By Arnie Leshin
Late in the football season and early in the basketball season, Alabama is not on top the football list as it prepares to clash Saturday with undefeated, number one Georgia for the Southeastern Conference, and there’s a new look in the men’s basketball charts as Purdue took over the top spot after previous No. 1 Duke lost to Ohio State.
Let’s first take the anticipated tilt at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. Does the site bring the advantage to the 12-0 Bulldogs? Not really. Bama fans travel and each team receives the same number of tickets, and both teams will no doubt use them.
Currently, defending national champion Alabama is 12-1 and ranked third. Now if it loses Saturday in the kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. central time, will the ranking committee still have the Crimson Tide in the running for the top-four playoffs. It is so familiar with planting Nick Saban’s team and three others, who knows what would be in the minds of those that do the rankings?
Win or lose, Georgia is in. After opening on the road and getting past Clemson, it has posted three shutouts and no one has come within 17 points of the Tigers, and that was Kentucky at 30-13. Auburn came “within” 24 points in a 34-10 setback, South Carolina “only” lost by 27 and that ended at 40-13.
While the Bulldogs have been very stingy on defense and have allowed only 82 points, but have also run up 485 points, 19 more than Bama, which has yielded 161 points.
But Alabama, along with the 41-38 loss to No. 15 Texas A & M, had a tough tussle against Florida before gaining a 31-29 win, were down to LSU before coming away with a 20-14 win, barely got past No. 21 Arkansas before winning 42-35, and then struggled in a 24-22 four-overtime win over Auburn.
Now while the Crimson Tide is said to have a strong schedule, well that’s based on the pre-season rankings. Miami, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas were all ranked, and now only No. 15 Mississippi, No. 21 Arkansas, and No. 25 Texas A & M remain in the rankings. And unlike the Bulldogs, it has no shutouts.
As for Georgia. Its pre-season slate had Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, and Clemson ranked, and now only No. 23 Kentucky is still there. Its 56-7 rout over mid major Charleston Southern ranks with Bama’s 44-13 romp over mid major Mercer, which just happens to be in Macon, Ga., except that Alabama also scheduled over-matched New Mexico State and rolled it up to the tune of 59-3.
You could say advantage Georgia, except that except for Saturday’s test, its 2021 schedule is history, as is Alabama’s.
If this figures to bring this match-up down to the Crimson Tide offense versus the Bulldogs’ defense, that’s just something that goes by the numbers, and still it’s advantage Georgia. The last time the Athens school played in this final four, it won in two overtimes over Oklahoma.
In good shape is No. 2 Michigan (11-1), which came off a loss to arch-rival Michigan State to stun then-second-ranked Ohio State and knock the high-flying Buckeyes down to two defeats (Oregon was the other) and out of the 4-team playoffs at 10-2 and now ranked seventh.
Unbeaten Cincinnati (12-0) is just behind Alabama at No. 4, and could be the first school not in the power five to land in this unprecedented playoff. Now if Michigan just happens to lose to No. 13 in the Big Ten title game to also be played Saturday, No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1) would move up. As for No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1), which just said goodbye to head coach Kelly after he left to coach LSU, its one loss was to Cincinnati and will probably instead wind up in one of the feature bowl games.
And then there’s Oklahoma, 10-2 and ranked all the way back to No. 14, it said goodbye to head coach Lincoln Riley, who announced one day after the important setback to Oklahoma State that he was leaving to coach Southern California (USC).
Now if you don’t believe he had been in touch with USC even before the tilt at the Cowboys, it’s useless because it is clearly not true. You don’t just hop on a plane to Los Angeles so soon, and what he did was leave the Sooners in a rut, for right after the surprising news, three of the top Oklahoma recruits, including the No.3-ranked quarterback announced they were not going to Norman.
There’s more, so far two of his former players that included quarterback Spencer Rattler, who had a super freshman season and then, after back-to-back fumbles midway through this season, benched him for true freshman Caleb Williams, and while sophomore Rattler remained on the sidelines and apparently did not complain, Williams began in super fashion before the appreciative Oklahoma fans, but then faltered down the stretch, and still Rattler remained on the sidelines, helmet off and no doubt upset.
After leading by 13 points and then trailing by 4 in the Sooners’ final possession, Riley raced up and down his sidelines to get Williams’ attention, but it didn’t look like his quarterback was listening. It looked then that Riley was upset with his program and with this soon-to-be defeat that would cancel another trip to the 4-school playoffs in which Oklahoma is 0-4.
And so, believe it or not, he probably contacted Southern Cal soon after, got his flight plans, and off he went, leaving the Sooners dumb-founded. In the real world, you simply do not lose so many recruits in two days and so far, two Oklahoma players.
That’s that. Former head coach Bob Stoops, whose son Drake was a wide receiver on the team, will graduate, but not before his dad coaches Oklahoma in whatever bowl game it plays in, and hopefully this stellar program finds another capable head coach and survives this mess.