For all the legitimate talk of Alabama being the center of college football excellence, only three of the 64 head coaches at the Power 5 schools are Alabama natives.
Last weekend, those three coaches — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin — represented the full spectrum of emotions that make college football special.
Swinney, a native of Pelham, won yet another big game. The Tigers stopped a 2-point conversion attempt by Texas A&M to preserve a 28-26 victory. Swinney is one of only four active coaches who have won a national championship (joining Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher). He has Clemson ranked second in the country and a favorite again to make the playoffs.
Pruitt, raised the son of a coach in Rainsville, experienced the first win of his head coaching career by beating East Tennessee State. It may not sound like much, but it was the Volunteers’ first win in more than 10 months. There may not be many more wins this season, but this one means the Volunteers will at least be able to play for the state when they visit Vanderbilt to end the season.
On the other end of the spectrum from Swinney’s consistent success are Sumlin’s Arizona Wildcats. Sumlin, who was born in Brewton, landed at Arizona after being fired at Texas A&M. He inherited a team led by Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate, then somehow managed to transform Tate from the best dual-threat quarterback in the country to a subpar pocket passer.
Arizona has managed to lose to BYU and Houston by a combined score of 73-41. In the loss at Houston the Wildcats trailed 38-0 three minutes into the third quarter.
Not only does Arizona look terrible, but rival Arizona State is off to a surprisingly strong 2-0 start after upsetting Michigan State in Herm Edwards’ first season. Those two factors earn the Wildcat fan base the title of Most Miserable Fans in the country through two weeks.
It’s a close competition with North Carolina, Florida State, Florida and UCLA. But it can’t be worse than a home loss, a blowout on the road to a Group of 5 team and having to live with the giddy fans of your in-state rival.
None of those teams are going to be in the conversation for a national championship any time soon. That distinction is reserved for the blue bloods of college football. This season, it’s becoming increasingly obvious Auburn should be included in that list.
After two weeks of play, here are the five teams with the best chance to win the national championship, according to Las Vegas odds: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Auburn. For Auburn to actually win the national championship the Tigers would probably have to beat all four of the other teams on the above list, all away from home. In fact, they might have to beat Georgia twice in order to reach the playoff.
But after beating Washington (which is still tied for sixth on the list of national championship favorites) and demolishing an overmatched Alabama State, the Tigers are looking the part of legitimate contenders.
Auburn is about a 10-point favorite to beat LSU this week at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but I believe Auburn is just as likely to win this week, as is Alabama, which is more than a three-touchdown favorite over Ole Miss. And I don’t think there’s much chance Alabama is going to lose.
Auburn is on a different level from LSU, and everyone will quickly realize that Saturday.
Alabama seems to have settled on its quarterback rotation, with Jalen Hurts playing and acting like one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country. If Hurts has decided to graciously accept his role with the Tide, then he will go down as one of the greatest teammates and most popular players in Alabama history.
Hurts could still decide to play only four games to preserve a redshirt season before transferring. But for now, let’s commend him for how he’s handled a difficult situation.
At the top of the Alabama depth chart is Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s possible that three of the best quarterbacks in college football are all from Hawaii. Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton has led his team to the longest current winning streak in the country. In Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday, Tagovailoa will face off with Ole Miss’ Jordan Ta’amu, who has already thrown for 784 yards in two games.
Could this be the first time Tagovailoa is called on to play a full game for the Tide? If so, the sophomore may match the 784 yards of Ta’amu in this game alone.
Ole Miss can score, but it’s hard to imagine a team that gave up 38 points in the first half to Southern Illinois last week is going to make many stops against an Alabama offense that is on pace to become the best in school history.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.