Can Alabama football still make the College Football Playoff? Only if it improves quickly | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

 COLLEGE STATION, Texas — At some point, expert analysis will try to calculate a path for Alabama football back into the College Football Playoff. One loss on a last-second field goal in SEC play doesn’t eliminate a No. 1 team. A second loss does, though, and that’s the issue.

Can Alabama run the table, including a win against a ferocious-looking Georgia team, and get back into the four-team postseason picture?

Can it do so playing like it did at Kyle Field on Saturday night? Not a chance.

That is taking absolutely nothing away from Texas A&M. The Aggies got a couple of breaks and took advantage of them but also made plays, especially in the final four minutes. Zach Calzada, a second-team quarterback, struggled so badly in the Aggies’ loss to Mississippi State a week before that there were pleas for Texas A&M fans to think of possible psychological damage they were inflicting, but he played well against Alabama. Should his name be etched in stone next to Stephen Garcia and Cam Newton and Trevor Lawrence? If you live in College Station, of course you think so. So any analysis of Alabama’s errors is made with full recognition of the Aggies’ successes. That’s a paraphrase of Alabama coach Nick Saban himself. 

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"If we don't play really well, we'll struggle against anybody we'll play against,” Saban said after the game. 

Obviously that doesn’t extend into some convoluted “losing is better than winning” paradigm. Saban loves winning. But he would have been preaching virtually the same message even if the defense had stopped Texas A&M in the final minutes. Saban has lost before, and sometimes those losses have fit into his narrative of “not wasting a failure,” teams that regrouped and won a title.

Whether this team has that same feel is the question. Among the many narratives that died at Kyle Field on Saturday — like Saban never losing to an assistant, or not losing to an unranked team for 14 years, or just the Crimson Tide’s 19-game winning streak (storylines that played well nationally but had little relevance on the field) – one that does matter is that Alabama's talent is so superior that it can’t lose. Texas A&M may or may not have had an inferior roster, but a look at recruiting rankings combined with NFL mock drafts shows that it’s not on some different planet.

Oct 9, 2021; College Station, Texas, USA;  Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass from Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) at Kyle Field. Texas A&M defeated Alabama 41-38 on a field goal as time expired. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

That story may have been true in 2020, but it wasn’t this year and was never going to be. There was an absolute hint of that in Alabama getting away from the running game near the end zone twice in late drives that ended up with field goals. It wasn’t that Brian Robinson Jr. hadn’t been running successfully. It’s just that Alabama didn’t feel good about winning big man-on-big man battles in tight quarters.

A good measure of despair in Tuscaloosa, where some fans expect nothing but losses and a hard fight against New Mexico State, is understandable. Teeth will be gnashed. Glee will overflow elsewhere, with the inevitable “dynasty is dead” commentary nationally. Big-picture takes are great, but it’s the small things that Alabama has to work on before traveling to Starkville, much less Atlanta. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt