While the rest of the College Football world gets ready to watch conference championship games and prepare for the playoffs, fans of Alabama are in an unfamiliar position.
Saturday’s brutal loss against Auburn eliminated the Tide from their fifth straight College Football Playoff appearance. Entering this season, they were the only program that advanced to the playoff in each of the four seasons since its inception. Despite showcasing an explosive offense that figured to feature at least four first-round picks in the 2020 NFL draft, Alabama fans find themselves with a strange feeling entering the offseason.
First off, let us give significant props to Mac Jones. Widely considered an afterthought by the “elite” media, Jones showed heart, poise, and talent that made fans of the Yellowhammer state damn proud. Despite giving Auburn 14 points, Jones recovered while showing fearlessness and grit in a hostile, intimidating environment. Each time after committing game-changing mistakes, Jones spit in the eye of unbelievers by following up his errors in judgment with touchdown drives.
The Auburn defense was among the best in the nation this season. No team had scored more than 23 points entering the Iron Bowl. Alabama, with their backup quarterback, almost doubled that number (45). Throw in a missed chip-shot field goal, a touchdown called back for holding and a pick-six at the one-yard line, and the case certainly could be made that a Mac Jones led offense could have hung 60 (actually 59) on the Tigers vaunted defense.
Jones was not the reason Alabama lost on Saturday. Neither was one of the most egregious violations of the spirit of the replay rule, which awarded Auburn with an additional three points at the half.
Alabama’s glaring weakness was a very mediocre defense, which failed to cover up their flaws with creative game plans. If Tosh Lupoi didn’t survive the Tide’s defensive implosion against Clemson in the 2018 National Championship (allowed 44 points and 482 total yards), then Pete Golding shouldn’t be granted back access to Alabama’s campus (allowed 34 points, 382 total yards and 5-13 on third-down).
A few significant questions face Nick Saban and the Tide heading into Bowl season. The first obvious one is whether Tua is coming back. If I put on my prognosticating cap, I would bet on him returning.
The first reason for Tua’s return would be to prove he can still play. I do not see an NFL team risking a first or second-round pick on a player coming off a dislocated hip. Even if Tua’s recovery and rehab go the best they could go, NFL teams will remember the way a hip injury ruined the career of the greatest athlete to come from the state of Alabama (Bo Jackson).
The second reason is that Tua needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. Despite video-game numbers in his time at Alabama, Tua has failed to complete a season while being the full-time starting QB.
Switching the narrative to Tua’s camp, losing the certainty of being a top-five pick (which he was projected to be entering this season), will cost him a huge payday. By showing the NFL that he still possesses 90 percent of his athleticism and all of his talent, Tua will quickly regain that top-five status, if not the first selection.
HOW WILL SABAN HANDLE RECRUITING?
Let’s not pretend that my creative mind is anywhere near the brilliance of Saban’s. However, if I once again put on my prognostication cap, expect Saban to take a long look at defensive Jucos.
Alabama already has the second-best recruiting class for 2020, trailing only Clemson by a small margin. The number 3 (CB Nadab Joseph) Juco already has narrowed his choice to Alabama and an unknown. The number 4 (CB Brian George), 7 (S, Tray Bishop), and 8 (DT, Josh Ellison) are still undecided. Bringing in experienced defensive players will add to the Tide’s already impressive class of incoming freshman, returning players from injury and the youngsters that suffered through this season.
The bottom line for Alabama fans is that all is still well. Professor Nick is still running the show, and you also might get Tua back for another shot at the Heisman and a National Championship.