The debate began Saturday night: Does Alabama still belong in the College Football Playoff?
It began almost immediately after LSU held off Alabama, 46-41, snapping the Crimson Tide’s 31-game home winning streak.
For the next month, you’ll hear arguments from both sides, some pointing to the Crimson Tide’s dominance, others poking holes in their lacking résumé.
It simply comes down to this: The best team or the best body of work?
I wouldn’t select Alabama — I believe who you beat has to matter, otherwise why play the games — but I fully expect Nick Saban’s team to get selected, granted Baylor doesn’t finish undefeated and/or Georgia doesn’t knock off LSU in the SEC Championship game. Otherwise, expect the Crimson Tide to play for the title.
Working in Alabama’s favor is the lack of a clear fourth team. Right now, LSU, an undefeated Big Ten champion (likely Ohio State), and Clemson seem like locks. There are a number of teams in play: if Oregon or Utah wins the Pac-12 and finishes with just one loss. Georgia if it can win out. Oklahoma if it can win out along with Baylor, granted it wins out, too.
Even if it finishes with one loss, Alabama will have only one significant victory — over Auburn — although a couple of losses by LSU would give the Crimson Tide the SEC West. Their next best win would be Texas A&M, which is ranked 22nd in the USA Today Jeff Sagarin ratings. It faced Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina in its woeful non-conference schedule.
Then again, Alabama would have just one loss, by six points to No. 1 LSU, with Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on one leg after suffering a right high ankle sprain three weeks ago. It is averaging 47.8 points per game and allowing only 18.7, outscoring opponents 430-168. Of the dynamo’s eight wins, all have come by at least three scores.
Alabama’s brand and the potential of a rematch with LSU — the game drew a 9.7 rating, the highest-rated regular-season college football game in eight years — will be too hard for the committee to pass up. We’ve seen this before. Go back to 2017, when Alabama was manhandled by Auburn to close the regular season and failed to win the SEC West. It still got in, despite a mediocre résumé that didn’t include a top-15 win.
The committee has said its duty is to rank the four best teams. Résumé matters, but it’s not the deciding factor. Barring a few unlikely scenarios, the Crimson Tide will return to the playoff.
Minnesota answered the bell Saturday, never trailing in a 31-26 win over Penn State, and now it’s time for another unlikely contender to have its own big moment. Baylor will host Oklahoma on Saturday, with a chance to not only gain a stranglehold over the top spot in the Big 12 but inject itself into the heart of the playoff race.
It’s been a magical season so far for the Bears, who needed a 51-yard John Mayers field goal to force overtime, when they outlasted TCU in three extra sessions. It will be an intriguing showdown, Baylor’s 11th-ranked pass rush against Heisman Trophy contender Jalen Hurts, who has been sacked just seven times all year.
Board of Ed
The Coach of the Year race is heating up, with Matt Rhule of Baylor and P.J. Fleck of Minnesota very much in the mix since no one expected either of these teams to be undefeated this deep into the season. But right now, my vote is for Ed Orgeron of LSU.
The Tigers are undefeated despite a heinous schedule that has included Texas, Florida, Auburn and Alabama. Most importantly, they look like the best team in the country with a revamped offense. Most of that credit has gone to new passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the former Saints assistant coach, and justifiably so. Orgeron had the foresight to make that hire, realizing a change was needed to take LSU from pretender status to a true championship contender.
Orgeron’s hiring three years ago was questioned, including by yours truly, but he was clearly the right choice, and has the Tigers headed to the playoff for the first time.
1. LSU (9-0) (Last week: 2)
The Tigers scored more points (46) Saturday than in their previous five losses to Alabama (39) combined. This was more than a victory — it was an emotional cleansing.
2. Ohio State (9-0) (1)
The Buckeyes didn’t need suspended defensive star Chase Young on Saturday. They didn’t even need their starters, for that matter, in obliterating Maryland, 73-14.
3. Clemson (10-0) (4)
Maybe an ACC all-star team could give Clemson a game. No one team from the beleaguered conference seems capable since it refocused following the North Carolina scare.
4. Alabama (8-1) (3)
It was jarring to see an Alabama defense come up so small in so many big moments, allowing 559 yards of offense to LSU on Saturday. The last time the Crimson Tide gave up 46 points at home, the year was — wait for it — 1907 and the opponent was Sewanee, which put up 54.
5. Georgia (8-1) (7)
Since that dismal loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs have outscored their three opponents 72-17, picking up steam entering a huge trip to Auburn.
6. Oregon (8-1) (7)
The Ducks didn’t play, but they won anyway, watching Alabama and Penn State lose. The Pac-12’s odds of a playoff spot are improving.
7. Oklahoma (8-1) (8)
It was only a few weeks ago everyone was singing the defense’s praises, before it allowed 48 points to Kansas State and nearly blew a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead against Iowa State.
8. Auburn (7-2) (8)
Auburn had its chances to beat Florida and LSU, but fell short, in part because quarterback Bo Nix threw four interceptions in the two defeats. He can atone by knocking off Georgia next weekend.
9. Minnesota (9-0) (NR)
Quarterback Tanner Morgan and the Gophers are for real. They made believers out of us by carving up Penn State’s second-ranked scoring defense, inching closer to what would be a stunning Big Ten West crown.
10. Utah (9-1) (10)
The Utes are a throwback, relying on their punishing ground game (207.8 yards) and a stifling defense (12.2 points allowed). It’s not flashy, but it still wins.
Dropped out: Penn State (8-1)
Heisman Watch (in predicted order)
QB Joe Burrow, LSU
He’ll be in New York City in mid-December and it’s hard to envision him not winning the prestigious award after his 393-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece at Alabama.
QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Hurts has already set a personal best for touchdowns in a season with 39, and he still has three regular-season games remaining.
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Even on a bum ankle, Tagovailoa threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns. He may not win the Heisman, but the junior should be in New York again as a finalist.
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields didn’t see the second half against Maryland and he may not see the entire first half against Rutgers. It’s all about being rested and ready for Penn State and Michigan to close out the regular season.
DE Chase Young, Ohio State
His minor Heisman hopes are all but dashed after the NCAA suspended him indefinitely for accepting a loan from a family friend that was repaid. It’s just the latest example of how badly this archaic system needs to be overhauled.
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