Alabama football unworthy of No. 2 CFP ranking after scare from LSU, but who is? | Toppmeyer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A yellow flag emerged and a whistle blew before Alabama football’s first snap of the second quarter on Saturday night. False start, the fourth of nine Crimson Tide penalties.
Before that false start, Alabama missed a field goal, surrendered a first down on a fake punt, and shanked a punt. Not long after that false start, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young fumbled a snap. And Alabama needed two fourth-down stops inside its territory, including one at the 7-yard line, to avoid trailing an unranked rival in the fourth quarter.
The College Football Playoff committee received no vindication for ranking Alabama No. 2 on Tuesday in its first rankings of the season.
The Tide didn't roll but rather persevered in a 20-14 victory over LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Talented, sloppy and inconsistent remain three operative words to describe Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC), ranked No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/AFCA Coaches Poll.
Alabama doesn’t look ready to face No. 1 Georgia (9-0, 7-0) in a potential SEC Championship matchup in Atlanta. Georgia is in a stratosphere by itself. I don’t envy the CFP committee. No team made a strong case Saturday for being No. 2.
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You cannot make a straight-faced argument for Cincinnati (No. 6 CFP) to be No. 2 after the Bearcats needed a Tulsa fumble near the goal line in the final minute to secure a 28-20 victory. The Bearcats remain undefeated, but lackluster victories over Tulsa, Tulane and Navy the past three weeks aren’t the credentials of a No. 2 team.
Michigan State (No. 3 CFP) bowed out of the No. 2 conversation after Purdue picked apart the previously undefeated Spartans in a 40-29 victory. Oregon (No. 4 CFP) had its hands full with mediocre Washington. Ohio State (No. 5 CFP) struggled to hold off mediocre Nebraska.
Alabama’s strength of schedule combined with its talent form the backbone of its No. 2 credentials, but this is hardly a vintage Nick Saban team.
Alabama didn’t lead LSU (4-5, 2-4) until 48 seconds remained before halftime and never could exhale against arguably the worst team in the SEC West. Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. teamed up to make sure a nail-biting victory didn't become a disaster.
Young isn’t playing to the level of predecessors Mac Jones or Tua Tagovailoa, but that’s the only knock you can make on the first-year starting quarterback. A team could win a national championship with Young at quarterback. He’s poised, accurate and his mobility is particularly valuable considering Alabama’s offensive line often leaves Young running from trouble.
Young has spent the year among favorites for the Heisman Trophy, and he helped his cause by throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns on a night Alabama's ground game contributed 6 yards.
But if you plan to populate your Heisman ballot with an Alabama player, I think Anderson is the best choice. The sophomore looks like he walked out of a highlight reel from the 2011 Alabama defense that surrendered nine touchdowns all season.
Anderson’s four tackles for loss against LSU give him 21 for the season – good for second in the nation behind Utah’s Devin Lloyd.
As Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this season, Anderson won’t be considered for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft only because he’s not eligible for the draft until 2023.
Anderson had help, too. Alabama's defense delivered one of its best showings of the season, answering the call three times in the fourth quarter.
Despite the best efforts of Young and Alabama's defense, the Crimson Tide never pulled away. Its scare against LSU came after Alabama led another unranked opponent, Tennessee, by just a touchdown early in the fourth quarter of its last victory, which became a blowout.
Credit lame-duck coach Ed Orgeron for keeping LSU motivated and coaching aggressively.
LSU punter Avery Atkins impersonated an NBA point guard when he darted forward and floated a teardrop pass to tight end Jack Mashburn, a successful fake punt that set up LSU’s first-quarter touchdown.
Chants of "L-S-U! L-S-U!" could be heard from a corner of Bryant-Denny Stadium midway through the fourth quarter after Tyrion Davis-Price's 37-yard run on fourth down took the Tigers inside the red zone.
Alabama dodged danger after Max Johnson's fourth-down pass from the 7-yard line sailed high to end that scoring opportunity, but the Crimson Tide couldn't exhale until Johnson's last-second pass into the end zone fell incomplete two possessions later.
LSU didn’t perform like a 28.5-point underdog, and Alabama didn’t resemble a team worthy of a No. 2 ranking. If the Tide retain that ranking, it will be due to a lack of a better option, not because of Alabama has earned the spot.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.