Starting 11: Alabama Whips Georgia Edition

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Think about the week for Alabama: on Saturday they post the worst defensive performance in Nick Saban’s Alabama tenure at Ole Miss. On Wednesday they find out that their coach has tested positive for covid and may not be able to coach them. Then we have the multi-day, will he, or won’t he, news with Nick Saban potentially having a false positive. All while Saban isn’t able to attend practice or talk to his team in person.

Then Saturday we get news that Saban has tested negative five times since testing positive the first time so he’ll be on the sideline for the game.

Many teams would be distracted by all this noise, especially with a big time opponent coming to town, but not the Tide, who came out and dominated Georgia in the final twenty minutes of this ball game.

We’ll get to that game in a moment, but first I want you guys all thinking about this question: given that around half of all “positive” athlete and coach tests for covid are being overturned with additional testing, how many people out there in America today are testing positive for covid and quarantining themselves for weeks, all while being terrified to death of this virus, and never actually having it?

It may well be millions of people in this country.

Because most people don’t have the resources to test multiple times.

If you’re told you’re positive, you just accept it and quarantine yourself.

But it feels like at least half of all the reported positive tests in the NFL and college football have ended up being overturned with follow-up tests.

So does our national obsession with testing healthy people to see if they are “positive” for a virus they otherwise wouldn’t know they have really make any sense at all?

I don’t think so.

Especially since so far, thankfully, not one NFL or college team has had a single player with any significant health issues from this virus at all. So why are we treating positive tests like major health issues? It’s insane.

If someone feels sick, they shouldn’t be around the football facilities. But setting the precedent that healthy people have to be constantly tested for covid — and that if they test positive they, and anyone they’ve been in close contact with, have to be isolated for weeks — doesn’t make sense to me at all.

Having said that, while the coronabros in the sports media lost their minds over Nick Saban’s positive test and the postponement of LSU-Florida and Vandy-Missouri, the SEC deserves credit for the start of the season. The SEC has played 26 of their 28 scheduled games, nearly completing 40% of their entire schedule without any major covid issues at all.

It’s possible, maybe even probable given this testing mess, that there will be more postponements coming in the weeks ahead, but right now things have been a tremendous success for the SEC when it comes to playing football games with crowds present.

Okay, on to the actual football news.

1. Alabama has effectively punched their ticket for the college football playoff.

Having beaten Texas A&M and Georgia, the two toughest teams, it appears, on their schedule, Alabama now has a final six games of at Tennessee, Mississippi State, at LSU, Kentucky, Auburn, and at Arkansas.

I just don’t see any way the Tide loses any of these games as long as Mac Jones stays healthy.

If I’m right, then what Alabama does in the SEC title game against either Georgia, in a rematch, or Florida won’t matter.

Because a 10-1 Alabama would be in the playoff just like an 11-0 Alabama would be in the playoff.

But what we saw happen on Saturday night should scare everyone, the Tide defense pitched a shutout in the second half and this offense continued to roll.

If this defense can catch up with this offense, let’s just go ahead and pencil in the Tide for a title game against Clemson.

In the meantime, I think we’ll be able to look back in a couple of years and say Alabama had the most talented wide receiving corps of all time last season. We already know Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs are already first rounders, but in the wake of last night’s game it certainly looks like Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are going to be first rounders too.

Has any team ever had four first round receivers playing together before?

Hell, has any NFL team ever had four first round wide receivers before? I doubt it.

Which means you can make the argument that last year’s Alabama wide receiving corps is the most talented wide receiving corps in the history of football.

It’s unbelievable.

Even Georgia, who probably has a top five defense in the country and might have the best defensive coach in the country, couldn’t keep these guys bottled up. When Waddle got loose for the ninety yard play everything changed in this game.

It was effectively over.

And let’s not underrate Mac Jones here either. This guy stood in the pocket and took hit after hit from Georgia’s defense and just kept making plays.

He had 417 yards passing and his only interception came on a fluky tipped ball pass to start the game. Jones is going to put up some massive passing stats in the final six games of the regular season and I think there’s a decent chance he finds himself at the Heisman ceremony in New York.

2. Where does Georgia go from here?

It’s almost impossible to have a better scenario to finally beat Alabama. You’re playing on the road in a reduced capacity stadium, Nick Saban’s testing situation is a huge distraction, the Tide defense looks human, and you’ve been building up the talent on your team to the point where you are 24-3 in the past 27 SEC games.

This was your chance to beat Alabama and claim the crown as best program in the SEC.

But with all that on the line Georgia posted their worst defensive performance in years and ended up losing by 17 points, being blanked 21-0 in the second half by Alabama.

Sure, Stetson Bennett got exposed a bit and maybe your quarterback situation keeps you from being elite.

But the vaunted Georgia defense gave up 564 yards to Alabama.

33 first downs!

