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Chicken-Fried SEC Questions: Can Alabama Get Bumped From the CFB Playoff?

Here’s a carry-out sack of Chicken-Fried SEC Questions for Week 10…

1. Georgia and Alabama are ranked 1st and 2nd (respectively) by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Looking ahead, if Georgia beats ‘Bama in the SEC title game, would the Crimson Tide get pushed out of the four-team playoff?

Depending on what happens with other teams, sure it’s possible. As much as I respect Nick Saban and his program, Alabama really hasn’t played anybody except Florida State in Week One. And while the Seminoles were ranked 3rd preseason, they’ve had a disastrous season. Many weeks later, Alabama’s win over FSU doesn’t hold much prestige.

Alabama is entering the toughest part of its schedule, with games this month against LSU (home), Mississippi State (road) and Auburn (road). All three were ranked by the committee in the first CFP unveiling. Should the Tide roll through November, they’ll take on Georgia for  the SEC championship on Dec. 2.

Let’s assume Alabama is unbeaten but loses to Georgia.

A one-loss Alabama team would probably be in good shape. But we can’t bank on that. If Georgia remains undefeated in the regular season and upsets Alabama in the SEC showdown, all bets are off.

Right now there are some impressive one-loss teams out there including Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Penn State, TCU. Some of those teams will incur a second loss between now and early December, and for that reason we don’t have a crystal-clear picture of the future.  But prominent two-defeat teams will likely sink out of view.

If Georgia runs the table, the Dawgs are in the playoffs. If Alabama sweeps through the Nov. schedule and punches out Georgia, Alabama is in.

Then the question comes down to this: would the committee put two SEC teams in there — in effect choosing Alabama and Georgia over other outstanding one-loss teams?

Frankly, I find that hard to believe the SEC would get two of the four slots.

I mentioned the potentially strong one-loss candidates already, but that doesn’t even cover the possibility Wisconsin knocking its scheduled jello cups out of the way, then taking down Ohio State or Penn State in the B1G championship to stay unbeaten.  Now what?  Cushy schedule or not, it would be hard for the committee to exclude Wiscy from the playoff. And I supposed there’s a possibility of one-loss Washington winning out (including the conference title game) to push the Pac 12 into contention for a spot.

Unless every single legit contender from Power 5 leagues has two losses on the final four selection date (Dec.3), the good ol’ committee will have a messy problem on its hands if it decides to give two of the four invitations  to Georgia and Bama … either the Dawgs or the Tide will have at least one loss. So what about other one-loss teams from the Power 5?  Do they get snubbed to accommodate a second SEC rep?

Oh, my. The other  Power 5 conference commissioners would raise hell and declare war and go absolutely nuts, and I don’t think the committee is inclined to infuriate the influential leaders of the other four Power 5 conferences — ACC,  B1G,  Big 12 and Pac-12 — when it would be easy to keep the peace by letting only one SEC team in.

And if the other Power 5 conferences believe they have been screwed, it could lead to a rebellion, with the commissioners demanding an expansion to an eight-team playoff (at least). And the NCAA isn’t ready to go there …  not until they can get an astronomical deal from one of the TV lords to expand the tournament.

The committee will opt to take the easy path, one that won’t set off a brawl, and that means limiting the SEC to one team.

Despite its iconic brand-name status, if Alabama slips up, nothing is assured.

2. Is there any reason to believe that No. 19 LSU can go into Tuscaloosa as a 21-point underdog and upset Alabama on Saturday night?

Win the game outright, no.  Have a chance to cover the spread, yes. LSU has lost five in a row to Alabama, but it hasn’t been Blowout Ciy. pretty close. The last time LSU defeated Saban’s team, during the 2011 regular season, Alabama managed only two field goals in a 9-6 loss. Les Miles was the coach then, but after Ed Orgeron replaced the dismissed Miles early last season, Orgeron’s defense shut Alabama out for three quarters until ultimately falling by a 10-0 score.

Alabama has been held to 10 points or fewer in a game only twice in the last decade — and LSU did it both times. And in the last six meetings between the SEC West rivals, Alabama has averaged a modest 20.8 points per game.

But here’s the obvious question: can LSU score on Alabama?

In the last six games against Saban’s defense, LSU averaged only 12 points and never put up more than 17 points in a game. And Alabama pitched that shutout last season.

This is why Orgeron hired Matt Canada to take over as offensive coordinator this season. Seriously. Miles got fired because he could no longer win against Saban, and couldn’t crack the Alabama defense.

