Alabama vs. LSU. An SEC rivalry unlike any other. All eyes will be in Tuscaloosa for the the battle between two of the most successful SEC programs in recent memory as they take on each other during Saturday's contest. There are plenty of individual battles that everyone will have an eye on, but none bigger than the quarterbacks who will be under-center.
Tua Tagavailoa and Joe Burrow won't be facing off against one another on the field, but there's now an imaginary fight to claim the title as the top signal caller amongst NFL draft boards.
Tagovailoa was seen as a top flight prospect coming into the season and he has done nothing to debunk those thoughts as he's putting together another phenomenal season. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we are witnessing something that's been nearly unprecedented for just over a decade.
LSU has a quarterback prospect who some view as the best in the country. Many (myself included) had Burrow labeled as a mid-round prospect coming into the year, but he's made strides during his senior season that we haven't ever seen before from any quarterback in recent memory.
Already claiming the LSU single season touchdown record that was previously held by Jamarcus Russell (2006) and Matt Mauck (2003), Burrow followed up a red-hot start to the season with an even better performance midway through the season. Now at the back stretch of the year, he enters his toughest test against the Tide, but while most of the focus remains on the QB battle, what if it never comes to fruition?
During a victory against Tennessee, Tagovailoa suffered an ankle injury that would later result in surgery. Now with surgeries in consecutive seasons on both ankles, the durability concerns are beginning to rear their heads. There's no denying the traits and what he's shown to this point, but the constant ankle issues are notable.
That leaves me to ask, what if Tua were to pull a Nick Bosa move and sit out for the rest of the season to declare early for the 2020 NFL Draft?
It's a possibility that remains a hypothetical and all signs point to Tagovailoa playing in the showdown on Saturday, but there are positives and negatives to examine on both sides. To recap the Bosa situation from a season ago, he suffered a core muscle injury following the fourth game of the year.
After the injury, he felt as that it was best if he remain sidelined the rest of the year and declare early for the 2019 NFL Draft because of not wanting to further risk the injury, knowing that he was projected to be one of the first names selected. Fast forward a calendar year and here we are in a similar, but less severe dilemma.
We are still yet to get confirmation on exactly what the plan is for Tua, but all signs point to him playing in this game. There are multiple reports stating that he has split first-team reps during the bye week and that will remain the same all the way leading up to Saturday's showdown. We most likely won't get a clear indication for his status, but it would be naive to think that he won't play in this game, but is it the right decision?
That is to be decided and one that we won't know until the conclusion of the game. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but revisionist history will be at an all-time high following this game. On one hand, Tagovailoa would be torn to shreds if he opted not to play in this game due to the magnitude behind it -- but also if he plays and performs poorly, the mantra that he fails to show up against upper echelon defenses will remain somewhat valid.
If Tua shakes off the injury questions and finds a way to play well in this game, he will position himself to be in the early poll position to become the top overall selection. Regardless, there are plenty of positives and negatives for both sides of the equation.