The national championship race got a lot more interesting in the second quarter of the Alabama-Tennessee game last Saturday.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa has one of the best arms ever bestowed upon a human, but his ankles are straight out of the Family Dollar Store bargain bin. The Alabama superstar suffered an ugly, ugly rolled ankle against Tennessee which Nick Saban said is a “high ankle sprain” and he’ll probably be back “in a week or two” though he admitted he really didn’t know what the hell he was talking about when he elaborated. It was the same time last year, the seventh game, when Tua suffered a high ankle sprain against Missouri, another SEC team that didn’t have a prayer. He was never the same after that.

Last year, it was his left ankle, this year it’s his right. I don’t know if that makes any difference. Last year, he was able to play with diminished speed, mobility and passing accuracy until Georgia got him good in the SEC Championship Game, which paved the way for substitute Jalen Hurts to come in and save the day. Once again, an injury to Tua affords him great opportunity, this time to win the Heisman Trophy with his chief rival riding the bicycle on the sidelines.

The grim fact is, even a mild high-ankle sprain requires about six weeks to get completely well. A moderate injury takes six-to-12 weeks. A severe one requires surgery, like Tua got last December after the Georgia game, and he said himself that he didn’t feel well until May and gained 18 pounds from lack of activity, which would be a lot even for me. He’s Samoan-American, both of which are good at gaining weight.

So, Alabama lost its best defensive player and kicker – yes, kicker – to injury and now its best offensive player is in trouble for the foreseeable future. The good news is, the offensive line has looked competent since “Cornbread,” offensive guard Deonte Brown, returned after an unexplained suspension two weeks ago. Incidentally, he’s called Cornbread because he used to weigh 400 pounds and now tips the scales at a scant 320. These Bama boys can eat.

The running game is improving. Najee Harris is future NFL and Brian Robinson is close. They’ll be getting the ball more.

The defense will have to change the mind-frame of “hold them to 35 and we’ll win.”

Is Alabama still the SEC’s best team if Tua can’t return? Probably not.