Canada is supposed to change all of that. In going 1-5 against Alabama in the last six showdowns, LSU scored only seven touchdowns on offense, averaged a wimpy 254 yards per game, turned the ball over seven times, and averaged a dinky 2.6 yards per rushing attempt.  It didn’t matter that LSU had Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, Spencer Ware, Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry, Rueben Randle and other playmakers. Alabama always smothered the LSU offense.

Guice is still a Tiger, his knee finally healthy, and maybe he can boost LSU’s ground game.

Canada had a lively offense last year at Pitt.

When Pitt played Clemson in 2016, Canada’s offense piled up 464 yards and 43 points against a Clemson defense that would be a big part of the Tigers winning a national championship. Hell, Pitt did something that Alabama couldn’t do last season: beat Clemson.

Let’s see what Canada can do to surprise Alabama’s defense on Saturday. Let’s see how creative he can be. Let’s see if Canada  really will make a difference to justify his hiring. Running jet sweeps and wheel routes ain’t going to do it; Saban and his coaches have had two weeks to study the Canada formations and play calls.

Canada has to come up with an amazing game plan that throws Bama off balance. And Canada is going to have to get a heck of a lot more from quarterback Danny Etling, who completed only 11 of 24 passes for 92 yards with an interception against the Crimson Tide last year. Poor Etling better duck, dive, or at least run out of bounds. Because he’s the prey in this one.

3. OK, what’s the latest on Kevin Sumlin. He was on the hot seat. Then it cooled down. Now it’s burning again. For the love of R.C. Slocum, will Texas A&M go ahead fire Sumlin — or not?

The Aggies were making an admirable recovery from a bad opening-night collapse and loss at UCLA. They won four in a row, then played impressively tough in losing at home to Alabama. But after a win over South Carolina, Sumlin’s team was de-snotted at home last Saturday in a 35-14  invasion by Mississippi State.

The rout dropped A&M to 5-3 on the season (3-2 in the SEC.) There are two significant problems for Sumlin.

— First, athletic director Scott Woodward publicly put Sumlin on notice in the spring, saying the coach had to more games after three consecutive 8-5 seasons. Sumlin went 20-6 in two seasons with Johnny Manziel at quarterback but is only 29-18 since Johnny Football went off to the NFL to destroy his own career and reputation. Second, Texas A&M is a disappointing 8-13 at home in SEC games under Sumlin. It’s much worse against SEC West rivals; the Aggies are 3-11 at home in those contests and have lost six in a row. Sumlin’s last home victory against an SEC West opponent (Mississippi State) occurred on Oct. 3 of 2015.

— Texas A&M hosts No. 16 Auburn on Saturday and has to win that game, then follow up with wins against New Mexico, at Ole Miss, and at LSU to stretch the victory streak to four. If the Aggies can win four in a row, they’d be 9-3 and Sumlin would likely be safe. Does anyone really expect Texas A&M to make a clean sweep the rest of the way? I don’t think so. The temperature on Sumlin’s seat will continue to rise to uncomfortable levels.

4. If Florida pursues Central Florida coach Scott Frost to become its next coach, there’s no way he’d choose the Gators if his alma mater, Nebraska, offers Frost the head-coaching job. Should Florida just forget about Frost?

Heck, no. First of all, this guy is a dynamic coach so no university should give up on the idea of recruiting him to reverse its football fortunes.  Look at what Frost has done after being brought in to raise a collapsed UCF program.

— In 2015, UCF went-12 and averaged 13.9 points per game.

— Frost took over in 2016, immediately upgraded UCF to six wins, an appearance in a bowl game, and an average of 29 points per game.

— This season, Central Florida is 7-0, ranked 17th by the selection committee, and Frost’s offense leads the FBS with an average of 51 points per game. And the American Athletic is a good conference, so Frost’s rapid rescue means something.

Frost is the real deal, and he’d deliver the kind of prolific, entertaining offense that Gator fans have been craving for years. And by all accounts, Frost is doing  highly effective  job of recruiting in the state of Florida. Imagine what he could do as a recruiter with the high-profile Gator program as his platform. And he needs to find as many fast, athletic players as he can to make his offense go. It would be a helluva lot easier to find the elite athletes in Florida than Nebraska.

Sure, Frost’s Nebraska roots are deep. He was the starting quarterback on the 1997 Cornhuskers team that won the national championship. And if Nebraska calls, the pull to go home would be strong. But it isn’t always easy to be the returning hero, because the fans expect more, demand more.

