Why Alabama should owe Arkansas a debt of gratitude
It’s funny how the narrative of Alabama’s season can undergo monumental change in a seven-day span.
Last Tuesday, there were viable concerns among fans that No. 2 Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) could crush the remaining opponents on its schedule — LSU (win), at Mississippi State, versus Charleston Southern, at Auburn — and still miss out on the College Football Playoff semifinals, given the absence of a so-called “championship bump” in conference play, assuming Ole Miss claimed the SEC West title.
Well, Arkansas indirectly removed that hurdle, at least for the time being, by pulling off a road stunner against Ole Miss. And the lion’s share of credit goes to Razorbacks tight end Hunter Henry, who risked life, limb and a mini-eternity of humiliation as ESPN’s “Worst Of The Worst” highlight for the next 30 weeks — not unlike the Mark Sanchez ‘Butt Fumble’ from 2012 — by deftly throwing back an 18-yard reception that landed woefully short of the Hogs’ 25-yard requirement on fourth down.
And tailback Alex Collins completed the all-time catch/wayward backwards toss across the field/fumble recovery for a first down, which would have been an easy lock for “2014 College Play Of The Year.” But in 2015, the Henry/Collins tandem will likely have to fight for that honor — competing against Michigan State’s own Miracle In The Big House and Georgia Tech’s gift from the football gods against Florida State.
Back to Alabama: The No. 2 ranking certainly has merit, factoring in the Tide’s shakedown of then-No. 2 LSU last week, which included holding Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette to a mere 31 rushing yards. On the flip side, coach Nick Saban’s club has only two victories against teams currently ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25 — No. 9 LSU and No. 25 Wisconsin.
On the “defeat” ledger, Alabama (lone loss to Ole Miss, currently not ranked) also falls short of lofty programs like No. 4 Notre Dame (only setback to top-ranked Clemson), LSU (only loss to Alabama) and No. 11 Florida (only loss to LSU) — the same enigmatic Gators who shellacked Ole Miss by 28 last month — but none of that seems to matter. At least for now.
National reputation and perhaps the presumption that ‘Bama would handle all comers in a Playoff contribute to a ranking above numerous undefeated squads.
As such, the Crimson Tide are seemingly housed in the same boat as Clemson and Ohio State: Take care of business in the final four outings — including Championship Saturday — and the SEC, ACC and Big Ten should all have representation in the Playoff semifinals.