The best defense Tua Tagovailoa has faced is 80th-ranked Arkansas State. The top passing defense he’s seen is 25th-ranked Louisville, whose numbers are inflated because of how frequently the Cardinals trail. Only two of his Power 5 opponents, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, are over .500.
This isn’t to suggest the dynamic sophomore is a product of a soft schedule. Or that he needs be tested. Remember, he led the Crimson Tide to the title last year by tearing apart Georgia after sitting virtually all of the season.
But this year, the left-handed dynamo has not been challenged. He has rarely seen a fourth quarter, which does make his numbers — a 70.4 completion percentage, 25 touchdown passes, no interceptions and 2,066 yards through the air — that much more impressive. He’s frequently spent the second half on the bench. Some of that is how well he has played. It’s also a reflection of the Crimson Tide’s sad slate of opponents, so far doling out unwatchable blowouts to the soft underbelly of the SEC.
That changes Saturday night, in the Bayou against LSU and its fierce defense, a unit that has produced 19 turnovers and leads the nation in interceptions, with 14. It is seventh in points allowed (15.1) and 28th in total defense. It dominated two high-level quarterbacks, Jake Fromm of Georgia and Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State. The loss of top linebacker and leading tackler Devin White for the first half for a questionable targeting penalty in the win over Mississippi State hurts. Even so, the Tigers defense is unlike anything Tagovailoa has seen this year, a group featuring next-level talents led by cornerback Greedy Williams, a projected top-10 pick.
I don’t think the Tigers offense is good enough to pull off the upset. It managed just one touchdown against Mississippi State and will struggle against Alabama, as virtually every offense does. A win would be a stunner. But that doesn’t mean this showdown won’t hold intrigue. It will be fascinating to see Tagovailoa against a defense full of guys who soon will make their livings on Sundays, to see him hit and hurried, not allowed to just sit in the pocket and make a sandwich before deciding which wide-open receiver to throw his next touchdown pass to.
Through two months, Tagovailoa has clearly been the best player in the sport for the nation’s best team. He’s a runaway Heisman Trophy favorite putting up absurd numbers. Saturday night he will be a must-watch, tested in earnest for the first time this season.
Give ’em a chance!
The made-for-TV College Football Playoff rankings return on Tuesday. This is a reminder not to overreact. As we’ve seen in past years, there are times the rankings suggest one thing only to produce another in early December when the playoff pairings are revealed for real.
Still, we get tea leaves with this show. The three teams I’m most interested in are LSU, Michigan and Central Florida. LSU and Michigan boast the best résumés, but also each have one loss. Will they be ranked ahead of undefeated teams that lack quality victories? Then there is undefeated and non-Power 5 program Central Florida, which would need absolute chaos to be included in the last four. Depending where the Knights, undefeated a year ago as well but predictably bypassed anyway, are ranked, it would reveal how much nuttiness would have to ensue for them to get an opportunity to play for a title.
NYC You Soon
Big-time college football is coming to New York City — for one Saturday at least. Barring a surprising result the next two weekends, Notre Dame against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17 will have the nation’s attention, the undefeated Irish against the surprising 6-2 Orange, Notre Dame’s stingy defense against Syracuse’s potent offense that averages 43.6 points per game.
I can’t recall a game in the area with such intrigue, and the irrelevant Pinstripe Bowl obviously can’t compare. Yankee execs have to be thrilled Notre Dame chose to move this home game to The Bronx as part of its Shamrock Series.
1. Alabama (8-0) (Last week: 1)
This isn’t to suggest the results would be any different, but Alabama’s schedule has been incredibly soft, having faced just two power conference foes, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, over .500.
2. Clemson (8-0) (2)
The Tigers’ senior class became the first ACC group to go 4-0 against Florida State, and they did so by embarrassing the Seminoles, 59-10, handing them their worst home loss in program history.
3. Notre Dame (8-0) (3)
The last time the Irish started 8-0 was 2012 — the year they played for the national championship.
4. LSU (7-1) (4)
The Tigers boast the best résumé in the country, owning wins over Georgia, Mississippi State and Miami, along with a loss to Florida. It won’t matter, however, if they can’t knock off mighty Alabama.
5. Michigan (7-1) (5)
It will be interesting to see where the Wolverines are ranked in the first College Football Playoff poll on Tuesday. They have the best loss in the country — a seven-point setback at undefeated Notre Dame — and quality wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan State.
6. Georgia (7-1) (6)
Jake Fromm silenced his critics — for one week at least — with a masterpiece: 17-of-24 passing for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Florida, setting up a showdown Saturday at Kentucky for the SEC East crown.
7. Ohio State (7-1) (7)
Ohio State lost the bye week. At least the Buckeyes’ résumé did. TCU, their best win, fell into a three-way tie for last place in the Big 12 after losing to Kansas, and Purdue, which handily defeated them two Saturdays ago, was manhandled by Michigan State.
8. Oklahoma (7-1) (NR)
Before we rave about the effect of the defensive coordinator change at Oklahoma, let’s remember the unit showed improvement by facing TCU and Kansas State, two teams tied with Kansas in the Big 12 basement.
9. Kentucky (7-1) (NR)
Mark Stoops is a National Coach of the Year contender, leading offensively challenged Kentucky atop the SEC East this deep into the season.
10. Central Florida (7-0) (10)
Everyone should be rooting for another undefeated season from the Knights. It will only get us closer to an eight-team playoff, which the sport needs.
Dropped out: Texas (6-2) and Florida (6-2)
(in order of expected finish)
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
If he puts up more video-game numbers against LSU’s vaunted defense, just send in your ballots on Sunday. That would officially end the race.
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Murray hasn’t thrown for less than three touchdowns since the opener and his completion percentage has been under 70 in just one game, absurd numbers for anyone, let alone a first-year starting quarterback.
QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
The redshirt sophomore isn’t just on pace to break the Ohio State single-season passing record, set by Joe Germaine (3,330 yards) in 1998, but if he throws for his average of 350 yards per game giving him 2,801 yards at the moment, he will do so with time to spare.
QB Gardner Minshew, Washington State
In a big spot, first place in the Pac-12 North on the line, the senior completed 40-of-50 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns.
QB D’Eriq King, Houston
His competition can’t compare to the others on the list, but his 39 total touchdowns — seven in Saturday’s win over South Florida — and 2,815 all-purpose yards can’t be ignored, either.
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