ATLANTA — Picture your television screen Sunday morning:
With doves flying and trumpets blaring, the keepers of the eternal down marker, the high priests and priestess (that’s for you, Condi Rice) of the College Football Playoff committee unveil one by one the four teams in the inaugural, historic, the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again national semifinals.
Ah, we have Florida State. Survivalists rejoice.
We have Oregon. Revenge against Arizona is theirs.
There’s TCU. Quiet, Baylor; that’s enough out of you.
And — drum roll, please — Ohio State.
(Cymbals crashing. Fireworks exploding. A live shot of Keith Jackson in the woods somewhere, a single manly tear of joy trickling down his weathered cheek.)
Um, guys and gentle lady of the CFP … where’s Alabama? This is the ultimate college football power play. Where for the love of Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat is the Southeastern Conference representative?
What’s that? Oh, I see. Alabama was upset Saturday in the SEC Championship Game by Missouri. No room for a two-loss titan at college football’s much-ballyhooed buffet?
Whoa, nelly. What a barn burner that would be.
Couch burner, more like it. Oh, there would be doubled-over laughing and strangers buying each other rounds from Morgantown to South Bend to the Austin city limits.
“Barkeeper! The good scotch, please! The SEC’s decade of dominance is dead, dead, dead!”
Done in not with a bang, but with a loss to … Missouri? The team that couldn’t get to this football “Final Four” because it lost to Indiana and was ground to dust by Georgia?
That, as they say, would be rich.
Say it won’t happen, grudgingly perhaps if you’re one of the teams that lost to Alabama — like LSU, which had the Crimson Tide trapped in its net before allowing Bama to wriggle free a month ago.
But this Alabama team isn’t invincible. Yes, the Tide has talent the Oakland Raiders only dream of and is coached by Mr. The Process, Nick Saban. And, sure, if you had to pick a favorite right now to win yet another national championship, the smart money and wise guys would say to bet on Bama.
But rammer jammer, yellow hammer hasn’t driven a nail into the coffin of everyone it’s played this season, especially when not playing in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama opened the season here Aug. 30 with a 33-23 win over West Virginia. Not a scare, but not an earth-scorching, either. Then there was a 23-17 loss at Ole Miss, a sweaty-palmed 14-13 victory at Arkansas and a 20-13 overtime victory at Tiger Stadium that still defies description.
There is a word to describe this Crimson Tide team, and that word is vulnerable. Bama is prone to giving up the deep pass and the quarterback keeper — the Tide surrendered 630 total yards to Auburn last week — and owns a very un-championship-like turnover margin of minus-2 for the season. That ranks 11th in the SEC; Missouri is second behind Georgia at plus-9.
Mizzou underwhelms compared to Alabama because, well, the Tigers’ history of football success reads like a pamphlet and Bama’s reads like a bible. It’s hard not to glaze over at the thought of a team that got here after what one reporter from London (yes, England) questioning Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel on Friday described as a “slightly cataclysmic loss” to Indiana.
Get thee to the Citrus Bowl, Tigers. Make way, while Alabama strides triumphantly to one of the CFP semifinals in the Sugar or Rose bowls.
But like a bad penny, or Shia LaBeouf, Missouri just keeps showing up. Everyone knew the Tigers weren’t the best team in the SEC East after the Bulldogs buried them like a bone under their own end zone, that they would stumble or bumble against Texas A&M or Tennessee or Arkansas.
But they didn’t. Here they are — Mizzou-rah! — for the second straight year.
At the SEC’s temporary HQ in the lower reaches of the soon-to-be-imploded Georgia Dome, everyone is singing about the democratic process and how football made America great and all that.
But there’s an undercurrent of anxiety thrumming through the hallways. If Bama gets upset, barring a string of other improbable upsets around the country this weekend, the Crimson Tide … ain’t … gonna … make it.
We could awake to a world Monday morning that has TCU still alive for the national championship and Bama making reservations for a return trip here for the Peach Bowl (yippee).
Hate to say I told you so, except I’m a sportswriter so that’s what I live for, but earlier this season I told you this could be the year the SEC eats its own.
Toughest conference in the country? No doubt. But the demolition derby that was the SEC schedule may leave even mighty Alabama too torn up to keep moving forward.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.