Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 12.
Blame football, but also blame Nick Saban for Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
Football is a dangerous sport, and we’re reminded of that every time we see a player get injured. But some injuries can be avoided, and that’s what makes what we saw Saturday so hard to swallow.
With Alabama leading Mississippi State 35-7 with less than four minutes to go before halftime, Tagovailoa came back onto the field to lead another drive, having already thrown for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Dropping back to pass on third-and-4, he scrambled left and was hit from behind just as he released the ball, with the weight of two defenders landing on his lower body. He suffered a dislocated hip, costing the Heisman Trophy candidate and highly touted draft prospect the rest of his season — and likely the rest of his college career.
Freak injuries happen all the time in football, and that’s what Saban called it. But why was Tagovailoa, already nursing a surgically repaired right ankle, playing with the Crimson Tide holding a four-touchdown lead?
Saban told ESPN’s Molly McGrath at halftime that he was planning to take Tagovailoa out of the game, but he wanted to give him some practice in the two-minute drill.
A quarterback in his third college season, who won a national championship, was playing in his 32nd game and is on his way to being the No. 1 pick in the draft, needed to his risk his health for a few minutes of practice?
Players are competitive, and it’s likely Tagovailoa wanted to stay in the game. It’s why he started in a pivotal matchup against LSU less than a month after having ankle surgery. But Saban needed to do the responsible thing and keep his already banged-up star on the sideline Saturday. You know who really needed those two-minute drill reps? Backup QB Mac Jones, who must start the rest of the season in Tagovailoa’s place.
It’s precisely because football is so dangerous and freak injuries do occur that Saban and Alabama should have been doing all they could to keep their star quarterback off the field. An easy win was a chance to give Tagovailoa some much-needed rest, not push the envelope. With Mississippi State and Western Carolina on the schedule before the Iron Bowl against Auburn, he could have had two extra weeks off. This is Alabama, after all. If any program could afford to rest its star player and still win comfortably, it’s Saban’s.
Forget for a minute how this impacts the College Football Playoff, or even Tagovailoa’s draft stock. Saban and Tagovailoa knew the risks, and they both decided that a few extra live reps in garbage time was worth the chance of a “freak” injury. You can forgive Tagovailoa for wanting to play as much as he can with his teammates before he departs for the NFL. Saban, a winner of six national titles, should know better.
Baylor and Minnesota were exposed as frauds.
It would be one thing if the No. 13 Bears and No. 8 Golden Gophers got blown out Saturday and never showed that they were as good as their perfect records indicated. But that simply wasn’t the case.
After falling behind 20-6 at halftime, Minnesota stormed back and had a chance to score the winning touchdown with just under two minutes left in a 23-19 defeat. Baylor, meanwhile, sprinted to a 28-3 lead before collapsing in the second half in a 34-31 loss.
The Gophers can take solace in knowing that they aren’t the first team to see their dream season get derailed in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes improved to 5-1 at home against Associated Press top-seven teams since 2008.
And the Bears, who many thought were just smoke and mirrors and incapable of competing against the conference’s top contenders, proved that they’re legit, pushing a desperate Sooners team to the brink of playoff elimination.
Considering the tough road ahead for both teams, a playoff spot seems unlikely — but not impossible. There’s still hope for a conference championship, and Saturday’s performances should only strengthen the belief in the quality of both teams, not diminish it.
Given how Georgia’s offense was performing around midseason, I thought the Bulldogs had a better chance to finish 9-3 than win the SEC. But after another dominant performance, this time in a 21-14 win over No. 12 Auburn to clinch a third straight SEC East title, Georgia has a legitimate chance to win the conference and make the playoff.
Standing in the Dawgs’ way will likely be No. 1 LSU, which struggled defensively in a 58-37 win over Ole Miss but has shown no signs of slowing down on offense, led by likely Heisman winner Joe Burrow.
