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Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is taken down by LSU safety Grant Delpit (9) and LSU outside linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. (45) in the first quarter, Saturday, November 3, 2018, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Alabama's star quarterback is upbeat and optimistic as his team's clash with LSU nears, but his status for Saturday could be best described as murky. 

Tua Tagovailoa hasn't played since injuring his ankle nearly three weeks ago in a matchup with Tennessee but he's made strides in his return to practice, Alabama coach Nick Saban said in an interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi.

But implications for Tagovailoa's health long-term could be a major factor in whether he takes the field this weekend or backup Mac Jones makes his second consecutive start. 

"What I’ve been trying to focus on is making sure we get both guys ready to play as best we can," Saban said. "Because we really and truly don’t know and I’m not going to put Tua in a situation that could be detrimental to him or his future relative to his physical circumstance.”

Tagovailoa was seen working and running at practice this week without many limitations. The 21-year-old had the same "tightrope" surgery on the ankle that he had last season after an injury to the opposite ankle. 

Despite the repeated ankle injuries, Saban described his quarterback as "the most positive guy in the world," and added that knowing what to expect this time around has helped to take a lot of the guesswork out of his recovery timetable. 

“He’s doing well. He’s been able to operate, I think, a little better because this is not his [left] leg, his left foot is what he’s always pushing off of as a left-hander," Saban said. "I think that’s made it a little easier for him to develop some confidence. His mobility will be the big question, and every day that’s improved dramatically. So we’ll just see where it takes us.”

As far as LSU is concerned, though, they know the starting quarterback they expect to see. 

"No doubt, we're preparing for him to play, and I think that he will play," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday, "Knowing the competitor that he is, he's going to be in that game."

The Crimson Tide is unbeaten heading into the game, but they've dropped in the polls with very few high-caliber wins on their resume to date. Other than Southern Mississippi (5-3) and Texas A&M (6-3), no other team team on Alabama's schedule has won more than four games this season. The combined record of their opponents is 28-41. 

LSU's eight opponents have combined for a record of 35-31, including wins over Texas, Florida and Auburn, all of which were ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll at the time of the games. 

Those factors combined to help LSU leapfrog Alabama to No. 1 in the rankings, with the Crimson Tide dropping to No. 2, and reigning champion Clemson dropping to No. 3. In the first College Football Playoff rankings released this week, Ohio State beat out both SEC schools for No. 1, with LSU and Alabama following at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. 


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Saban said in his interview that he wasn't aware of where his team landed in the rankings, but that it didn't really matter as he readied his team for their first 1-2 clash with LSU since the 2011 season. The Tigers won that game, billed as "the Game of the Century," 9-6 before losing the rematch in the BCS National Championship game. 

"It’s really not going to matter. It doesn’t matter if you don’t keep winning. So why worry about it?" Saban said. "I mean, it’s not where you are right now, it’s where you end up that’s most important. So it doesn’t really matter right now, because if you’re first and you lose, you’re not going to be first for long.”

Email Jeff Nowak at jnowak@theadvocate.com

Twitter: @Jeff_Nowak