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Tide hits homestretch, can’t afford slip

Though last week’s gutsy win over LSU was Alabama’s last game of the regular season against a ranked opponent and the team’s last true road game until the 2009 season, the No. 1 Crimson Tide (10-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) isn’t taking anything for granted.

The Tide clinched a spot in the SEC Championship game with its 27-21 victory in Baton Rouge, La., but a loss in one of the next two games could spoil its national championship aspirations.

“I think that’s going to be the key for all the teams that are in the position we’re in: who can handle that the best,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said during Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference.

Should ‘Bama slip, a slew of unbeaten or one-loss teams would be waiting to slide into one of the Bowl Championship Series’ top two spots, which carry with them a berth in the national championship game scheduled for Jan. 8, 2009 in Miami. The number of squads within striking distance would make it difficult for Saban’s team to work its way back into contention.

Mississippi State will be the first to try to give all those other teams a chance when the Bulldogs (3-6, 1-4) visit Tuscaloosa at 6:45 p.m. Saturday for a game that will be televised by ESPN.

State coach Sylvester Croom said Alabama’s national standing carries a certain benefit for the visitors.

“It’s fun to be in the spotlight,” Croom said during the teleconference. “You like to be there because of your own record, but we’re happy to be a part of this.

“Everybody’s going to be watching them. You can’t watch them without watching us.”