Crimson Tide facing a series of much tougher games

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Is it possible to be No. 1 in college football and under the radar?

Alabama opened with a 41-14 thrashing of Michigan on Labor Day weekend. The nation genuflected, proclaimed the Tide all but unbeatable and focused on other subplots, like whether Notre Dame is for real, whether Kansas State or Oregon would be more deserving as an unbeaten, and if, in the penultimate year of the BCS, we’re about to be visited by chaos.

Through it all, ‘Bama has waved aside a series of Western Kentuckys, Arkansas, Florida Atlantics and Mississippis. Don’t you have to beat somebody to be No. 1?

Soon enough, say the Tide faithful. ‘Bama’s schedule is backloaded, starting Saturday in Tuscaloosa with 13th-ranked Mississippi State (5:30 p.m. PDT, ESPN). Then comes a bash in the bayou at Louisiana State next week, and, in a season when the defending national champs hardly had to deal with the powers of the SEC East, a league-title game.

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Good stat: Alabama has trailed for only 15 seconds this year. Mississippi State is No. 4 in that metric at 16:11. Teams 2-3? Oregon, at 2:14, and Oregon State, at 15:30.

This one features two quarterbacks who have been uber-efficient: MSU’s 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tyler Russell, who has a 15-1 touchdown-interception ratio, and ‘Bama’s A.J. McCarron, who has thrown 239 consecutive passes without a pick. (NCAA record-holder in that category, by the way, is none other than Russell Wilson, with 379 at North Carolina State).

The Bulldogs have won 37 in a row when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. The trick is getting there against a Tide defense that has forced three-and-outs on 49 percent of drives.

Best of the rest of Saturday, chronologically:

UCLA at Arizona State, noon, FX — Johnathan Franklin has 3,547 yards rushing for UCLA, leaving him 184 yards behind career leader Gaston Green (1984-87). The Bruins have played 25 freshmen, including 12 true. The Sun Devils lead the nation in pass defense (130.4 yards a game), and tackles for loss (9.43), but the dynamic might change if defensive tackle Will Sutton is out with a knee problem.

Florida (3) vs. Georgia (12) at Jacksonville, Fla., 12:30 p.m., CBS — Is this rivalry a big deal? It must be, since it has its own hall of fame. In the compilation of victories, Georgia claims it won the 1904 game in Macon, Ga., 52-0. Florida says that’s impossible, because it didn’t compete at the varsity level until 1906.

A Florida victory cinches the SEC East and provides the Gators a month to start assessing Alabama film. But a Georgia win gives the Bulldogs an edge on that league-title game.

Texas Tech (15) at Kansas State (4), 12:30 p.m., Fox — While State and quarterback Collin Klein have been all the rage lately, Tech is 6-1 and Seth Doege, originally recruited by Mike Leach, threw for seven touchdowns in an overtime victory against Texas Christian. The Raiders’ 30 touchdown passes lead the nation.

Last week, Big 12 offenses combined for 48 touchdowns, one more than the number of punts.

USC (10) at Arizona, 12:30 p.m., ABC — It might be helpful to USC next week against Oregon that the Trojans face a spread-option team as a primer. The danger is that the prolific Wildcats are good enough to dull the luster on that Ducks-Trojans game.

Last year, USC’s Matt Barkley threw for a school-record 468 yards against ‘Zona. Meanwhile, when Washington didn’t record a tackle for loss last week in Tucson, it was the first time for that in 202 Arizona games, dating to 1994.

Boise State (21) at Wyoming, 12:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network — We include this game only because the interim coach for the Cowboys is Pete Kaligis, a guard on the 1991 Washington national champions and later a strength-and-conditioning coach at UW under Rick Neuheisel. Kaligis takes over for suspended Dave Christensen, who also played at the UW in the early ’80s and was a graduate assistant under Don James a few years later.

To see what caused Christensen’s suspension, put the kids to bed, fire up YouTube and check out the postgame exchange between Christensen and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun on Oct. 13.

Notre Dame (5) at Oklahoma (8), 5 p.m., ABC — This looms as the game of the day, as the loser likely drops out of the national-championship race. Points are the name of the game in the Big 12, while defense is the Irish calling card. The question is whether Notre Dame can score enough here.

Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 2012. On the other side, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has been very good in his past three games, though coach Bob Stoops says, “It isn’t just Landry. The entire offense is executing better, understandably so, when you’ve got all new receivers and tight ends.”

Oregon State (7) at Washington, 7:15 p.m., Pac-12 Network — If the Huskies pull off the upset, suppose they’ll present a game ball in a locker-room ceremony to Oregonian columnist John Canzano, who wrote this week that they were soft?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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