about all that has happened in the past few years and summed the whole thing up in a hurry: "At the age of 4, when I started playing football, I never thought I'd be in this situation." Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have won three of the past four national titles and are trying to accomplish something no team has done since 1936 - three straight national championships on the highest college football level. On Thursday, SEC media picked the Crimson Tide to win the league crown. But the Alabama coach was quick to point out that in the past 21 years, the voters correctly selected the eventual champion only four times. Holding up four fingers, he declared: "If I was 4-17 as a coach I would be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy's gas station."Ah, but this time, there really wasn't any other direction to turn. In 2013, Alabama is clearly the slam-dunk favorite to win another conference crown. And if the Crimson Tide escape with the league title, there's almost a certain chance a shot at the national title is waiting behind it. The date everyone in the league has circled? Sept. 14 and a trip to Texas A&M. The teams most likely to unseat the Tide? Georgia returns Plant High graduate Aaron Murray, who threw for almost 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns last season as a junior. He said he didn't come back to break records, which he should do a lot of, but to win a championship. The Bulldogs gave Bama all it wanted in a 32-28 SEC Championship Game that almost sent Georgia to the national title contest. Texas A&M has Johnny Manziel back after a Heisman year and gets the Tide at home after the Aggies handed Alabama its only loss a year ago, 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. A&M's only SEC losses came in the opener to Florida and to a tough LSU team, 24-19. LSU suffered huge losses, with 11 players leaving early for the NFL draft, but the Tigers just seem to reload, and the offensive line has experience. The Tigers, however, have to go to Tuscaloosa. The league is so tough that one loss might not be enough to send Alabama away. The goal is the same - win the SEC, then see what happens. "We've had, what, seven national championships in a row here in our league," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I think only two were undefeated seasons. You know, people are getting beat and still winning the national championship. LSU lost twice (2007) and won the national championship." Saban and the Tide have a serious advantage in scheduling - playing Tennessee and Kentucky (a combined 1-15 in league play in 2012) in their crossover games against teams in the Eastern Division. LSU must play Florida and Georgia (a combined 14-2 last season in SEC play). In 2013, Alabama's path to another national title game seems greased with opportunity. According to the NCAA's website, the last school to win at least a share of three straight recognized FBS-level national titles was Minnesota from 1934-36 (sharing with SMU in the final season). The last time a school won three national titles with none shared was Yale from 1886-88. One thing Saban doesn't seem eager to talk about is any comparison to legendary Bama coach Bear Bryant. "There's no way that we have done anything close to what he's done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times," Saban said. "They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won. I mean, he changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful. I don't think it would be fair that anyone really be compared to what he was able to accomplish, the way he did it, and how he impacted other people."