CECIL HURT: Alabama football road in SEC West looking smoothly paved

Cecil Hurt
Tidesports

Bionic Nick Saban with his rebuilt hip and his virus-repellent mask is not to be trifled with, nor moved to wrath. But at the risk of incurring a stern look on his next Zoom call, a quick glance does show that, less than halfway through the 10-game SEC schedule, the Alabama Crimson Tide has a strong start on paving the road to Atlanta for the league championship game on Dec. 19.

Mathematically, Alabama hasn't clinched anything and probably can’t do so until November.  However, a 4-0 start coupled with the struggles of the other teams in the SEC West mean that anyone else in the division probably can’t get past Alabama without some help.

Of the remaining teams in the division, only Texas A&M has a one-loss record. That loss, though, is to Alabama, giving UA the head-to-head tiebreaker and leaving the Aggies needing two other teams to knock off the Crimson Tide in order to earn a championship game bid.

CECIL HURT: Alabama football leaves Georgia holding all the negatives

Technically, the teams who have a better shot are the ones who still have Alabama on the schedule and would need help from at least one other team in order to have a chance in a tiebreaker scenario: those teams are Auburn and Arkansas, both 2-2 in the SEC, and LSU, currently 1-2 since its game at Florida last Saturday was postponed due to COVID-19. Furthermore, most of the teams still breathing in the West Division have games remaining against one another, so someone will have to get on a hot streak to stay alive  

Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt walks down the sideline during a game between Tennessee and Missouri at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

Rivalry games like Auburn and LSU, plus Tennessee coming up this weekend, can always be problematic. That’s why Saban would have no patience in hearing about anything this week other than what the Crimson Tide needs to do to extend its winning streak against the Big Orange. There is no certainty about the starting quarterback at Tennessee after Jarrett Guarantano imploded early against Kentucky. Alabama is coming off a big win. In other words, this is one of those weeks where Saban will be testy. That especially includes hypotheticals. 

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One area where Saban will be happier will be discussion of Will Reichard’s 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half against Georgia. Alabama kickers have been a source of endless anxiety for Crimson Tide fans and numerous jokes (to which I plead guilty) on social media. But the fact is that Reichard, a sophomore, has been as good as advertised since coming to UA from Hoover High School as the nation’s No. 1 kicking prospect. The problem in 2019 was that he was slow to recover from an injury he suffered while kicking off and striking the tee. Of all the many injuries that hampered Alabama last year, Reichard’s was rarely discussed but was definitely impactful. 

On Saturday night, Alabama was aggressive in a situation where it usually hands off and heads to the locker room, averted clock disaster (barely) and had confidence that making it to the Georgia 35-yard line would be enough. Reichard delivered. Cutting the Georgia lead to 24-20 had scoreboard significance, but it was also a psychological boost that gave Alabama confidence.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Sports columnist Cecil Hurt.