By Carey Phillips

 

Western Carolina will play its final game of the football season Saturday at Alabama.

The noon game will be televised by ESPN.

The Catamounts (3-8) find themselves in the middle of the national championship picture by playing the Crimson Tide (9-1).

Alabama is ranked fifth by the College Football Playoff Committee with the only loss 46-41 to top-ranked LSU. There has been much debate about Alabama’s chances of moving into the top four and earning a spot in the playoffs.

Tuesday’s updated rankings were not available at the Herald sports deadline.

The picture changed Saturday when All-American quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained a season-ending hip injury in a 38-7 win over Mississippi State.

He was replaced by sophomore Mac Jones, who also played earlier his season when Tagovailoa was sidelined with an ankle injury. Jones led the Tide to a 48-7 victory over Arkansas.

With Tagovailoa out, the committee figures to be looking intently at how Alabama performs against Western and in next week’s game against archrival Auburn.

Coach Nick Saban probably can’t afford to let off the gas Saturday. The Tide in general, and Jones in particular, will need to have a strong performance. While a rout is expected, Alabama probably needs to score at least in the 50s this week to show Jones is capable of playing at a national championship level.

In the four previous meetings between the teams, Alabama has scored between 48 and 52 points. The closest game was 48-14 in the last meeting five years ago.

Jones will be throwing to receivers Jerry Juedy and DeVonta Smith, among others. The Tide’s leading rusher is Majee Harris.

This will be the final game for Tyrie Adams, WCU’s record-setting quarterback.