While Georgia deserves credit for holding opponents to fewer than 10 points per game this season (9.2), it has only faced three above-average quarterbacks along the way — Notre Dame’s Ian Book, Florida’s Kyle Trask and Auburn’s Bo Nix. The Dawgs held each of those QBs in check (neither team scored more than 17 points), but their strong season might not be as dominant as the numbers suggest.
Next week will be an interesting litmus test for Georgia before it faces Burrow in Atlanta. Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond is coming off one of his best games of the season (221 passing yards, 47 rushing yards, 2 total TDs), and we just saw how Nix was able to be effective as a runner (42 yards, 1 TD) on Saturday.
If Georgia’s offense can continue to improve under Jake Fromm (who threw for just 110 yards Saturday but tossed 3 TD passes) and the defense can sustain this level of success, a national title might not be too far out of reach for Kirby Smart.
It’s time for Auburn to move on from Gus Malzahn.
Another big game, another loss for Malzahn, as Auburn dropped to 2-8 in its past 10 games against top-12 opponents. Dating to 2014, he is 2-10 against Georgia and Alabama.
But what are fair expectations for this program?
This season, Malzahn is starting a true freshman at quarterback, and while the defense has been among the nation’s best, there just isn’t enough game-changing talent on offense to score enough points to beat the conference’s elite teams.
You can put some of the blame on Malzahn, who consistently pulls in top-10 recruiting classes but lags behind his conference peers in the recruiting rankings. But this is also the coach who got to a national title game with a converted cornerback at quarterback. So what’s the problem?
For starters, playing in the toughest division in the country and having to face the SEC East’s perennial power each season in Georgia. Throw in LSU’s and Alabama’s recent adoption of modern offensive schemes, and all of the sudden Malzahn’s offense doesn’t seem like the unique advantage it once was.
It’s always dangerous for a program to give up on a good coach just for the hope of finding a great one. Georgia took a risk by firing Mark Richt and replacing him with Kirby Smart, and that’s paid off. If Auburn decides to take a similar gamble, it could wind up taking the Tigers to new heights. But it could also leave fans clamoring for Malzahn’s return.
Texas should be better this season.
A word of advice: Don’t put any stock in bowl game results.
Texas’ Sugar Bowl win over Georgia last season had everyone thinking the Longhorns were back — quarterback Sam Ehlinger said as much — and some even believed Texas was a darkhorse playoff contender.
Now the Horns sit at 6-4 and fifth in the Big 12 after a last-second loss to Iowa State on Saturday, raising questions about whether Tom Herman can bring the program back to prominence.
That’s unfair. This season should not be a referendum for the third-year coach, who has had to deal with a rash of injuries, particularly on defense, and did not have a roster that was capable of winning a national championship. That said, losses to TCU and now Iowa State are less forgivable, but not totally unexpected given the conference’s improvement as a whole.
This was always going to be a nine- or 10-win season at best for Texas, which wasn’t equipped to live up to the big expectations placed on it after that bowl victory last January.
It’s too early to question Herman’s effectiveness. Next season, especially if Ehlinger returns, is when the Horns deserve the hype. If they lose three or more games in 2020, then it’s fair to start wondering what the future holds in Austin.
Oregon State has undergone one of the most remarkable turnarounds of the decade.
Verdict: Not an overreaction.
If I gave you three guesses to name Oregon State’s head coach, could you do it?
His name is Jonathan Smith, and he deserves your attention.
On Saturday night, the Beavers won their fifth game of the season, 35-34 over Arizona State. That’s two more wins than they’ve had in the past two seasons combined, putting Oregon State just one victory away from its first bowl game since 2014.
It’s hard to overstate just how disastrous the Gary Andersen era was in Corvallis, as the Beavers fell to 7-23 during his tenure. Oregon State is an extremely tough place to coach, as evidenced by its two 10-plus win seasons in its 103-year history, but the Beavers hit rock bottom, becoming one of the worst teams in the Power 5.
In just his second year, Smith, the former offensive coordinator at Washington, has Oregon State on the precipice of a bowl game. If the Beavers can somehow upset Oregon in the Civil War, this might be remembered as one of the most stunning turnarounds in recent memory.