Alabama is unbeaten in November in each of the past two seasons, and if they're unbeaten in November this season, the Tide could be playing for the national title.
But first things first.
"The focus doesn't need to be on the finish line," Alabama coach Nick Saban said on the SEC coaches' teleconference this week.
The first step on the way to the finish line is Saturday, against LSU in what is sure to be a raucous Tiger Stadium.
"It's a great challenge for us, but that's the fun of it," Saban said.
Alabama is No. 6 in this week's BCS standings, and almost assuredly would move up next week because two teams ahead of the Tide - No. 3 TCU and No. 5 Utah - meet in Salt Lake City. But the same can be said for LSU if it wins; the Tigers are 10th in the BCS.
Both teams are coming in off a bye week, and LSU is eager to get back on the field so it can have a chance to put its last game - a loss at Auburn - behind it.
"I think those teams that lose games back-to-back routinely don't necessarily have the pain in the pit of their stomach that this team will have," LSU coach Les Miles said on the SEC teleconference. "... I think the guys that we have are quality people, and they don't like to lose back-to-back."
In the loss to Auburn, LSU surrendered 440 rushing yards. Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton led the way with 217 yards. Alabama will look to run, as well, but the Tide will attack with tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson instead of with a 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback.
The stretch run
Key game the rest of the way
Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 26. The "Iron Bowl" is intense anyway. But if the Tide comes in with one loss and Auburn is unbeaten ... my goodness. This should be the decisive game in the SEC West race. Given the state of the SEC East, it also could serve as the "real" SEC title game. And it's certainly not a stretch to say the winner - no matter which team it is - will be in the national championship game.
Offensive player of the year watch
Auburn QB Cameron Newton might be the Heisman front-runner, and he definitely has been the SEC MVP. He leads the SEC with 1,122 rushing yards (already an SEC rushing record for a quarterback) and 14 TDs, and he also has thrown for 1,573 yards and 15 TDs. Frankly, he should be a unanimous pick as the offensive player of the year.
Defensive player of the year watch
This category will be a little more difficult to decide. LSU CB Patrick Peterson might be the best defensive back in the nation, but he doesn't have eye-popping defensive stats, mainly because no one throws his way. His teammate, DT Drake Nevis, has been a stud in the middle of the line; Nevis has 40 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Auburn DT Nick Fairley also has superb numbers for an interior lineman, with 43 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, an incredible 15 quarterback hurries and an interception. A dark-horse candidate is Mississippi State LB Chris White, who has 86 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks, two quarterback hurries and an interception. Right now, the edge belongs to Fairley, though Nevis has been the most productive player on what might be the league's best overall defense.
Newcomer of the year watch
If it has to be a freshman, the no-brainer pick would be South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, who is averaging 103.1 rushing yards per game and has scored 13 total touchdowns, including 11 on the ground. But don't forget that Newton is a junior college transfer; as such, he also seems to be a no-brainer pick for newcomer of the year.
"After we prepared for a guy like Cam Newton, I think we are looking forward to I-back runs and guys that line up in a position that we are comfortable defending," Miles said. "I think our defense is looking forward to focusing on tackling tailbacks."
LSU has won seven of the past 10 in the series, but the Tide have won the past two. In addition, Alabama owns a decided 25-7-2 advantage over the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
"It's always important to get off to a good start in an away game because we know we are going into a hostile environment," the Tide's Ingram told bamaonline.com. "We know what this rivalry is like. We know how their fans are going to be, but we like that.
"That is exciting to me personally, just to be able to go into a hostile environment. ... But it is definitely important for us to get off to a fast start."
After all, a fast start makes it easier to get to the finish line.
Best matchup: Alabama WR Julio Jones vs. LSU CB Patrick Peterson. Two likely first-round picks will go head-to-head at least a few times, and you'd think LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will try to make sure Peterson shadows Jones. Jones, a junior, is coming off the best performance of his career, a 12-catch, 221-yard performance against Tennessee. He has had 100-yard performances in his two previous games against LSU. Peterson, also a junior, has two picks but no pass breakups this season, mainly because teams shy away from throwing to his side. "He's got great ball skills, good ball judgment, is a good tackler and he can cover. I think those are the three critical factors for a defensive back, and he's got them all covered," Saban said of Peterson.
Player on the spot: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. Mallett has been a bit banged-up in two of the Hogs' eight games, and those are the only ones in which he hasn't thrown for at least 300 yards. If he's 100 percent healthy Saturday against South Carolina, he's going to have another 300-yard day - heck, maybe even a 350-yard day. But he has to stay away from interceptions. He threw for 357 earlier this season against Alabama, but also tossed three picks. If he throws three picks against the Gamecocks, the Hogs are going to lose again.
