SEC bowl projections, Week 8: What to do with Bama?
That’s what every college football fan wants to know — not just in Alabama or throughout the SEC, but nationwide.
The high right ankle sprain that Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa suffered on Saturday against Tennessee has massive implications. Tagovailoa had surgery on that ankle Sunday morning.
It won’t matter when the Crimson Tide faces Arkansas this week, and coach Nick Saban’s team catches something of a break with a bye week after facing the Razorbacks.
But Nov. 9 looms larger than ever now because that’s LSU day. That’s “winner takes SEC West” day. That’s the day Alabama’s spot as the King of the Mountain in the SEC, as well as a possible College Football Playoff bid, come under severe threat. Tagovailoa was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, and it would not be a surprise with that type of injury if he is not ready to go against LSU. That, of course, would change the Tide’s offense drastically.
So, what to do with Alabama?
How should they be projected going forward?
Okay, deep breath. Here goes.
LSU looks like the best team in the country. The Tigers went on the road and pummeled Mississippi State on Saturday, with Joe Burrow perhaps taking the lead in the Heisman race, especially if Tagovailoa misses significant time.
Alabama still looks less than great on defense, and LSU seems to be improving. The Crimson Tide allowed 231 yards to a Tennessee team that honestly has no idea who should play quarterback. That number is fine, but not mind-blowing. Alabama is 26th in the nation in total defense, just two spots behind LSU. That sounds good until you consider that the Crimson Tide has faced just one ranked team (barely, in then-No. 24 Texas A&M) and that none of the teams it has faced has an offense even ranked in the nation’s top 35 (Southern Miss is the best at No. 38).
Every number says we should project LSU at the top.
Here is why we are not there yet: Numbers don’t play the games. People do.
While Alabama gets to beat up on Arkansas then take a week off, LSU has a tricky test against Auburn this Saturday. More to the point, with the Tigers getting their bye week after facing the other Tigers, LSU’s players will hear for two weeks about how their program has not beaten Alabama since some of those kids were in middle school.
That could fire the Tigers up something fierce, or it could get in their heads.
Our take, as has been the case throughout the season, is that Alabama is still the team to beat in the SEC until somebody proves that it is not. To be the man, you have to beat the man, as somebody (Wooooooooo!) has said. So it’s still Alabama as the No. 1 CFP seed for now. But it’s all okay for LSU because a one-loss SEC team, in this case the LSU-Alabama loser, is still almost certainly making the CFP.
One more note: We now project Georgia as the best SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame team for the Orange Bowl to pick after the CFP field is set and the Sugar Bowl selects its contracted SEC team. So we now have the Dawgs going to Miami to face whichever godawful ACC team winds up second best behind projected CFP participant Clemson.
But that slot, and the thought of the SEC landing four teams in the New Year’s Day 6 bowls, is in danger because if Notre Dame beats Michigan this week, we don’t see anybody else knocking off the Fighting Irish. And we definitely don’t see any way that an 11-1 Notre Dame team misses the NYD6. It would be weird if a two-loss SEC team fell out of the NYD6, but it could happen.
Now, on to our bowl projections: