From the Rivals corner: Inside Alabama's Tua trauma, Minnesota's rise and more

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Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. This week, we look at the possibility of life without Tua Tagovailoa for the Crimson Tide, check in on Minnesota’s surprise undefeated season and analyze whether Penn State’s win over Michigan shows they have what it takes to beat Ohio State.

Tua goes down again?

After looking nearly invincible for most of 2018, an ankle injury slowed Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa late in the year and played a role in the Tide’s blowout loss to Clemson in the National Championship Game. After rehabbing until May to get back on track, Tagovailoa came into 2019 healthy and was again putting up monster numbers. But in Saturday’s win over Tennessee, he suffered another ankle injury and will miss at least this weekend’s game against Arkansas. The Tide have a bye the following week before facing off with LSU on Nov. 9. If Tagovailoa isn’t ready to go will the Tide stand a chance?

We asked’s Tony Tsoukalas to weigh in on just how big of an impact Tagovailoa’s injury might have on the rest of the season.

“Alabama issued a release Sunday morning stating Tua Tagovailoa had a successful tight-rope procedure on his right ankle. The starting quarterback had the same surgery on his left ankle last year after injuring it during last season’s SEC championship game.

“Tagovailoa was able to return from last year’s injury in time for the Orange Bowl 29 days later as he completed 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns during a 45-34 victory over Oklahoma. The left-hander will have just 21 days to recover in time for No. 1 Alabama’s meeting against No. 2 LSU on Nov. 9.

“Saturday night we saw Alabama struggle against Tennessee once Tagovailoa left the game due to injury. If the starter is not at 100 percent against LSU, it could give the Tigers the edge in the marquee matchup.”

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) before the start of an NCAA football game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (USAT)
Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) before the start of an NCAA football game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (USAT)

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‘Row the Boat’ to the Big Ten title?

During P.J. Fleck’s last season at Western Michigan, he led the Broncos to an undefeated record and national acclaim all while championing the catchphrase “Row the Boat.” After taking a couple of years to rebuild the Minnesota program, it appears the boat is once again headed in the right direction as the Gophers are 7-0 on the season and in control of their own destiny in the Big 10 West following Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois on Saturday. So is it realistic to think about the Gophers in the Big 10 title game? And can they keep the undefeated season alive down a difficult stretch run?

We asked’s Matt Jessen-Howard to discuss Minnesota’s surprising start and how the Gophers can maintain it.

“The Gophers started with a few less-than-pretty wins over non-Power Five opponents, but the past three weeks have looked like a true top-20 team. Their continued success has been aided by winning at the line of scrimmage — offensive and defensive line play were inconsistent at the start of the season but have turned into strengths. With Minnesota leading the Big Ten West standings and Wisconsin playing at Ohio State this week, the Gophers are in the driver's seat of the division. Minnesota has improved as the season's gone by, and they'll need to keep playing well to win the West with three top-20 opponents left on the schedule.”

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Can Penn State get over the hump?

After surviving a late scare from Michigan, Penn State is on a collision course with Ohio State in the Big 10 East and the Nittany Lions appear to be the biggest bump in the road for the Buckeyes the rest of the way. But can Penn State stay undefeated until their November showdown with the Buckeyes?

We asked’s Nate Bauer to give his thoughts on where Penn State goes from here.

“In using a schedule that went from easy to progressively harder — with the toughest test left at Ohio State the weekend before Thanksgiving — Penn State has steadily developed and passed each test along the way this season, including Saturday night’s 28-21 win against the Wolverines. Michigan State has been a boogeyman the past two seasons, so this one in East Lansing won’t be a breeze, and it’ll be followed with a welcomed bye. But the formula to Penn State’s success is now clear: How many teams left on the schedule can hold this explosive offense to fewer than 21 points? How many are capable of posting more than that against this Penn State defense? Barring performances atypical of what they’ve shown thus far, the Buckeyes represent the only legitimate answer to those two questions.”


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