Why Alabama’s Season Isn’t Over After Tua’s Injury

It was a significant Saturday in the race for the College Football Playoff.

Georgia clinched the SEC East with a win against a good Auburn team and will make the SEC Championship a play-in to the playoff with wins against Texas A&M and Georgia Tech.

Iowa ended the undefeated Minnesota fairytale, despite being out-gained by over 100 yards, and Baylor's nine lives ran out in primetime against a rampant, Jalen Hurts-led Oklahoma comeback.

As a result, we now know that a maximum of three undefeated teams will be in the playoff. Things may still get complicated with an Ohio State loss to Penn State or (don't laugh) Michigan, but for now the pecking order is clearer with three weeks to go until Selection Day.

And if LSU can win two home games against putrid Arkansas and unimpressive Texas A&M, the Tigers will be playing on the last Saturday of 2019, even with a loss to Georgia.

But none of that is the top headline for college football as I write on Sunday morning. That would be Tua Tagovailoa's gruesome, season-ending injury that came at the end of the first half of an easy win against Mississippi State.

Nick Saban is catching a lot of heat for playing Tua at that time in the game, up 35-7 against a team who has only beaten Arkansas and Kentucky in conference. I get that criticism, but I think it's also defensible to play anyone who starts a game through the first half of any game, even if you're up by 50.

The bigger question is why Tagovailoa was playing at all in a game Alabama was going to win with backup Mac Jones anyway. Then, when you consider a buy game against Western Carolina is next week for the Tide, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Tua to rest up for most of the month before the Iron Bowl and a stingy Auburn defense.

We could talk at length about this injury as it relates to the NCAA model of "amateurism" and how everything is likely to change concerning top-level revenue sports athletes making money off their likenesses very soon. But here, in the moment, it feels necessary to mention how this injury could affect college football for the next few weeks.

Before the season, I audaciously wished for a college football season where the Alabama/Clemson duopoly was broken up in some way. The fact that a freak injury in a blowout win could be the difference between Alabama going 6-for-6 in College Football Playoff appearances and another Alabama/Clemson playoff meeting shows how much the two have defined the sport the last few seasons.

We're not there yet, though.

Alabama's hopes are hanging on by a thread, but they're not out of it yet. After all, if Ohio State in 2014 could get in the playoff and win the title on a third-string quarterback, Alabama could with a backup, too. But they'll need some help to get there.

It could be folly to guess what the selection committee is going to do given a certain set of results, but let's say that Alabama and Jones look fantastic on Nov. 30 against Auburn, Georgia loses to LSU in Atlanta, Ohio State and Clemson stay undefeated, Oregon beats Utah to win the Pac-12 with one loss, and Oklahoma drops another game or looks unimpressive in winning the next three games. Then, with three undefeated teams at the top, it would come down to one-loss Alabama with a win against Auburn and Oregon's one loss coming to Auburn.

Even the most ardent supporters of West Coast football would have to admit another Alabama CFP berth would be likely from there.

It would be easy to give into the narrative that Tua is Alabama and Alabama is Tua, and that Saban has ended his team's title hopes while going for style points to impress the committee. You may hear that in the coming days (or already heard it), but it wouldn't be true. Until the committee announces on Dec. 8 that Alabama is officially out, the Alabama/Clemson era rolls on.

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