Every Saturday night, Ari Wasserman and David Ubben react to the weekend’s slate of games on “Until Saturday.” On Mondays, they revisit the biggest takeaway from Saturday night’s instant reaction. This week: Ari and David continue their conversation about Alabama and if it’s inevitable the Crimson Tide will make the College Football Playoff.
Ari Wasserman: I’m putting everybody on notice: We are not getting through the College Football Playoff discourse without Alabama being a part of it now. They are firmly back in it. I hate to admit it. But are they good to win the national title this year?
David Ubben: The short answer is yes. Yes, the most talented team in America is good enough to win the national championship. But is that team good enough to get through Georgia and Oregon or Florida State and maybe Georgia again or Michigan? I’m not so sure.
You looked at the Tide before the season and a lot of what we thought it true. They have a dearth of offensive weapons. The offensive line struggles to pass block; their quarterbacks have been pressured on 38.4 percent of their dropbacks this year. That ranks 118th nationally.
All of that is true. They haven’t had weapons come out of nowhere. But the defense is good. They’ve leaned into (quarterback) Jalen Milroe, learned how to best use him; he’s improving week by week. Alabama is a complicated situation, but yes, the most talented team in America is good enough to win the national championship.
Wasserman: But since Alabama had the quarterback dysfunction early on and lost to Texas, we sort of wrote it off. We haven’t talked about Alabama very much, and when we have, it’s been in passing. But now, Alabama is definitely a main fixture in the discussion in a world where there’s a lot of people and teams vying to be a part of that discussion. Maybe that starts Tuesday, depending on what happens with the new CFP ranking. But the light is back on them.
The defense is very good. They fly around, they hit hard. The talent oozes off the screen. These are all the things we know.
What I don’t know is how much of this is LSU’s defense being bad, but Jalen Milroe looks like he’s found himself. They’re using him in ways where he can use his legs and be an athlete and he makes some throws that are an incredible complement to that. The offense works well when he breaks contain and he can do his thing.
Will that be good enough to beat Georgia and/or win three straight games against very good teams? I don’t know. But what I do know is if you asked Kirby Smart who would be the last team in the conference — and maybe the country — he wants to play for all the marbles, it would be Alabama. And that’s likely who he’s going to have to play in Atlanta.
Last week, after I saw Georgia in person I was convinced that was a team that’s going to win the national championship. But if you put the Georgia team we saw Saturday against Mizzou on the turf in a dome against Alabama, I’m not 100 percent sure Georgia would win that game. To end that point, you’re putting Alabama against Washington or Florida State teams that may not be equipped to compete against them athletically. Alabama may not be the best football team, but they have the bodies to match up with Georgia. It’s a very interesting scenario.
We’ve had a long, winding road of parity this year with new, sexy teams that are new to the scene. But how do we know Alabama, the most talented team in college football, doesn’t just beat Georgia at the end of the year and still have two SEC teams in? There’s a lot of season left.
Ubben: Alabama, to get in the Playoff, would obviously have to beat Georgia. To win it all, there’s a decent shot you’ve got to beat Georgia twice. A week ago, you were ready to hand Georgia the trophy. And now this.
Wasserman: It’s not that Georgia changed. We added another team built like Georgia back into the equation that we weren’t considering last week. Maybe we were fools for not giving Alabama more air last week. I still think Georgia is the team.
There are a lot of other teams in the mix, but you just let another wolf into the hen house. How the committee breaks the Tide down will be fascinating, but on Championship Saturday, they’re going to be in the mix for the Playoff and they earned that. Now LSU … the Tigers just don’t play defense. Isaiah Bond was open the whole game. I don’t know if that’s a young receiver finding himself or LSU’s defense. But it looks like Alabama is coming into its own at the right time.
I think Alabama is more likely to win the national championship than any of these other non-Georgia teams we talk about. That’s going to be offensive to teams like Florida State and Washington, but athletes win time and time again in this sport. It has happened every single year since the internet rankings era began in 2000.
The portal has evened things out, sure. I’m just not really to punt completely on the idea that the teams with the most raw talent on the roster are the ones that win when the lights are on.
Ubben: Maybe. But you’re overreacting. LSU and the way that team is composed right now was cooked up in a lab to make Alabama’s deficits look like they’re not deficits. In short, Alabama’s lack of elite skill position talent.
I tried to warn you this week. I said on our picks show, a huge game for Milroe was coming. He’s going to blow up because everyone blows up against LSU’s defense. The Tigers ranked 96th in stop rate. They’ve given up 46 plays this year longer than 20 yards. That ranks 105th. That’s not to say Bond and Milroe didn’t have great games. But LSU can’t cover. The Tigers were playing without their four top corners. They seem disjointed schematically and have busts all over the place. They struggle to tackle.
I don’t disagree with what you said about Alabama, but when you play functional defenses, much less great defenses, those skill position warts will be much more evident and costly.
Wasserman: I just have a hard time dismissing putting up 42 against LSU and playing in a game like that. LSU isn’t the peak version of itself, but we have been describing Alabama as an inherently flawed team. And inherently flawed team most certainly could have faltered to that LSU team, freshmen cornerbacks or not. We can’t say Alabama isn’t good enough to win an national title while also dismissing what it accomplished against LSU. That’s not how this works. We have to pick one.
Wasserman: Alabama has three games left in the regular season. Kentucky, Chattanooga and Auburn. They’ll be double-digit favorites in all of them. And then they’ll face Georgia in a dome where athletes reign supreme. So say what you want to say, but that’s happening. Alabama is going to be playing for a CFP spot in December. … Alabama is just not eliminated before Atlanta. It creates a new area of discourse and I’m excited to add them back in.
(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)