Alabama football: The national media mostly wrote off the tide

Happy Friday everyone. Bye weeks are never fun for fans, but the team needed it more this year than any in recent memory. Hopefully they are healed and ready to close strong.

Exactly none of the major publications are picking Alabama to make the playoffs right now.

USA TODAY: Sugar Bowl vs. TCU (December 31)

247Sports: Sugarcane vs. TCU

Sports news: Sugarcane vs. TCU

Message from the stands: Sugarcane vs. TCU

It seems like exactly the kind of rat poison Saban is after.

A pair of rookies have made an impact this season.

Pleasant surprise: Tyler Booker

The freshman was able to split time with two experienced guards in a squad system rarely seen on the offensive line, where the need for chemistry and continuity usually precludes rotation. His 86.7 pass-blocking grade from PFF is the best of any UA guard and ranks 15th among 577 guards nationally.

Best Rookie: Jaheim Oatis

On early downs, Alabama’s freshman defensive lineman was a force against interior attacks. He missed Alabama’s win over Mississippi State, but still has 20 tackles and has been as effective as any UA freshman, true or redshirt.

After a bad game in Knoxville, Demarcco Hellams says he drew a line in the sand.

“It’s all about finishing,” linebacker DeMarcco Hellams said. “It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says.” For us, the score is always 0-0, so anytime someone gets into the end zone, it’s always something we don’t want to allow. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last play of the game, we always want to keep the opponent out of the end zone.”

Although the offenses the Tide faced in Weeks 7 and 8 were different, the difference was the mentality of Alabama’s defense after the disappointing result in Knoxville.

“At some point, enough has to be enough,” Hellams said. “We all took that mindset together as a defense and said we can’t let things keep compiling and at some point when bad plays happen we have to say, ‘OK, that’s enough.’ No more bad plays, no more penalties and just playing more consistently as a defense and as a team.”

If the entire team has that mentality, then you like their chances to bounce back and win the SEC. Of course, talk is cheap. We’ll find out over the next few weeks.

Hendon Hooker is ESPN’s most impressive college football transfer.

It’s hard to argue that any transfer has had a bigger impact on their team than Hooker did with Tennessee. Hooker transferred from Virginia Tech prior to the 2021 season as Joe Milton III’s backup. He filled in for an injured Milton in the second game of last season and finished with 2,945 yards, 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, entering this season as the Vols’ QB1.

Now, Hooker has taken the Vols to new heights, leading them to a 7-0 record and a College Football Playoff berth, beating Alabama, LSU and Florida. In those three games, Hooker threw for 973 yards and nine touchdowns, while also rushing for 224 more.

“[Hooker] played at an unbelievable level,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said after the Vols upset then-No. 3 Alabama 52-49 Oct. 15. “It’s the key to our ignition.”

We dare say that 24 12 year old Hooker played like a boy among boys? He is now No. 5 on ESPN’s QB draft board. Fellow NFL recruit Tua Tagovailoa will enter the league in his fourth season.

Finally, Tennessee, which is near the top of the college football heap, is part of a sickening, gut-wrenching trend.

Clemson has the second-best chance of any team to make the playoffs, according to our model.3 Tennessee is 7-0 for the first time since Tee Martin led the Vols to the national championship in 1998. Illinois sits atop the Big Ten West and is off to its best start since 1953. Syracuse, a team literally named for its color, has had its best start since 1987 before losing a tight end on the road at Clemson. Oklahoma State recently set a school record with its 13th straight home win and has a 15 percent chance to represent the Big 12 in the playoffs according to our model. Oregon State is getting votes and is already bowl eligible, a feat it has accomplished just once since 2014. Bowling Green State already has its best season win streak since 2016. The UTSA Roadrunners proved last year’s 12-win campaign was no fluke and currently leads the Conference USA standings. Even Texas’ seeming inability to win one-goal games under coach Steve Sarkisian can savor its series-best 49-point victory over archrival Oklahoma.4

Grapes. Just ugly.

That’s about it for today. Enjoy the weekend.

Roll Tide.

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