TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — AJ McCarron and Alabama came up just short this time with the game, and probably their national title hopes, on the line.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide rallied from a three-touchdown deficit Saturday and nearly took the lead before leaving Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 29-24 loss to Johnny Manziel and No. 15 Texas A&M.
Bama (9-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) is down but coach Nick Saban isn't counting his team out of the national championship race just yet.
"Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game," Saban said, counting one at LSU. "This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There's still a lot for this team to play for."
Now, the Tide will have to beat struggling Auburn to clinch the West and get into the SEC title game. As for the national title, Alabama will have to hope for another shakeup in the form of losses by Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. If the Tide wins out, and two of those teams go down, a third national championship in four seasons is still in play — along with a seventh straight for the SEC.
For now though, the SEC is on the outside looking in at the BCS title race.
The Aggies (8-2, 5-2), playing in the Southeastern Conference for the first season after ditching the Big 12, also might have ended the league's run of BCS titles at six years.
The defending national champion Tide, who have been No. 1 almost all season and had won 13 straight, didn't go quietly.
McCarron nearly pulled off a second straight scintillating comeback. He threw one touchdown pass and motored the ball downfield before Deshazor Everett stepped in front of his fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 left.
Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92, confounding the Tide defense with his ability to keep plays alive as the Aggies scored the game's first 20 points.
"No moment is too big for him," coach Kevin Sumlin said of his remarkable redshirt freshman.
The Aggies had been 1-10 against top-ranked teams with the only previous win coming 30-26 over Oklahoma in 2002, but Manziel and Sumlin have entered the SEC with speed and swagger — and fit right in.
"They played a tremendous game and certainly outplayed us," Saban said.
Alabama managed a second-shot national title after losing to LSU just over a year ago in the regular season but seems a longshot to do it again. Alabama would have secured a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory and only Western Carolina and Auburn remaining.
Alabama kept coming back, but never caught up with the slippery, speedy Manziel and the Aggies.
The nation's top scoring defense, forced a punt with less than a minute left, but A&M never had to kick it away. The Tide was penalized for offisides, giving Texas A&M a first down and a chance to kneel out the clock.
"The players were told 'make sure you stay onsides, they are going to try to get you to jump offsides with a shift or a motion or something,'" Saban said.
Before that, McCarron breathed life into Alabama with a 54-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to freshman Amari Cooper to make it 29-24 with 4:29 left.