And the aforementioned 417 yards passing.

The Tide averaged 12.6 yards per pass.

The offense didn’t lose this game for Georgia, the defense did.

Granted Stetson Bennett went 18 of 40 with three interceptions, but a couple of those picks came late when Georgia was pressing and the first interception was a total fluke.

Put simply, if you’d told Kirby Smart his offense was going to put up 414 yards on Alabama, I think he’d have taken it.

So where do we go from here?

Right now Georgia has at Kentucky, the Cocktail Party against Florida, at Missouri, Mississippi State, at South Carolina, and Vanderbilt to finish the season.

As I told you last week, Georgia’s season was always going to come down to the Cocktail Party against Florida. Win that game and the Bulldogs will (very likely) be 9-1 and in the SEC title game with a rematch against Alabama.

Do I think Georgia would win that rematch? No.

But it’s at least a chance for Georgia to win the SEC and punch a ticket for the college football playoff.

For Georgia fans, however, I think it’s fair to ask at this point, will we ever get past Alabama? The distance between the two programs looks more substantial right now than it did back in the national title game in 2017.

3. Clemson looks poised for the playoff after hanging 73 on Georgia Tech.

I think Georgia Tech must have said something about Clemson’s mom, that’s the only way to explain a beatdown this brutal.

Clemson had 500 yards passing and Trevor Lawrence had five touchdowns.

I had Joel Klatt on the show the other day and he pointed out that the Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne quarterback and running back combination is better than almost all NFL teams have right now.

That is, how many NFL teams have a better quarterback and running back combo than Lawrence and Etienne.

Green Bay? The Titans? The Vikings? The Bengals? The Browns? The Lions?

My point is, this is a top ten quarterback and running back combo, for sure, in all of football right now.

And Clemson has it in college.

Just insane.

4. Texas A&M has a decent chance at running the table and getting to 9-1 in year three with Jimbo Fisher.

In fact, you can make a strong argument A&M may have the second best chance to make the college football playoff in the SEC.

How so? Well, the Georgia-Florida loser is going to knock itself out of playoff contention with a second loss and then the Georgia-Florida winner will have a decent chance of losing to Alabama in the SEC title game. That would be a second loss for that team too, likely knocking them out of the playoff picture as well.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M will be favored in every game the rest of the season.

Look at the Aggie schedule: Arkansas, at South Carolina, at Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and at Auburn are the remainder of the season for A&M.

Yes, there are some landmines here, but the Aggies have a decent shot of running the table and posting the second best record in the SEC at 9-1.

Would 9-1 A&M be able to slide in alongside Alabama, Clemson, and the potential Big Ten winner as the fourth playoff team?

It’s certainly possible.

Which is why there’s a strong argument that A&M’s playoff chances are pretty decent.

5. Kentucky walloped Tennessee.

I know the Georgia State home opening loss last year was a bad one, but I think this loss to Kentucky was worse for Tennessee than Georgia State.

There’s just no way possible that Tennessee should have gotten beaten by 27 by a 1-2 Kentucky team at home.

When you’re a touchdown favorite at home, you just can’t lose like this. A late field goal loss? Sure, that’s tough, but it happens. But like this? This is the worst lost of the Jeremy Pruitt era so far.

Frankly, as bad as the first half was from Tennessee — how often does your quarterback turn the ball over three times, including two pick sixes in the space of a few possessions? — the second half was worse. Because even having played a disastrously bad first half Tennessee was only down 17-7 and they were getting the ball to start the second half.

Score on that possession, touchdown or field goal, and it’s a one possession game.

Instead Kentucky held Tennessee scoreless for the second half and the Vols played their worst game of the Pruitt era, getting blanked 17-0 at home.

Much of the blame, deservedly, will be placed on Jarrett Guarantano — and how can you not blame a quarterback with four fumbles and three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in the final two quarters at Georgia and the first two quarters against Kentucky — but the bigger issue here is Tennessee hasn’t recruited over Guarantano at quarterback in five years.

That is, they’ve been unable to find anyone better than Guarantano despite the fact that he’s been here forever.

That’s not Guarantano’s fault.

He’s the best of several bad options, which means the Vol quarterback evaluation has failed.

Guarantano is what he is, a quarterback with a decently high ceiling and an unacceptably low floor. The peaks and valleys of his performances over the years are infuriating. But he’s a known quantity at this point. He’s not going to be reliable for an entire season. The fact that Tennessee has no one better is the ultimate indictment of where this program is at quarterback.

With Guarantano, as I said last week, Tennessee can beat anyone left on their schedule except Alabama and they can lose to anyone on their schedule except Vanderbilt. This is a 5-5, at best, football team, I think, with Guarantano.

