The decision by Alabama running back Najee Harris in January to return for his senior season is even more appreciated in November.
Harris leads the Southeastern Conference with 714 rushing yards and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry for the 6-0 and top-ranked Crimson Tide, but he has stayed healthy during a stretch when his fellow running backs haven't. Senior backup Brian Robinson Jr. has been nicked up and limited in recent weeks, while redshirt freshman Trey Sanders is out indefinitely due to an automobile accident this past Friday.
Sanders, the No. 1 running back nationally in the 2019 signing class, missed all of last season due to a significant foot injury in August camp.
"I hope that he has a speedy recovery," Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones said Monday afternoon on a Zoom call. "He was really showing a lot this season, and he's a great guy, so I wish him well. He's shown that he can bounce back from injury before, and I think he'll do that again.
"Not having him will hurt us, but we've got to figure it out. It's another challenge for us."
Sanders rushed 30 times for 134 yards (4.5 yards per carry) this season and was getting more opportunities with Robinson not at full strength. In the 48-17 win at Tennessee on Oct. 24, Sanders rushed seven times for 39 yards, and he followed that up with a 12-carry, 80-yard showing in the 41-0 win over Mississippi State.
The 6-foot, 214-pounder from Port Saint Joe in the Florida panhandle played at IMG Academy in Bradenton before arriving in Tuscaloosa. Specific injuries from his wreck have not been revealed by the university.
"He underwent successful surgery," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Our doctors and medical staff - we've got him at UAB - have been on top of this, and we expect him to have a full recovery. There is no real timetable, but he is going to be OK.
"It was pretty serious stuff."
Saban said that Robinson is fine for this week's trip to LSU and that there will be more potential opportunities for freshmen Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, both in the backfield and on special teams. Of course, the bottom line is that Harris continues to be as healthy and as effective as ever.
"Obviously Najee does what Najee does, and it's really exciting to get a chance to play with him for his senior year," Jones said. "He's showing why he's one of the best running backs in the county. He works really hard, and it shows on the field."
Game in jeopardy?
The SEC announced Monday that Auburn's home game Saturday against Mississippi State was being postponed due to a spike in COVID cases among Bulldogs players, and the Alabama-LSU game may not be played, either.
Multiple media outlets have reported that freshman TJ Finley is LSU's only available scholarship quarterback right now and that the Tigers have no tight ends or long snappers currently available, either.
At the top again
Clemson's upset loss at Notre Dame on Saturday night has resulted in Alabama claiming the No. 1 ranking for a 13th consecutive season, not that Saban is throwing a party.
"It means nothing at all right now, and especially in this year," Saban said. "It's very, very difficult, even at this point of the season, to know who has really established themselves as the most dangerous teams in the country on a consistent basis. We have conferences that have played one game, conferences that have played three games, and there are conferences that have played more games than we've played.
"So I think that's even more meaningless this year than ever before."
Leaving the bubble
Alabama's lone open date of the season this past weekend was not taken lightly at all.
"Our players had been here for a long time and had been working for a long time," Saban said. "I didn't really want them to go anywhere and leave our bubble, but I didn't have the heart to tell them that they couldn't go home and see their family. The one place our players were allowed to go was home, and that was it.
"If they weren't going home, then they needed to stay here and be in their bubble."
Crimson Tide coaches met with every player who left and gave them a packet of sanitary items, and they also set up video conferences with each family they were visiting. Jones said his trip to Jacksonville was quite guarded.
"I went home to my family, and we just kind of spread out," he said. "I didn't hug anybody or do anything like that, so it was a little weird. You're eating at a different table. It's kind of like you're at the kids' table.
"I just sat on the couch and watched football."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.