Each week, CFB Insider Matt Hayes tackles the most important topics ahead of Saturday’s college football action.

The big winner should Alabama and Georgia play as scheduled on Saturday night: Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

The former USC coach has been flying under the radar as an analyst at Alabama and eventually the OC beginning last season. Sarkisian has had a very public battle with alcohol (including a failed lawsuit vs. USC for illegal termination) and has been trying to rehabilitate his image with Tide coach Nick Saban.

Saban tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday afternoon, and Sarkisian has taken over head coaching responsibilities on the field while Saban is quarantined (but still coaching via Zoom).

Saban said Sarkisian will coach the team on Saturday, but “the autonomy part hasn’t been decided yet.”

Saban said Wednesday afternoon that he is asymptomatic, but his age (68) makes him a higher risk for COVID complications.

Should Sarkisian coach the team and Alabama win, it would go a long way in strengthening Sarkisian’s case to return as a head coach – in either college football or the NFL.

“Steve’s measurables have always been there,” one NFL scout told me. “He clearly knows offense and is a terrific play-caller. Let’s not forget that Al Davis initially wanted to hire Sark (with the Raiders), but settled for Lane (Kiffin) when Sark turned him down. I’m all for giving guys a second chance, and he has earned it. But it’s more than football. He has to prove he can be a trusted face of a franchise or college program. This type of opportunity could be critical in his rehabilitation.” …

A Playoff guarantee in 2020: It’s going to be messy

The postponement of the LSU-Florida game this weekend has underscored the inevitable: If Power 5 conferences can’t complete seasons without cancelations, potential protocols to award conference championships will add more uncertainty to the 2020 season.

Without equal games played, division champions and championship game participants will be awarded by winning percentage or the College Football Playoff poll. One industry source told me the five P5 conferences “would like to use the same process” to eliminate any idea of controversy, but “we’ve seen what has happened when we all tried to get on the same page.”

Earlier this summer, the Power 5 conferences tried to set up nonconference games between the conferences before the Big Ten pulled out, with 3 separate sources telling me Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told the other commissioners on a conference call that the Big Ten needed to “lead” on the issue.

A month later, the Big Ten tried to lead on canceling the fall football season – and 5 weeks later rejoined the fall season while boxing itself into a 9-game schedule with no open dates.

Any cancelation – nearly 10 percent of FBS games already have been postponed or canceled – will force the Big Ten and Pac-12 (which also doesn’t have an open date on a 7-game schedule) to use another way to determine division champions.

Those 2 choices, in lieu of head-to-head games, are winning percentage or the CFP ranking.

“It’ll be a minor miracle if any of us finish the season without a cancelation,” one P5 athletic director told me.

Another P5 athletic director told me without head-to-head games, the option must be winning percentage. Using the CFP rankings to determine division champions will “seem too much like a BCS season. We’ve been down that road before, and it’s not pretty.” …

B1G reaction to Nick Saban

I reached out to a Big Ten athletic director after the news broke Wednesday afternoon that Alabama coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19, and there were no regrets about returning to play.

“The path of least resistance is to not play at all,” the Big Ten AD said. “We felt, and still feel, we have a plan in place that gives us the best chance to safely succeed. Are we nervous? Hell yes. Well, maybe cautiously optimistic is the best way to say it. This thing can turn instantly. But we can’t overreact to every positive test. Overreacting can lead to more problems.”

The SEC has 2 game postponed this weekend, including Vanderbilt at Missouri. The Oklahoma State at Baylor Big 12 game scheduled for this weekend was also postponed.
The ACC has 2 games postponed, pending later dates in December: Virginia at Virginia Tech and Notre Dame at Wake Forest.

“The thing that’s concerning to me is Alabama has been testing every day,” the Big Ten AD said. “That should make it very clear that no one has this thing figured out. The best thing we can do is mitigate the impact to protect the health and welfare of our student athletes.” …

Texas has a Big (12) problem

Four games into the season, and Texas is chasing in the Big 12 race again. And that’s a bad sign for coach Tom Herman.

The numbers since 2010 are as staggering as they are sobering:

  • 3-9 vs. Oklahoma
  • 3-7 vs. Oklahoma State
  • 2-7 vs. TCU
  • 4-4 vs. West Virginia
  • 5-5 vs. Baylor
  • 5-5 vs. Kansas State

Since 2010, Oklahoma has won 6 Big 12 titles, and shared another, Oklahoma State has won 1, Baylor has won 1 and shared another, and TCU and Kansas State have each shared a Big 12 title.

Texas hasn’t won a title, and is on its 3rd coach in the decade. Herman followed Mack Brown (30-21 from 2010-2013) and Charlie Strong (16-21 from 2014-16), and there isn’t a significant won-loss difference from 2010 to now.

The Texas facilities have been upgraded, and the recruiting has improved. The results have been impressive at times (Sugar Bowl win over Georgia), and horrifying in other spots.

In the last 3 games (2 losses), Texas had 19 missed tackles (Texas Tech), 14 missed tackles (TCU) and 16 missed tackles (Oklahoma).

With 2 Big 12 losses, Texas already is chasing wins in the conference race.

“Everyone always asks me what’s the problem at Texas?” one NFL scout told me this week. “They don’t have dudes. They’ll have one or two or three guys that can play at this level, but they’re not developing those guys like they used to. Player development is a big, big deal.”