The College Football Playoff did one thing for an exciting Iron Bowl: It made the winner less central to the national championship race for the first time in about eight years.
While the 55-44 Alabama victory was entertaining for fans, the final result really did not make a difference either way — at least, it’s reasonable to claim as much. Heading into kickoff, if Alabama won, the Crimson Tide still would have had a shot to be the top seed in the playoff, but a loss to Missouri in the SEC Championship Game would have been fatal. If they lost, they still stood a good chance to get in if not for the doomsday SEC scenario that already included a loss to Missouri.
With J.T. Barrett going down and in light of Ohio State’s play against the run, Wisconsin will be a tough matchup for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. This leaves Florida State, Oregon and the Big 12 participant in the playoff. Battling for the final spot would be Alabama and Wisconsin. Based on history, I think we all know who is getting in.
While the SEC went 0-4 against the ACC on Saturday and the two remaining heavyweights were in serious trouble (one of them losing), the Twitter meltdown from SEC Nation about a possible playoff shutout was a bit over the top and flat-out comical. The only way it would have happened is if Missouri had beaten the Tide.
As far as this Iron Bowl was concerned, the play of Blake Sims and the Alabama defense were enough to win, but not consistent enough to inspire complete confidence heading into next week against Missouri. Sims and Bama’s defense kept Auburn in front early and in the game for roughly 55 minutes. Three costly interceptions thrown by Sims led to a boatload of points for the Tigers. It would have been even more if Gus Malzahn did not channel his inner Les Miles before the half by failing to get his team to spike the ball to stop the clock following a first down at the Alabama 1.
While Sims made up for his turnovers in an impressive second-half comeback, there are still glaring issues with the senior quarterback in recent weeks, particularly away from Tuscaloosa. In fact, this is the first time an Alabama quarterback has thrown three interceptions in a game under Nick Saban.
After the turnovers, the defensive backs made Sammie Coates look like… well…Amari Cooper. Additionally, they made Nick Marshall look like Cam Newton. The Tide were not able to stop Auburn all night long, either in the air or on the ground. The only thing that kept the game close in the first quarter was the Tigers’ inability to get into the end zone and settling for field goals after having first-and-goal situations.
The defensive issues are nothing new for Alabama, as it allowed 428 total yards to Mississippi State in its previous SEC game, to go along with the 630 yards against Auburn. Sandwiched in between was a lackluster effort against Western Carolina in the annual SEC pre-Thanksgiving Southern Conference feast.
The play calling was another issue for Alabama in the contest. While Lane Kiffin is always going to be a lightning rod, there is absolutely no reason for T.J. Yeldon to have only 12 carries most of the way through the third quarter and 19 total for the game. It was no coincidence that when the Tide established the run in the fourth quarter, they pulled away.
While the Alabama defense is uncharacteristically bad at the end of this season, the offense looks substantially better at times, which is the main reason the Tide is winning games. Alabama has two running backs with over 700 yards, and Sims had a 20-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio entering Saturday. However, having a strong and tough defense is the reason Alabama has been such a dynasty over the past decade-plus. This is just a complete flip of roles in 2014.
While Alabama still has to be a favorite to appear in the playoff, it has some glaring issues that need to be corrected before it plays one of the other elites in the country. The Iron Bowl is always important for bragging rights. This year, that was really all that it was worth.
If the Crimson Tide don’t fix their problems and allow a mentally tough Missouri squad to stay close in the fourth quarter, Alabama — not a strong team away from home this season — could sweat out the playoff berth it hasn’t yet clinched by any means.