Jalen Hurts wasn’t named the Most Valuable Player of the SEC Championship, probably because of the fault in the system that requires votes to be submitted before the game ends so a winner can be announced while the confetti is still falling.
Hurts wasn’t included when the four permanent team captains were announced Sunday night, probably because players were required to vote before the SEC Championship Game.
But Hurts did solidify his place among the most legendary players in Alabama history by coming off the bench and leading the Tide to a 35-28 win over Georgia. In some ways I hated to see Hurts score the winning touchdown on a running play, because it overshadowed the point that Hurts was the hero of the game because he stuck it out in Tuscaloosa to improve his passing, the deficiency in his game that allowed Tua Tagovailoa to take command of the job.
Hurts was a perfect 5-for-5 passing on third down against Georgia, including a bullet to tight end Irv Smith on third-and-13. That pass was enough to convince the Georgia coaches and players they weren’t facing the same player they dominated in the first half of last year’s national championship game. Without that, the running lane would not have been open for Hurts to score the touchdown that won an SEC championship and continued the Tide’s undefeated season.
Has anyone else wondered if we’re going to look back on last Saturday night and think we were watching the true national championship game? No other team has come within 22 points of Alabama this season, and the Tide are a 14-point favorite over Oklahoma in the first round of the College Football Playoff. If the Tide beats the Sooners in Miami, they will be a solid favorite over either Clemson or Notre Dame in the national championship game.
According to the experts in Las Vegas, who have a reputation for being pretty good at this prognostication stuff, Georgia would be favored over Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame and every other team in the country not named Alabama and Clemson.
I completely understand the selection committee’s decision to include Oklahoma over Georgia for the fourth playoff spot. But it definitely goes against the notion that the committee’s job is to identify the best four teams. Don’t just take the word of the wise guys in Vegas. Look at what the committee has said.
Prior to championship Saturday, the top six teams in the rankings were 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Georgia, 5. Oklahoma, 6. Ohio State. So, the committee had already factored in the Georgia loss to LSU, and the Ohio State loss to Purdue. The committee members had already factored in the strength of schedule and all the wins by all three teams. Their assessment was that Georgia was better than Oklahoma, which was better than Ohio State.
So, for Oklahoma to get into the playoff over Georgia you have to believe what happened Saturday proved the previous week’s rankings were in error. In other words, we thought Georgia was No. 4, but after watching that game against Alabama we realized we had the Bulldogs ranked too high. We watched Oklahoma beat Texas and we watched Georgia lose to Alabama and we believe we saw enough to convince us we had the ranking wrong last week.
Georgia is one of the best four teams in the country. That fact is hard to argue.
In 120 minutes plus an overtime against Georgia over the last two years, Alabama has led for exactly two minutes. The Tide has led for only nine of the 290 plays between the two teams and yet won both games.
That proves the Bulldogs are worthy of another championship shot. Of course, if the Bulldogs hadn’t been blown out by LSU we wouldn’t be forced to have this conversation.
Much has been made about how far the Pac-12 has fallen, but the Big Ten is in a similar position. Since no Big Ten team made the playoff this year, the streak will be continued to four years since a conference team scored a point in the playoffs.
The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff in 2018 and 2017. In 2016, Ohio State was beaten 31-0 by Clemson. In 2015, Michigan State was beaten 38-0 by Alabama. The Big Ten has to go back to the first year of the four-team playoff in 2014 to find a win or even a point scored by one of its members.
Nine of 11 SEC teams that reached a bowl are favored to win. The exceptions are Florida (against Michigan) and Kentucky (against Penn State). Only Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee missed the postseason.
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.