Life at the top has perils for Alabama, and LSU too | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
Tidesports.com

Aside from the remarkable statistic associated with Alabama’s rise to the top of the Amway Coaches Poll and the Associated Press Top 25, a No. 1 ranking in either poll doesn’t have any material value. Psychological value is another matter.

The remarkable statistic, of course, is that in every single season from 2008, Nick Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa, until the current 2020 season, Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll at some point during the year. That record will stand forever, unless the Crimson Tide finds itself at No. 1 again in 2021 and extends the mark to a 14th straight year. Wherever the terminus lies – 13 years or 14 or somewhere beyond that – when it stops, it can be etched in stone alongside records like Cy Young’s 511 career victories as a major league pitcher or Richard Petty’s 200 career NASCAR wins.

What else does a No. 1 ranking get you? That depends. I’ve never subscribed to the theory that a ranking somehow sends voodoo into the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, which doesn’t start ranking teams until late November. Yes, teams that are No. 1 poll-wise so often end up as the top seed in the playoff. The sample size for “best team” is usually small; two or three teams at most.

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The CFP ranking definitely does matter for Alabama for two reasons (the cart is well ahead of the horse here in terms of winning out). The two College Football Playoff sites are Pasadena and New Orleans, and while California is lovely the Crimson Tide would be happy to play in New Orleans, if only to avoid the coast-to-coast travel it had to deal with in its last CFP appearance after the 2018 season. (No one knows yet what sort of “home field advantage” there might be, since no decision has been made on attendance percentages because of COVID-19 restrictions.) That’s to say nothing of the possibility that a 2 vs. 3 game might be far more difficult than a 1 vs. 4 game. Speculate among yourselves on those possibilities, it’s still too early for me.

Sep 26, 2020; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron prior to kickoff against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There is something else that can affect a team subliminally. That’s where LSU comes in. Ed Orgeron’s Tigers weren’t No. 1 in the preseason poll. They were far too many losses on the roster, including 2019 Heisman winner Joe Burrow, and too many departures from the coaching staff. LSU was, however, the lineal champion, to put it in boxing parlance. Nick Saban warns consistently about the dangers of entitlement. Some of LSU’s problems in a shocking 2-3 start are with personnel (including injuries), some with fundamentals in a secondary that looks perpetually lost.

But it’s possible that some come from “entitlement” or “rat poison” or whatever Sabanism you choose to attach to it.

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As LSU prepares to host Alabama, maybe the pendulum will swing the other way. With three losses already (and three teams from this week’s AP top six left on the schedule), this looks like a last stand, a final chance to salvage something. The Tigers’ talent hasn’t disappeared. They are physical up front and not bad offensively if their quarterback situation is stable. 

Over the course of 13 years, the excitement of being No. 1 in a mid-year poll doesn’t affect Alabama. Every player that’s not a true freshman has been through it before. But it is one more reason among many that this could be LSU’s final chance at some small measure of redemption.

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

Cecil Hurt