I would be surprised if Frost didn’t take the Nebraska gig if offered, but there  are no guarantees. In 2004, Urban Meyer led Utah to an undefeated season. Meyer had his choice of several top jobs. And For years he’d been saying that Notre Dame was his dream job. His ultimate career goal.  Well, Notre Dame offered Meyer the job … and after Meyer carefully analyzed the respective situations at Notre Dame and compared it to Florida, he concluded it would be easy to win a national championship at Florida. So Meyer passed on Notre Dame, gave up the dream, and headed to Florida to win a national championship.

5. Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock just torched Idaho and UConn for wicked passing numbers on consecutive Saturdays.  And the hype train is rolling again. Are you on board?

Not yet. But I am thinking about it. And I’ll happily acknowledge that Lock showed much improvement  in two recent SEC road games at Kentucky and Georgia. He played well. It was a pleasant change from his string of horrible performances in SEC road games. So there’s been some progress.

However …

In his career SEC games, and two other Power 5 contests (West Virginia and Purdue), Lock has 23 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. Not good. Terrible. But in his career games against non-Power 5 opponents Lock has put arrows through the defense for 32 touchdowns and only 4 INTs. Look, that’s ridiculous. I just can’t look at that record without noting the massive difference in performance based on the quality of competition.

If you want to put on a hula skirt and dance because Lock destroys the defenses from Idaho, Missouri State, Delaware State, Eastern Michigan, Middle Tennessee and UConn, have at it. I’ll sit this one out.

Lock has four games left on the schedule: Florida at home, Tennessee at home, and road games at Vanderbilt and Arkansas. A chance to put up some big numbers against mediocre (or worse) SEC teams. Florida is known for defense, but even the Gators have gotten zapped for too many big plays.

I’ve written and said this before, but I’m not going to direct shout-outs at Mizzou for lighting up garbage teams. Coach Barry Odom, winding down in his second season, is 2-10 in the SEC and 2-12 vs. all Power 5 opponents. The Tigers have averaged  19.7 points per game against the Power 5 defenses … and 64 points per game against the lame defenses from the lower end of college football … the same defenses that Lock has abused to pad his statistics.

Missouri has scored 661 points in 20 games with Odom as coach.

To update a stat I presented a few weeks ago …. MU has scored 58 percent of the 661 total  points in  six  games against Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, Middle Tennessee, Missouri State, Idaho and Connecticut.

5a. Bonus question: Mizzou is favored by 3.5 points to beat visiting Florida on Saturday in CoMo. Florida just dumped head coach Jim McElwaine, the Gator offense is among the most wretched in the nation, and the program is in turmoil. Mizzou wins this one, right? 

Take it easy now … didn’t we say the same stuff last season when Mizzou played LSU a few days after Miles was fired and replaced by Coach O? And wasn’t Mizzou going to go down to Baton Rouge and take advantage of a roiling, unsettled program that had just sacked a coach that won 77 percent of his games and a national title at LSU?  And what was the score of the ensuing conflict in Death Valley?

I believe it was something like LSU 93,  Missouri 0.

Well, not that bad.

But real bad.

I expect Florida be motivated under interim coach Randy Shannon. Yeah the Gators offense has crawled around like an actual gator this season. It’s statistically one of the worst offenses in the nation. But Shannon already did one smart thing to shake things up: he’s benched the robotic and inaccurate young quarterback Feleipe Franks, and will go with Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire as his starter at Mizzou. McElwain never had much interest in using Zaire, which was stupid.

Given Mizzou’s abhorrent defense that offers plenty of space for makers of big plays to do their thing, Zaire is the right call. Zaire is fast, and he’s nifty, and he does a fine job of avoiding the pass rush. And without the assistance of the pass rush seizing the quarterback, the Tigers are extremely vulnerable.

Mizzou comes into this game 97th in the nation against the run, and Florida has a physical running running game, that hit Texas A&M for 236 yards, LSU for 204 yards, and generated 6.4 yards per actual rushing attempt (not sacks) against a formidable Georgia front seven.

And now you add Zaire’s speed and elusiveness to the mix… against a MU defense that has been wrecked for an average of 37.9 points in 12 SEC games under Odom … and I don’t have a positive feeling about this. I’ll pick Mizzou to win … but trust me, I won’t wager a dollar in support of that opinion.

Please pardon my typos.

Too many words today. I need a siesta.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekend.

–Bernie

More: The CFB Playoff Selection Committee Got It Right. So Far, Anyway

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  • Mike

    Mizzou is operating on a few more cylinders. Things are looking up vs. Tennessee.