Sometimes, a double-digit halftime lead is safe. And sometimes, it’s not.
Georgia and Texas A&M were able to parlay their two-touchdown leads into big SEC wins last Saturday, while South Alabama squandered a 10-point halftime advantage and the opportunity for a Sun Belt Conference road win. The result was a dismal 0-3 record for Auburn, Alabama and South Alabama.
That marked the first time since Nov. 10, 2012, that all three teams lost on the same day. On that date nine years ago, Johnny Manziel orchestrated his signature win in Tuscaloosa, while Auburn was pummeled 38-0 by Georgia, and South Alabama lost 29-24 at North Texas.
That was a bleak day. But it wasn’t as unexpected as this triple failure.
Sure, Auburn was considered a major underdog, but there was some hope the Jordan-Hare Stadium magic would make an appearance for Bryan Harsin’s first big home game for the Tigers. It didn’t happen.
South Alabama was favored by a field goal over a North Texas team that has struggled all season. Even the beat reporter for the Austin Statesman told me last week he was confident the Jaguars would leave San Marcos with a comfortable victory. It looked like that would be the case for much of the night before South Alabama lost in four overtimes.
Then, of course, there was Alabama. Jimmy Stein, my co-host on our weekly radio show about the Tide, predicted during the preseason that Alabama would go 11-1 this season, with the loss coming at Texas A&M. But by last week even he had come around to the idea the Tide would win. Alabama was favored by more than 17 points.
But the Tide fell behind 24-10 at the half, then gave up a 96-yard kickoff return for a score in the third quarter. Even a suffocating defensive performance in the second half by the Tide couldn’t overcome those obstacles.
Here’s what was lost for each team on the field last week.
South Alabama’s chances of winning the Sun Belt Conference West Division and reaching the conference championship game for the first time are virtually gone. After a close loss the previous week to division favorite Louisiana, there was no room for error. The loss at Texas State was that error.
Auburn, shockingly, didn’t lose much except yet another blowout loss to a huge rival. The Tigers will still win the SEC West if they beat Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama. Winning all five of those games is a real longshot, but that was the case before the loss to Georgia. Only the most optimistic Auburn fans thought the Tigers would have a better record at this point in the season than its current 4-2 mark.
For Alabama, the loss is painful. But if the Tide wins the rest of its games, the season will likely end in the College Football Playoff again. The only way that would not happen would be if Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and somebody from the Big Ten remains undefeated. In that situation, the SEC might have no representative in the playoff. That seems far-fetched, but it’s still mathematically possible, even less likely both Alabama and Georgia still making the playoff.
What this loss does is make the SEC Championship Game a high-anxiety encounter if the Tide makes it there.
The common thought had been that both Alabama and Georgia would be 12-0 when they faced off for the conference title. Then, both the winner and the loser would make the playoff. That won’t be the case now. Even if Alabama goes to Atlanta with an 11-1 record, the Tide would need to beat Georgia to earn a spot in the playoff.
Alabama’s loss ended a 19-game winning streak. It made Jimbo Fisher the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat the master after Saban had gone a combined 0-24 previously. And it snapped the Tide’s 100-game winning streak over unranked opponents.
The good news is fans in Mobile won’t have to dwell on the lost weekend for long. South Alabama will host Georgia Southern in a rare Thursday night game this week. The Jags have never beaten the Panthers, but this year’s team is good enough to snap that streak. That would make for a good start to the week that has got to be better than the one we just endured.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart radio app.
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