Jalen Hurts' Heroics Sets College Football Playoff Debate on Fire

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2018

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 01:  Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball as Walter Grant #84 of the Georgia Bulldogs pursues him in the fourth quarter during the 2018 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Call it redemption. Call it heroics. Either way, Jalen Hurts playing savior to assure the Alabama Crimson Tide of a spot in the College Football Playoff was a near-unconscionable moment.

Unceremoniously benched during last season's national championship, Hurts replaced an injured Tua Tagovailoa during the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game. Down 28-21, Hurts led a pair of touchdown drives to propel the Tide past the Georgia Bulldogs to win the SEC crown.

On the same field where he was benched. Against the same opponent that silenced him. With an entirely different result.

Hurts tossed the game-tying score to wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and later scampered 15 yards to paydirt for the decisive touchdown.

The heroics were a dramatic contrast to his performance against Georgia last time.

Hurts trudged to just three completions on eight attempts with only 21 yards during the first half back in January. His ineffectiveness as a passer led to Nick Saban turning to a freshman. Hurts then watched Tagovailoa guide a second-half comeback and throw a championship-winning score in overtime.

All offseason, Hurts heard nothing but praise for Tagovailoa. Rather than transferring, however, Hurts stuck around and served as the backup. Not only that, but he showed zero concern over burning his redshirt as the second-stringer this season.

Hurts' story of perseverance and dedication sparked a rare emotional moment from Saban after Saturday's win.

Without the junior quarterback, Alabama would've entered Selection Day with an uncertain future. While the Crimson Tide probably would've snatched a CFP berth, it wasn't a certainty.

Instead, Hurts created a beautiful disaster for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The 13-member panel knows a few things: Alabama is in. Notre Dame is in. Clemson will join with a triumph over Pitt in the ACC Championship Game. From there, the committee has three options—excluding 12-0 UCF, fair or not.

Oklahoma, which entered the week ranked No. 5, would theoretically be first in line to leap Georgia. The Sooners wrapped up their resume with a redemption-filled win over Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, improving to 12-1.

Despite a shoddy defense—especially in November—the Sooners rode superstar quarterback Kyler Murray all year long. And on Saturday, that maligned defense provided a crucial safety and game-ending interception to secure the conference crown.

For some, the triumph effectively sealed OU's spot in the playoff. After all, if Ohio State's dismantling of Michigan wasn't enough to vault the Buckeyes past the Sooners, why should a win against a decisively mediocre Northwestern team?

Throw in the Georgia loss, and case closed, right?

College football can never be so simple.

All throughout Championship Week, there was talk of the sixth-ranked Buckeyes needing major style points akin to their 2014 shutout of Wisconsin. That OSU team rolled to a 59-0 blowout and snatched the No. 4 CFP slot ahead of one-loss Big 12 schools Baylor and TCU.

Given that Northwestern owned the nation's fifth-lowest yards per snap entering Saturday, a lopsided result was possible. History could've repeat itself in Indianapolis. Even if it didn't and the Buckeyes won, a 12-1 Ohio State is still a 12-1 power-conference champion.

Hurts' dagger of a touchdown didn't crush Georgia's spirits, either. After the game, UGA coach Kirby Smart immediately began his campaign for the Dawgs to be included.

Beyond the obvious fact Smart will support his program—and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey the teams in his conference—the Dawgs at least have a reasonable argument. None of Alabama's previous 12 opponents had stayed within 21 points, and they took the Crimson Tide to the wire.

If the objective is to place the four best teams in the CFP, Smart's squad at worst merits a mention in the discussion. Although Hurts sprinted into the end zone, Georgia put up an extremely impressive effort opposite the top-ranked team in the country.

Even Saban said his SEC rival shouldn't fall far in the poll.

But a loss is a loss, right? And now, the Dawgs have two. They had their chance, says anyone expecting Oklahoma or Ohio State in the CFP—regardless of whether they have a rooting interest. Saturday was a College Football Playoff quarterfinal.

Unlikely though a CFP berth may be, Georgia offered that defense.

These conversations immediately overwhelmed social media, text messages, phone calls and living rooms. Instead of a Top Four with relatively little drama, Selection Day will feature real frustration and anger.

Only the selection committee can provide the irrevocable answer to the arguments. Until then, the debates will rage.

All thanks to Hurts, the unlikely hero in the same building against the same opponent that spawned his replacement, Tagovailoa, who was once that unlikely hero.

            

Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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