Numbers game: LSU was off last week and fell 24-17 to Auburn in its last game. LSU's Miles is 14-1 in games following a loss. Meanwhile, Saban is 6-2 in the Alabama-LSU game as a coach; he was 4-1 against the Tide as LSU's coach and is 2-1 against the Tigers as Alabama's coach.
What they're saying
"Well, if we can teach our guys to stay in their position on the field and be a ballplayer, it can. If not, then, no, it won't. If we can smash a receiver or two while he's catching the ball instead of standing around letting him catch it." - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, when asked if his shaky pass defense can improve enough before Saturday's game against Arkansas
"I hope that it's not really challenging for us to continue to stay on the track of being focused. I think our team has done a nice job of that in the last month. As we know, October was a very tough month for us, and it seemed like every week, it was another big game. I felt like they stayed on track in terms of focus. I am hoping that this week won't be any different." - Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on whether his team can maintain this week against FCS opponent Chattanooga
"It'd be easy to sit back and relax and look at who you are playing. We can't judge a book by its cover and let the young guys think like that. I think we're smart enough to know we need this win." - Ole Miss QB Jeremiah Masoli, to RebelGrove.net, on this week's game against Louisiana-Lafayette
"As a coach, when you sit there and watch a football Saturday and you don't have a game to play, you wonder where you are at. You feel like there is somewhere you need to go. Now we are in game week." - LSU coach Les Miles, on having an off-week last week
"When we see a window of opportunity to have fun and to make things fun for our kids, we do that. It's no different than having a Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas dinner together. We had a Halloween dinner and some of them came dressed up as ... I don't know what some of them were, but it was pretty interesting." - Chizik
"It is the first thing that hit us, realizing that we have to be faster, especially in the secondary. ... We have to be faster." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, on his recruiting priorities
Etc.: Mississippi State sophomore DE Nick Bell died Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala., of cancer. He was 20. He died after a month-long bout with a form of skin cancer that originated from a mass found on his brain. He had surgery in early October and seemed to recover well, joining the Bulldogs on the sideline during their Oct. 23 home win over UAB. But Bell was rushed to the emergency room Sunday after it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to other parts of his body. Bell was visited by Bulldogs coaches and players on Monday in Birmingham, but Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Bell was unconscious by the time of the visit. Bell played in 16 career games for the Bulldogs, starting four times. "Our prayers and thoughts reach out to Nick's family right now because I cannot imagine what they are going through," Mullen said Tuesday night. "As far as this football team, our Number One goal is to learn how to cope. We have a lot of young men who are dealing with a grief like this for the first time in their life." ... True freshman Tyler Bray will start at quarterback for Tennessee on Saturday against Memphis. He replaces junior Matt Simms as the starter. Simms was benched early in the second half of last week's loss to South Carolina after his second lost fumble. "Nothing much I can do about getting hit in the back and the guy stripping the ball from me," Simms said afterward. He also said, "I felt like I played really well. I feel like I could have made all those throws because we had guys wide open down the middle of the field," which some took as a shot at Bray, who threw a pick-six on his first pass. Vols coach Derek Dooley said he had talked with Simms, whom Dooley said "was very apologetic for what happened after the game." ... Vanderbilt sophomore RB Warren Norman, the team's leading rusher, will miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. It's a blow to an offense that already is anemic; Vandy was held to 154 total yards by Arkansas last Saturday, the third time this season the Commodores have been held to 160 or fewer yards. ... Two weeks ago, Arkansas' Joe Adams returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown against Ole Miss. Last week, Auburn's Demond Washington returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score against the Rebels. ... Kentucky RB Derrick Locke has practiced on back-to-back days for the first time since injuring his shoulder Oct. 9 in a loss to Auburn and is expected to play Saturday against Charleston Southern. He hasn't played since the Auburn game. ... Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham offered regret but no apology for making a "choke" sign to Florida P/K Chas Henry before Henry's game-winning overtime field goal last Saturday. "As a competitor, you get caught up in the heat of the moment," Grantham said. "I wish it hadn't happened, but it was a hard-fought game, they won it and I'm ready to move forward." ... Florida has beaten Vanderbilt 19 consecutive times; earlier this season, the Gators beat Kentucky for the 23rd consecutive time. ... Nick Saban turned 59 this past Sunday. Yes, his birthday is on Halloween. ... Auburn is playing host to Chattanooga for homecoming this week, and the Tigers' seniors will be honored at the game. LB Josh Bynes' dad will attend, the first time either of his parents will have been to a game at Auburn. Bynes is from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area. ... Alabama senior QB Greg McElroy is a Rhodes Scholar finalist. His final interview is set for Nov. 20. Originally, Alabama was scheduled to play FCS member Georgia State that day, but that game was moved to Nov. 18 during the summer. McElroy told bamaonline.com "it would have been a tough decision" on whether to play in the game or attend the interview.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.