Why Alabama will (or won't) make a last-ditch Playoff run with Mac Jones

Sporting News

Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury on Saturday in the first half of the Crimson Tide's 38-7 victory against Mississippi State.

It's a crushing blow for a quarterback who led the comeback against Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game before emerging as last season's Heisman Trophy runner-up. It also seemingly damages Alabama's Playoff hopes, given it will likely not be in the SEC championship game.

Expect Alabama to drop a few spots in Tuesday's CFP rankings as a result. Game over, right?

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Backup quarterback Mac Jones takes over, and the Crimson Tide can still finish with a 11-1 record. CBS commentator Gary Danielson stumped for Alabama during the Georgia-Auburn telecast on Saturday, invoking another backup quarterback who led a national championship run in 2014.

Can Mac Jones pull a Cardale Jones if the Crimson Tide slips into the Playoff? Cardale Jones, of course, was pressed into the starting role in the regular-season finale against Michigan in 2014 and led the Buckeyes to victories against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the first College Football Playoff championship.

Will Mac Jones do the same? Here's why it will (and won't) happen:

Why it will happen

Danielson fanned that Cardale theory when he propped up Alabama's Iron Bowl matchup against Auburn on Nov. 30.

"If Alabama comes in here and beats Auburn without Tua, they deserve to be No. 4," he said.

Of course, Danielson is going to say that. He's a "SEC on CBS" analyst and he's going to prop up the conference no matter what. But No. 4? Alabama was ranked No. 5 in last week's rankings, the same spot the Buckeyes were in 2014 heading into conference championship weekend. It's about maintaining that spot with Jones at quarterback.

If Alabama can win the next two games and look impressive doing it, then they will be in the clubhouse with one loss. But they need the chaos to unfold around them, and they need LSU, Clemson and Ohio State to win out.

There are seven one-loss teams that Alabama needs to fall off in the next three weeks.

Ohio State could run Penn State and Minnesota out of the picture, and LSU can knock out Georgia. Oregon and Utah need to lose again. Perhaps one loses in the regular season, then beats the other in the conference championship game. A Texas win against Baylor and an Oklahoma loss to Oklahoma State would knock out the Big 12.

The committee would seemingly have no choice to take one-loss Alabama at that point, especially if Jones shows he's capable of leading the offense. In a sense, Alabama could get in by default.

Why it won't happen

That is a lot to ask in three weeks, and the committee now has the excuse to leave the one-loss Crimson Tide out of the Playoff for the first time in its six-season history.

Alabama does not have a marquee quality win, and a victory against a three-loss Auburn team won’t exactly tip the scales. Tagovailoa has gone from not being healthy to out for the season, and player injuries have an impact on the committee. Defensive tackle Raekwon Davis also was carted off against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Alabama hasn't looked head-and-shoulders better than some of the other one-loss contenders either, meaning there wouldn't be a compelling reason to bump a one-loss conference champion out of the Pac-12 or Big 12 without Tagovailoa in tow.

Plus, the Mac Jones-Cardale Jones comparison doesn’t quite work out for one big reason: Cardale Jones was given a week to persuade the committee to put the Buckeyes in at the Big Ten championship game. He took advantage by leading Ohio State to a 59-0 victory against Wisconsin, which was enough to prompt the committee to settle the TCU-Baylor debate by putting the Buckeyes in the Playoff.

Ohio State made good on that by winning the national championship. Mac Jones won't have the benefit of playing in a conference championship game if LSU beats Arkansas next week.

MORE: Week 13 Playoff picture

Verdict

With Alabama, it’s not over until the final pairings are released, but the initial reaction by the committee is almost certainly going to be to knock the Crimson Tide a spot or two and let the other teams make the determination.

If the chalk holds with the top three and the Big 12 and Pac-12 cannibalize, then Alabama might just get that chance to snag the No. 4 spot. At that point, Mac would get his chance to play Cardale.

If that happens, can we get a semifinal matchup against Ohio State?

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