There’s good news and there’s bad news for No. 11 Alabama.
After last week’s loss to No. 8 LSU put a crippling dent in any chance of returning to the College Football Playoff, No. 11 Alabama bounced back to beat No. 9 Mississippi 30-24 and avoid the sort of result that would’ve raised serious alarm bells over the Crimson Tide’s precipitous drop out of the top tier of the SEC.
You could’ve seen the headlines from hours away: Is Alabama done? Is the dynasty over? Where do the Crimson Tide go from here? Is this it for Nick Saban?
Instead, the Tide can fend off those concerns for at least one more week and basically book a ticket into one of the New Year’s Six bowls.
In the face of more of the same from Alabama’s predictably mediocre offensive line, quarterback Bryce Young completed 63.6% of his throws for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
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Unfortunately, Alabama’s win hands the SEC West to LSU, which pulled off an ugly win at Arkansas and will represent the division in the conference championship game by virtue of head-to-head tiebreakers against the Tide and Rebels. Since kicking off the dynasty under Saban in 2008, the Tide have won the West in every season but five, most recently finishing second behind LSU in 2019.
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While the two losses in hand and a second-place finish in the division will essentially eliminate the Tide from playoff contention — they’re technically still alive, but it’s hard to see a pathway — topping the Rebels helps Alabama stay in the mix for the New Year’s Six and out of the spotlight that would’ve been cast on the program after a third defeat.
In the end, that puts the Tide atop the list of Saturday’s biggest winners and losers:
It’s going to take some work and some help for No. 12 Clemson to crawl into the top four of the playoff rankings after last week’s loss to Notre Dame. The Tigers took a good first step with a 31-16 win against red-hot Louisville, snapping the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak. Down 17-7 at halftime, Louisville was unable to close the gap without quarterback Malik Cunningham, who suffered a shoulder injury on the final play of the second quarter and didn’t return. After getting benched against Syracuse and held in check by the Fighting Irish, DJ Uiagalelei threw for 185 yards and had two touchdowns, one on the ground. With the win, Clemson avoided losing back-to-back games in the regular season for the first time since 2011.
The No. 21 Knights are the team to beat for the automatic Group of Five bid to the New Year’s Six after topping No. 17 Tulane 38-31 and moving into a tie for first in the American. With games against Navy and South Florida to end the month, UCF is very likely bound for the conference championship game and a matchup against Cincinnati or a rematch against the Green Wave. A win there would send the Knights back to the New Year’s Six for the third time in six years under three different head coaches: Scott Frost (2017), Josh Heupel (2018) and current coach Gus Malzahn.
It’s been a frustrating season for Purdue, which dropped two non-conference games by a combined seven points — No. 15 Penn State (35-31) and Syracuse (32-29) — and then rolled off four wins in a row, only to take a big step back with recent losses to Iowa and Wisconsin. But the Boilermakers are back atop the Big Ten West and in terrific position to land in the conference championship game after topping No. 20 Illinois 31-24 behind three touchdowns from quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Now 4-3 in league play, Purdue closes November with very winnable games against Indiana and Northwestern.
With almost zero fanfare, Duke coach Mike Elko has done outstanding work reversing the Blue Devils’ recent slide and securing a winning season in his debut. Now 7-3 after a 24-7 win against Virginia Tech — the Hokies may be the worst team in the Power Five, by the way — Duke could lock down second place in the ACC Coastal with a win next Saturday against Pittsburgh. The program has finished higher than fourth in the Coastal just twice since the ACC split into two divisions in 2005.
It’s been a pretty good week or so for Florida, which in addition to some high-profile recruiting wins has won two in a row after losses to LSU and Georgia threatened to reverse the good vibes around Billy Napier’s first season. After beating Texas A&M last Saturday, the Gators exploded out of the gate and scored the first 24 points in an eventual 38-6 win against South Carolina. The win locks down bowl eligibility and raises Florida out of the bottom three in the SEC East while increasing the odds of an eight-win season — a positive sign for the program’s future under Napier.
Brent Venables’ tough start continued with a 23-20 loss to West Virginia, dropping Oklahoma to 5-5 and in legitimate danger of missing the postseason with games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to close the regular season. The Sooners’ laundry list of issues against the Mountaineers included yet another atrocious showing from the run defense, which gave up at least 200 yards for the fifth time this season, and critical penalties that allowed West Virginia to extend drives and rally from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
This is all you need to know: No. 24 Kentucky became the first SEC team to lose to Vanderbilt in more than three years. Ahead 21-17 with five minutes on the clock after a long touchdown run by Chris Rodriguez, the Wildcats allowed the Commodores to convert a pair of fourth downs as part of an 80-yard march and notch the game-winning score with 32 seconds left. Once a borderline SEC contender, Kentucky lost a close one to Mississippi in early October and never recovered, losing four of six in league play and plummeting into a middling bowl appearance.
We have a new contender for the worst start by a team in Bowl Subdivision history. Virginia received to open an ACC matchup against Pittsburgh, with the Panthers looking to earn bowl eligibility and the Cavaliers aiming to build some momentum amid a disappointing season under new coach Tony Elliott. On the game’s first play following a touchback, Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s pass toward the Pittsburgh sideline was intercepted by M.J. Devonshire, who ran it back 29 yards to make it 7-0 after just five seconds. After another touchback, Armstrong was picked off by Marquis Williams, who returned the interception 39 yards to make it 14-0 after just two plays and 16 seconds. The Panthers turned that fast start into a 37-7 win to earn a spot in the postseason.
Story Credit: usatoday.com