Tua Tagovailoa injured, this will change the Game, Know here…

It was probably like that in a lot of places. Your local team’s fortunes. And Tua Tagovailoa terrible misfortune.

And Tua Tagovailoa.

Deep in the heart of Texas, the conversations early Sunday morning in a hotel lobby were dominated by two topics: The radical twists and turns of Oklahoma 34, Baylor 31.

The dislocated hip suffered by Alabama’s quarterback rattled throughout college football, overshadowing a Saturday that had some important developments that didn’t seem so important. After leading a wild comeback, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts expressed sadness about his friend’s injury, saying:

“It hurt me to hear it. A great friend of mine. I’m praying for him and his family. I hope everything works out for him and his family.”

So do we all.

There wasn’t much change to the Football Four – and very possibly, Tua Tagovailoa ’s loss didn’t alter Alabama’s eventual fate – but it feels like something very significant changed, and for the worse.

Elsewhere, LSU won big but gave up big numbers. Ohio State won against Rutgers in a rout, starters getting plenty of R&R once again, and when someone asked running back J.K. Dobbins whether he was ready for “four-quarter games” against Penn State and Michigan, he countered: “Why does it have to be a four-quarter game?”

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Good question.

What else? Georgia produced its most impressive win of the season. Oregon crushed Arizona. Oklahoma, as noted earlier, rallied from a 25-point deficit against a very good opponent. Utah won big.

And so on. The contenders continued to win, and the Football Four bracket didn’t change all that much – but everything feels sadly different.

As always, remember we pick the bracket as if the season was over today.

Football Four

1. LSU – The Tigers weren’t really ever in danger of losing at Ole Miss, but … well, hey, Ole Miss piled up 614 yards. Six. Hundred. Fourteen. Sure, call it a letdown if you must. After beating Alabama, that was to be expected. But consider it a concern, too. As powerful as that offense has been all season, the defense has been routinely porous. 

2. Ohio State – Another week, another rout – not that anyone (and by anyone, we mean anyone) expected anything different against Rutgers. But now comes a test from Penn State, followed immediately thereafter by that annual little affair with Michigan. 

3. Clemson – Finally, it appears college football nation has caught on to the fact that these Tigers are not just slipping past opponents. They’re shredding them. The next talking point from detractors is that it’s hard to know what to make of it, considering the ACC’s cushiony softness. OK, then. Whatever makes you feel better.

4. Georgia – That loss to South Carolina ain’t getting any better – but what matters more: The Bulldogs are stacking up some impressive wins. A 21-14 win at Auburn gives ‘em three over very, very good opponents. Still, Georgia’s playoff path to the playoff includes winning the SEC championship, or else.

Four More**

5. Oregon – Last week we had the Ducks at No. 4. (We know, we take a clean sheet of paper into these meetings each time, as though we hadn’t done the Football Four a week earlier – but we did rank ‘em last week, and you know it and we know it.) They blew out Arizona, holding the Wildcats without a touchdown. Nothing wrong with holding at No. 5

6. Oklahoma – Who are these Sooners? It depends on which half you watched. In the first half, they fell behind Baylor by 25 points. They trailed at halftime by three TDs. Oh, and then they roared to a road victory over a previously unbeaten team with a dominant second half. Whatever Oklahoma is, it’s still in the thick of the Football Four chase.

7. Utah – The Utes are the best team no one is talking about. Blowing out UCLA won’t exactly produce a ton of style points, and there’s only one real opportunity to grab everybody’s attention: The Pac-12 championship matchup with Oregon. But starting with the defensive front, Utah is really, really good.

8. Alabama – The Crimson Tide won but lost Tua Tagovailoa. The horrific injury to a transcendent quarterback is obviously more important than the Football Four, but as it relates to the Tide’s already iffy chances of getting into the four-team bracket – well, they’re lessened. Sure, we’re going to hear comparisons to Ohio State, back in 2014, with Cardale Jones. But even if Mac Jones, who’ll take over for Tua Tagovailoa, is spectacular, there’s a fairly large difference: Those Buckeyes won the Big Ten. Even if Alabama beats Auburn to finish 11-1, it is unlikely to have much of a shot in comparisons with conference champions.

A Few More After That***

Minnesota – The unbeaten season crashed in Iowa, and it’s very possible the Gophers were flat after that huuuuuge win a week earlier against Penn State. They rallied from a 20-3 deficit but couldn’t quite get it done.

Penn State – The Nittany Lions found a way past pesky (and good, y’all) Indiana. But now comes a trip to Columbus and a tilt with the Buckeyes.

Baylor – Up 28-3 in the second quarter and 31-10 at halftime against Oklahoma, the Bears were poised to go 10-0 – and then, well, see No. 6 Oklahoma, above. Baylor is still in a position to reach the Big 12 championship game and a probable rematch with those Sooners.

Florida – The Gators aren’t in the Football Four picture, but they aren’t bad at all. If they can beat Florida State – they should, but you know, rivalry games and all –  they’re headed for a New Year’s Six Bowl.

Futile Four****

Texas – Not long after the Longhorns’ 23-21 loss at Iowa State, longtime Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls tweeted: “Something is broken at Texas.” Whether that’s true or not, who knows – but clearly, all is not right. The ‘Horns are 6-4. Instead of the breakthrough, many expected in Year 3 under Tom Herman, Texas is closer to a breakdown.

Auburn – This game is fun to play, and yet frustrating, too: Where would Auburn sit in the ______ Conference? These Tigers are really, really good – or at least, their defense is. But nearly coming all the way back from a 21-0 deficit against Georgia, at home … sigh. None of the Tigers’ losses are bad – except that at Auburn, they’re all bad losses.

Arizona – For much of the season, Arizona’s biggest problem was a defense. That’s still an issue – but here’s another: At Oregon, the Wildcats went without a touchdown. Kevin Sumlin juggled quarterbacks Grant Gunnell and Khalil Tate; neither was effective. It was their sixth loss, and with Utah looming a bowl game seems unlikely.

Michigan State – Late in a rout, Michigan tacked on a gratuitous touchdown pass just to drive home its point. But the larger point in a 44-10 home loss to their rivals was just how far the Spartans have sunk into mediocrity. Given the remaining schedule (Maryland and Rutgers), it’s certainly possible the Spartans get to a bowl. But it seems increasingly likely the program is headed for major change.

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