If they go with a young quarterback, they could be worse on the final record, but better for the future. Personally, I’d like to see Harrison Bailey, the purported hotshot freshman, get some work after the Alabama game. (I think you probably have to stick with Guarantano for the Alabama game because a true freshman would get killed by Saban.)

As for Kentucky, they’ve got three games I’d consider winnable left — at Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. They’ve righted the ship after an 0-2 start and 5-5 feels like a decent (possible) outcome. But I’d be nervous about that game at Missouri and you have to look back at Auburn and Ole Miss and ask how you lost those games, stripping away any chance at a special season.

You’ve eliminated disaster, but landed squarely on mediocrity, which is where I think a bunch of SEC teams are going to find themselves this year.

6. What in the world is going on with Gus Malzahn and Auburn?

Without the benefit of two blown calls in their favor — the Bo Nix fumble that was ruled not a fumble against Arkansas and the Kentucky touchdown that was ruled not a touchdown — it’s possible Auburn would be 0-4 right now.

Bo Nix is not progressing at quarterback, the offense is a mess, and the Gus Bus has blown out four tires simultaneously.

What’s more, the defense, which had been a saving grace the past several years, is not here to protect this Auburn offense.

Right now Auburn is paying Gus Malzahn $7 million a year and getting vastly substandard results given that cost.

Early on there was the thought that no one would get fired in a covid season when SEC teams are playing ten conference games, but I’m not sure that’s true with Gus.

Although the buyout would be pretty monstrous, especially at a time when athletic departments are burning through cash at a rapid rate.

So I’m not sure Auburn can afford to fire Malzahn at the end of the year.

But if they did, who would they replace him with? Well, Hugh Freeze is 5-0 in year two at Liberty. Look out, there may be a Freeze warning in the SEC.

7. How about Arkansas?

If the correct call is made at the end of the Auburn game then the Razorbacks are 3-1.

That’s a phenomenal accomplishment.

Even without the correct call being made at the end of the Auburn game, how about Arkansas turning over Ole Miss SEVEN TIMES and stopping them at the goal line a couple of times as well?

Last week Ole Miss was a well-oiled offensive machine, this week they had an absolute cavalcade of self-inflicted errors.

But you have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Barry Odom’s defense for making this happen and putting new head coach Sam Pittman squarely in position to be the SEC coach of the year in year one with the Razorbacks.

Many people, including me, thought Arkansas would go 1-9 or 0-10 with this schedule. Now Tennessee, LSU and at Missouri certainly look like winnable games and 4-6 or 5-5 on the year seems eminently doable.

Well done, Razorbacks.

And really well done with this gif after the win as well.

8. Mack Brown can’t beat Florida State.

The Seminoles have been a disaster for the past several years, but even when things are disastrous they can still find a way to beat Mack Brown and North Carolina.

FSU nearly blew a 31-7 halftime lead, but they held on to knock UNC from the ranks of the unbeaten.

What in the world, by the way, was going on with the play calling for UNC on the final drive? Why so many runs?

Regardless, props to FSU for rising from the dead and getting a top ten win.

As for North Carolina, the Tar Heels have two ranked opponents left on their schedule, Notre Dame and Miami. If they were to win both of these games then they’d likely be in the ACC title game. (This is assuming Notre Dame doesn’t upset Clemson).

Props to the ACC, by the way, for doing away with divisional play this season and just taking the two best teams.

That will make the stretch run of the season particularly interesting.

9. What do we think about Notre Dame?

I’ll confess, I have no idea what to think of the Irish after their 12-7 win over Louisville.

There’s been the idea that Notre Dame and Clemson were destined to play twice this season, but I’m not sure I buy into that after watching Notre Dame play four games.

The Irish only have two top 25 teams on their schedule — Clemson and UNC — but the Notre Dame team we’ve seen so far doesn’t look capable of running with the Tigers.

I think that game against UNC might well end up being for the opportunity to get whipped by Clemson in the ACC title game.

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten

I only rank teams based on what we’ve seen so far on the field. So there are no Big Ten or Pac 12 teams ranked yet. As such, the pickings are getting slim

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Georgia
4. Texas A&M
5. Florida
6. Notre Dame
7. BYU
8. Oklahoma State
9. Miami
10. SMU

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

The middle part of these rankings are tough because of all the head-to-head crossover wins and losses in the middle part of the rankings.

So we’ll have to wait another couple of weeks to resolve all of this, honestly, but I’m giving my best go of it for now.

In the meantime, I think we’ve established a clear top four in the conference and a clear bottom four in the conference.

But the middle is week-to-week.

1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Texas A&M
4. Florida
5. Arkansas
6. Kentucky
7. Tennessee
8. South Carolina
9. Auburn
10. Ole Miss
11. Missouri
12. Mississippi State
13. LSU
14. Vanderbilt

Thanks for reading, I’m headed to Texans-Titans with my boys right now.

Hope y’all have great Sundays.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.

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