With a Schedule Already Getting Criticism, There’s No Room For Error This Season With a Loss
By: Larry Burton
Alabama has only had one undefeated season under Nick Saban and that was in the 2009 season. For all his other championship seasons, Nick Saban and Alabama has needed help to get into a position to play for the title. This season’s schedule represents a good news / bad news situation for the Crimson Tide. The good news is, it’s an easy schedule that should represent a great chance for Alabama to go undefeated this season and get a sure nod for one of the four playoff spots. The bad news is, with a schedule this easy, Alabama won’t have the strength of schedule argument to make it easy getting into the playoffs against other one loss teams this season.
There was much debate whether Alabama deserved the playoff spot last season, it will be a much harder argument this season with a loss if not impossible altogether.
Going over the schedule, you’ll see why.
Starting off with a Louisville team whose name used to have some cache, but last season they were an unranked five loss team and that was with the services of former Heisman winning quarterback. So when they scheduled this contest it looked to be a competitive game, it’s surely not a contest that is up to Alabama’s usual opening week extravaganza. They’ll get little adoration from voters for winning this game.
Arkansas State, no matter how good a season they have, is still considered a win over a second tier team. Last season they were a five loss team from the Sun Belt, so no points for trampling this team. Then off they go to Ole Miss, who last season was an Ole Mess and lost six games after losing a coach as well. This isn’t and won’t be the Ole Miss team from a few years ago and Bama won’t get any hype for beating these ragged Rebels. Texas A&M comes to Tuscaloosa with a new coach and renewed optimism, but new coach Jimbo Fisher inherits a six loss team with a lot of problems and Alabama beating them will give them little prestige, they will simply remember them as a six loss team from last season, a team so bad it got their coach fired.
So one third of the way through the regular schedule and every team Alabama has played so far was at least a five loss team.
The start of the next group is even worse, at least from the point of view of the college football playoff committee. They play Louisiana – Lafayette. At least they were only a four loss team last season. Next they go back into the SEC schedule and the opponent is Arkansas, loser of eight games a year ago and clear earner of the distinction of being the worst team in the SEC West. Since they beat them by 32 points last year, no big win will look that big this year. Missouri used to be a contender in the SEC East. Last season they weren’t, losing six games in total. Finishing up the two-third regular season mark is Tennessee, who last season lost eight games, their coach and most of their self respect.
So the first third of the schedule averaged losing 5.5 games last season and the second third averaged a dismal 6.5 games each. In other words, for two thirds of their beginning schedule, Alabama barely played a team with less than five losses and will have played no team that could be said to have a successful year.
Thank God for the last third of the schedule. Even with four losses, LSU wound up finishing in the top 20 albeit at number 18 and could finish in the top 20 again this year, so nine games into the season, Alabama finally plays that was in last year’s top 20 teams. A few notches down, finishing last year at number 19 is Mississippi State who ended up losing four games also. Then they nosedive in the quality teams poll by taking on Citadel, who didn’t even break .500 last season playing really crap teams. Their 5-6 record doesn’t begin to say what a bad team this is. And they end with Auburn, who beat some good teams and finished in the AP at number 10, but voters will remember that they also lost four games in total. So even this group lost an average of 4.5 games last season.
Theoretically speaking, Alabama fans can only hope that LSU and Auburn won’t crap their pants as they did last season and end up losing four games each again this season costing Alabama points against teams that might finish in the top 20 again.
So this 2018 schedule features only one team that finished in the AP top 10 and it was number 10 Auburn and a total of only three teams that made it inside the top 20, with LSU and Mississippi State barely making it at 18th and 19th respectively. Almost any fathomable one loss major conference opponent will play a much tougher schedule and limit Alabama’s ability to make the playoffs with a loss again this season, plus there are a couple of teams who could finish undefeated, thereby ruling out an Alabama team.
Lastly, about the only theoretical way Alabama makes it into the playoffs with a loss this season is for these at least one of these possibilities to happen:
One – Alabama wins the SEC Championship and has a loss. The SEC champion is going to be very hard to deny a playoff spot.
Two – Alabama beats out a two loss conference champion from another conference, but that looks to be a slim likelihood.
Three – Someone unexpected like a Missouri or Texas A&M has a great year and finishes in the top 10 or 15 as well as maybe an Auburn or LSU and somehow Louisville finds life after Lamar Jackson and finishes highly too. All this happening is extremely unlikely.
What it really comes down to is that when all of your out of conference schedule just downright sucks, it’s going to hurt you. When your conference is good at the very top and sucks out loud from the middle down, it hurts you and let’s face it, an unranked Louisville and two joke teams like Louisiana-Lafayette and Citadel hurt you bad enough, but having SEC opponents on your schedule that lost eight games last season, like Tennessee and Arkansas, a six loss team like Missouri won’t endear yourself with many playoff committee voters.
If there has ever been a year that Alabama needs to take care of their business themselves and not rely on help from others, it’s this year and believe me, in talking to players in Tuscaloosa this season, they know that as well. There’s just no room for error this season.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter