CECIL HURT: Alabama football eager to play, but uncertainty remains
Having made it through a Saturday in which COVID-19 sliced through the league, the Southeastern Conference has to decide whether to feel like the glass is half-full when the schedule was more than half-empty.
Things are in day-to-day mode. The best hope for the SEC and for Alabama football, which was in good enough shape to play but lacked an opponent last Saturday because of LSU’s problems, is that the coming weekend will be better.
Perhaps the weekend surge of cancellations was caused by Halloween parties and several off weeks that allowed players to go home. If so, perhaps a week of more stringent monitoring and the semi-bubble that most teams have built will help.
But the facts on the other side – rising case numbers, regionally and nationally – do not exactly look like good news. The coronavirus also does not know the days of the week, will not set a schedule and will keep right on doing what it has been doing all along.
The likeliest workaround for Alabama, schedule-wise, currently looks like this: The SEC office said last Friday that the plan was to keep the Nov. 21 schedule intact, which means Kentucky will visit Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. If that plan holds up, there would be little inclination to change the Alabama-Auburn game from its spot on Nov. 28. After that, the schedule figures to be pot luck, depending like many American tables on the leftovers from Thanksgiving, with Greg Sankey making the turkey hash as flavorful as he can. His two priorities, which he has already stated, are getting in as many games as possible and arriving at a clear-cut Dec. 19 SEC Championship Game.
If there is a preference in the schedule shuffling, it will be for teams that haven’t been eliminated from divisional contention. Roughly speaking that’s Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn, although several others are still mathematically alive, if only barely. (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina are toast, and Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas might be the same after this weekend.)
That’s why the likeliest and most-discussed scenario would have Alabama playing at LSU on Dec. 5 and at Arkansas on Dec. 12. There is no SEC conspiracy at work, even though that might require Ole Miss and LSU, for example, to play Dec. 19. Florida will get similar consideration.
Another question for Alabama is whether the unexpected hiatus since Oct. 31 has had any effect on Crimson Tide momentum. When you are the No. 1 team in America, the last thing you want to do is take a three-week vacation. Maybe it’s something that Nick Saban can turn into a positive. Maybe some players will return from injury and some others who have been at less than 100 percent will be rested and refreshed. Maybe Kentucky, not the worst team in the league by any stretch but one which did give up 35 points to Vanderbilt last Saturday, won’t be able to spring a trap. (Can you imagine some further complications this week and Alabama having to play Auburn after being idle for nearly a month?)
Even the best of circumstances wouldn’t be all that great, but the Crimson Tide can only cross its fingers and hope to play.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt