Breathe easy, Tide Nation, Alabama isn't buried yet in Playoff race
Survive and advance. And if you can’t advance, at least survive another week.
Tuesday night was a literal referendum on Alabama football. Perhaps you missed it in the weekly comings and goings of the 500-channel cable television smorgasbord, but a group of 12 men and 1 woman got together and decided if the Crimson Tide are still relevant in 2019.
The vote? Yes.
The College Football Playoff committee ranked Alabama No. 5 for the second consecutive week, which in itself wasn’t gigantic news. In fact, there wasn’t much news made in the top 7 teams.
But make no mistake, Alabama at No. 5 was a huge vote of confidence for the Tide.
No. 5 means the committee, which decides the 4 teams that annually make up the College Football Playoff — something Alabama has never *not* been a part of — believes the Crimson Tide is still a Playoff-caliber team even without its best player.
Minus Tua Tagovailoa, there is no doubting that Alabama is a different team. A remarkably different one on offense, backup Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris will be tasked to take up the tremendous amount of slack left behind when Tagovailoa went down with a dislocated hip against Mississippi State last weekend.
There were 2 distinct schools of thought heading into Tuesday night’s ESPN rankings show:
1. Alabama simply isn’t Alabama without Tagovailoa. Without the best player, and with a schedule littered with weak nonconference victories (Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina don’t exactly strike fear into many programs …) the Tide simply haven’t done enough to deserve No. 5. So what if Alabama hung 41 on No. 1 LSU in a 5-point loss. That was with Tagovailoa, anyway.
2. Alabama has beat the pants off of 9 teams this season, and even with an injury-riddled defense, hung with No. 1 LSU for 60 minutes with a one-legged Tagovailoa. Nick Saban is Nick Saban, and the Tide are still the Tide — even without Tagovailoa heading into the annual showdown with Auburn in two weeks.
The second opinion won the day, and Alabama sits behind No. 4 Georgia — just where it was in the rankings after losing to LSU. It is like losing Tagovailoa didn’t matter to the CFP committee — which is just the way it should be.
“I don’t think that you can argue that they are a different team without him. But the committee will look at what they look like with Mac Jones in lineup against Western Carolina and more against Auburn,” ESPN analyst Heather Dinich said. “But it doesn’t really affect Alabama as much as you’d think, because they are essentially in the same place right now that they would have been. Alabama will really need chaos. The Pac-12 is in position to jump them after the championship game, because all Alabama has left is a 3-loss Auburn team.”
Committee chair Rob Mullens told ESPN that Tagovailoa’s injury did not factor into discussion about Alabama’s ranking, as the Crimson Tide still cruised to a 38-7 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday.
“Well, our job is to evaluate the games through Week 12 and obviously we’re aware of the injury to the quarterback late in the second quarter of last week’s game,” Mullens said. “But Alabama continued on to a convincing win … so it didn’t impact the rankings this week.”
Football is a team game, and as transcendent as Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince has been, he is still 1/22nd of the Crimson Tide. Alabama still has future NFL receivers by the bushel and enough stellar defensive talent to beat anyone in the land on any given Saturday.
The Crimson Tide still has Nick Saban leading the charge, a coach who led teams with QBs named McElroy, Sims and Coker to the CFP bracket.
Alabama is still Alabama.
The real question, of course, is whether beating No. 15 Auburn in the Iron Bowl will be enough to leap Georgia — should the Bulldogs fall to LSU in the SEC title game. And would Alabama even be strong enough at that point to hold off 9-1 Oregon sitting at No. 6.
“The committee spent a lot of time talking about Alabama and Oregon,” Mullens said. “Members talked about how dominant Alabama has been all season. They also said Oregon is explosive and they were also impressed by Oregon’s quarterback (Justin Herbert).
“But Oregon’s only loss came to No. 15 Auburn at a neutral site, while Alabama’s only loss was No. 1 LSU.”
At the end of the proceedings, with the 13 committee members done with their jobs for another week, Alabama’s mission is clear:
1. Coach up Mac Jones enough to venture into Jordan-Hare Stadium next week for yet another monumental Iron Bowl.
2. Beat the Tigers like the 3-loss team that they are.
3. Root like crazy for LSU to stomp Georgia.
4. Pray that the CFP committee continues to judge results and not projecting forward as to what could have been.