After the first eight weeks of college football, it seems genuinely impossible to imagine a playoff scenario that doesn’t include Alabama.
The undefeated Crimson Tide have an 85 percent chance to make the playoff after Week 8 and heading into their bye week, according to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor. Alabama is outscoring its opponents, on average, by 38.2 points, and its No. 1 offense in the nation is led by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who’s thrown for more than 2,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and still zero interceptions.
But if given the choice between Alabama and Clemson over which team is more likely to miss the playoff, ESPN commentators Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack both think the answer is Alabama.
When told neither was not an option for the sake of this discussion, Pollack pointed to Alabama’s recent injuries – backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has appeared in every game this season, had minor surgery this week for an ankle sprain – and possibly its biggest challenge this year in LSU on the road being their next matchup.
“I would say Alabama (is more likely than Clemson to miss the playoff), and I know that sounds crazy because we’ve kind of talked about how they’re the best team on the planet. But I also think that injuries are starting to be significant a little bit too. Jalen Hurts now has surgery. I’m not saying Tua’s hurt, but he’s a little bit banged up with his knee, and you’ve seen him just by sliding off the field making him a little bit more vulnerable.
“And, let’s couple that with the fact, too, guys, they’ve got to play LSU in a couple weeks. They’ve got to play an SEC (East) champ – whether it be Florida or Georgia in the end – that could be another tough game. So I think their road is obviously a lot tougher to get there, and with some injuries mounting, we’ve gotta look out for Alabama.”
After Alabama’s bye this week, it will travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU and will finish its regular season against Mississippi State, The Citadel and Auburn – a game the Crimson Tide lost last season but it didn’t stop them from making the playoff.
On the other side, Clemson is still undefeated and is playing in a weak ACC conference this year. Despite almost losing to Syracuse earlier this season and having a two-point win over a then-underrated Texas A&M team, the Tigers have cruised to victory in most of their games this year and will close their regular season against Florida State on Saturday, followed by Louisville, Boston College, Duke and South Carolina.
Herbstreit echoed Pollack’s concerns about LSU, but fellow analyst Joey Galloway pointed to Clemson because of Alabama’s stunning dominance this year, saying:
“I’m just going to say Clemson because I just can’t wrap by brain around the Alabama team that looks like they should possibly be playing against the Cincinnati Bengals some weekends, I can’t see them not getting in.”
Clemson currently has an 89 percent chance to make the playoff, so it seems particularly unlikely that either of these teams will be excluded.
Maybe Jon Gruden knows what he’s doing after all
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