Four teams that can beat Alabama: The case for South Carolina
Given Alabama's dominance the past four years, taking the Crimson Tide against the field to win the national title seems like a safe bet. But that doesn't mean Alabama is invincible. SI.com's Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples envisioned four scenarios in which the Crimson Tide might get derailed on their quest for a third consecutive BCS championship. Here's a hypothetical outcome of an Alabama-South Carolina matchup in the SEC title game on Dec. 7.
ATLANTA -- AJ McCarron dropped back and scanned the field. Alabama needed 12 yards to return to the BCS title game for the fourth time in five seasons. If his line could only buy him an extra second, McCarron could pull off a miracle comeback.
The extra second never came. Tide receivers Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood had shaken their defenders and stood open in the end zone. Tailback T.J. Yeldon, the safety valve on the play, might have caught a dump-off and plowed his way into the end zone. But McCarron never saw them. As time expired on Saturday, all he saw was a garnet No. 7 on a white background.
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney swatted McCarron's pass before it traveled a foot, and when the ball struck the ground, the rest of the Gamecocks spilled onto the field to celebrate a 17-13 win, the school's first SEC title and a likely berth in the final BCS championship game. The Gamecocks, who shook off a Week 2 loss at Georgia to go 12-1, will hope voters and the computers prefer their résumé to the résumé of Pac-12 champ Stanford, which also finished 12-1 after a loss to Notre Dame. Whichever team gets the spot will probably face Ohio State, which beat Michigan State in the Big Ten title game to finish 13-0. On Saturday night, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said his team's upset of the top-ranked Crimson Tide proved South Carolina deserved a shot at the national title.
"What did Ric Flair say? To be the best, you've got to beat the best?" Spurrier said. "Well, we just beat the best."
How did the Gamecocks beat Alabama? By playing the Crimson Tide's favored style. The teams combined to run 115 offensive plays as Spurrier tried to milk the clock to keep the ball out of McCarron's hands. Given the physicality of both defenses, the game resembled two pythons trying to squeeze each other to death. South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward opted to load the box to stop Alabama's backs with the hope that pressure applied by Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles would also keep McCarron from finding the time to hit his receivers for big gains. With the exception of a 76-yard touchdown pass to Cooper in the second quarter, the scheme worked. Yeldon gained only 65 yards, and freshman Derrick Henry gained just 47. Clowney had a sack and three hurries, while Sutton finished with two sacks. If not for McCarron's experience and quick release, those numbers could have been much higher.
"I told our offensive line all week that if everyone worried about Clowney, those other guys would kill us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Well, they just about did."
The Gamecocks' offense could do little in the first half against Alabama's defense. Still, South Carolina allowed the play clock to tick down to two seconds or less on nearly every snap. The Gamecocks mounted an eight-minute touchdown drive to open the third quarter. On that possession, quarterback Connor Shaw carried six times for 46 yards, finishing with a nine-yard run that put South Carolina up 10-7. The Crimson Tide responded with a pair of field goals, but a Victor Hampton interception off a Clowney deflection early in the fourth quarter set up the Gamecocks in Alabama territory. A punishing hit by linebacker Trey DePriest knocked Shaw from the game, forcing backup quarterback Dylan Thompson -- who has played significant snaps in eight games as Shaw has dealt with various injuries -- to take over the offense. After Mike Davis broke free for a 15-yard gain, Thompson hit Bruce Ellington for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Gamecocks the lead for good.
The win gave Spurrier his seventh SEC title as a coach, and if the voters and computers like his team enough, he'll have a chance to play for his second national title. "Coach Saban may be 4-0 in the BCS championship," Spurrier said. "But he's 1-4 against the Head Ball Coach."
Somewhere in the city, a can of original Coors sat in a tub of ice waiting to be savored.