Alabama preserves SEC playoff chances in Iron Bowl thriller

Alabama beat Auburn 55-44 in the Iron Bowl (©GettyImages)

For a moment, it looked like the much lauded Southeastern Conference was about to suffer the great indignity of not having a single team in college football's inaugural playoff.

Before top-ranked Alabama's Blake Sims threw three interceptions, before the Crimson Tide trailed Auburn by 12 points in the third quarter, the stage had been set for an epic absence of SEC teams at the top of the rankings.

No. 4 Mississippi State lost to No. 19 Ole Miss, the victims to a 30-0 loss a week before, and No. 9 Georgia suffered an overtime loss to its in-state rival. There was no way either team would qualify for the playoff after those losses, especially since neither play in the conference title game.

Which left Alabama and its first-place standing as the last bastion of SEC dominance remaining. And if they lost Sunday, we would be facing the unprecedented in a decade: A title game series without an SEC team.

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Mistakes lead to early deficit

On Alabama's march to greatness the last four years, the Crimson Tide's propensity to come up large in the big moment overshadowed the team's other great trait - it's stinginess with the ball.

Under Nick Saban's scepter, Alabama teams have rarely turned over the ball at a high rate, forcing their opponent's to make the mistakes instead.

But facing Auburn in the vaunted Iron Bowl, it was the quarterback Blake Sims who threw three inexcusable interceptions. 

Luckily, the Crimson Tide gave as good as they got, nabbing an interception and a fumble to make the turnover battle not completely one-sided.

And Amari Cooper came up huge with two third quarter touchdowns, a 39-yarder and a 75-yard scamp. That put Alabama in the contest, only trailing 36-34 entering a final set where the Crimson Tide scored 21 points straight to put it away.


Now Alabama lives to fight another day and Auburn's disappointing attempt to return to the championship game receives another nail in the coffin. The win must come even sweeter for Crimson Tide fans who still remember the field goal return that defeated them a year before.

Alabama has to beat SEC East champion Missouri in the title game in order to stay in the playoff hunt. But if the Crimson Tide manage that final feat, they will have averted the unlikeliest of possibilities: That the dominant SEC could be noticeably absent from college football's first playoff.

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