TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle wondered aloud before the season, “Why not us?”

Why can’t the Crimson Tide be 2005’s version of Auburn?

He meant coming out of nowhere for an undefeated season, like last year’s Tigers, not getting shut out of the national championship picture – like last year’s Tigers.

Both prospects are seeming less far-fetched with each passing week for the fifth-ranked Tide, stuck in fifth place in the BCS standings despite victories over Tennessee and Florida and a 7-0 start.

“If you go undefeated and you do what Auburn did last year, I don’t know about them but I’d argue until the day I die that we were the best team that played in the year 2005,” Croyle said Tuesday.

Alabama (7-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) is far from ready to make that claim with season-ending games awaiting at home against LSU and at Auburn. Before that, the Tide will be a heavy favorite against Utah State and Mississippi State the next two weeks.

But, like Auburn in 2004, the Tide could easily be one of the teams left out of the national championship picture, even if it finishes with a perfect record and SEC title. Texas, Southern California, Virginia Tech and SEC rival Georgia are ahead of Alabama in the BCS standings.

Alabama might play the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game, but would likely just have to hope that two of the others lose games – particularly with Texas and USC far ahead.

Auburn went 13-0 last season but wound up watching Oklahoma and USC play for the title. Alabama coach Mike Shula said he hadn’t figured such a scenario possible for an SEC school, given the hard road teams in one of the nation’s toughest leagues face.

“No, I couldn’t have imagined that,” Shula said. “Nor do I understand completely how it works. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to or ever want to. It’s something you can’t control, other than by winning each and every week.”

Even that might not be enough. Croyle finds that hard to swallow.

“You can’t imagine an SEC team going undefeated and not having a chance to play for a national championship,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go before that happens. If we take care of our business, we’ve still got to have some people lose for us to have an opportunity to do that.”

After a 6-3 victory over No. 23 Tennessee, the Tide can move to 8-0 for the first time since 1994 with a win over five-touchdown underdog Utah State on Saturday.

The Tennessee victory was the team’s second straight win on a tie-breaking field goal by Jamie Christensen in the final seconds.

The wins have been fueled largely by the defense. Alabama is the only Division I team ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense, pass defense and rushing defense.

The offense has produced only one touchdown the last two games, but Alabama has still mounted game-winning drives.

“That’s what makes this team different from all the other teams we’ve had,” Croyle said. “Even when we don’t have the momentum, even when we’re not playing great, we’re still finding ways to win.”

That includes Roman Harper forcing a fumble near the goal line to set up the Tide’s final drive against Tennessee. The ball bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.

Maybe the Tide is lucky as well as good.

“I don’t believe in luck, I believe in breaks, and we’re getting a couple of them,” Croyle said. “In the past couple of years, if we had caused a fumble like we did Saturday, somehow that ball probably would have hit the pylon, done a 360 and somehow ended up in a Tennessee defender’s arms for a touchdown.

“We’re getting the breaks this year, and we’re not going to complain.”

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has a different explanation beyond luck or even breaks.

“We’re blessed and this is just a special team,” he said.

But Ryans said he believed the team was capable of such success even before the season.

And if the Tide does go 13-0 and wins a league title and still gets shut out of the national title game?

“I’ll be satisfied, because I’ll know that we did what we set out to do – go undefeated, become SEC champions,” Ryans said. “If we do everything we’re supposed to do each week and come out with a win, I’ll have no regrets about it.”


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