We have spent most of the season assuming that, at some point, we would see Alabama meet Clemson in the College Football Playoff for the fifth season in a row. Now that Bama lost to LSU and is unlikely to win the SEC, there is a good chance the streaks of meetings with Clemson and overall playoff appearances will come to an end.
It is not over yet, though. Alabama might still have a chance to advance into the four-team field without winning the SEC. It is safe to assume that is the only hope as LSU is not going to lose twice to open the door for Bama to get back into the SEC title hunt. (The Tigers’ remaining games are against 6-3 Texas A&M, 4-6 Ole Miss and 2-8 Arkansas.)
So, let’s look at the more realistic paths Alabama might have to the playoff.
LSU wins out: It actually starts with LSU finishing 13-0 and winning the SEC. That knocks out Georgia as a two-loss team. If both the Bulldogs and Tigers finish 12-1 and Georgia is the SEC champion, Alabama is no better than the third-best team in the SEC. It would take an unrealistic amount of chaos to get three SEC teams in the playoff.
Alabama’s problem is that its schedule strength is relatively poor. If the Tide finish 11-1, their best win and only win of consequence will be Auburn, which could be 8-4 after the Iron Bowl. Obviously, they would have a “good loss” to LSU, but if that is the best thing the CFP Selection Committee can say about you, you don’t have much.
Clemson loses: One thing that would help Alabama would be for Clemson to lose a game. Any game. The Tigers’ schedule is so bad that, even at 13-0, they might not have a win over a team in the final CFP Rankings on Dec. 8. They need to be undefeated to make the playoff. I think we would all be shocked if that happens, though.
So, if Clemson is not going to lose, the reigning national champion is in the four-team field. The SEC champion and Big Ten champion will also be in.
Therefore, let’s look at the competition for Alabama for a potential fourth spot. Note that almost all of these teams would be conference champions in this scenario, which does mean something to the committee. It’s not everything, but it’s also not nothing.
Baylor: Alabama needs Baylor to lose to someone. 13-0 Baylor is a playoff team. 12-1 Baylor could be a problem, too, because it would have two wins over Oklahoma (one in the Big 12 title game). Alabama may get the edge because of how it has dominated the games it’s have won. The Bears have had a few close calls, including a triple-overtime win over TCU on Saturday.
Oklahoma: The Sooners already have a loss at Kansas State, so for them to make the playoff, they need to run the table. A 12-1 Oklahoma would have wins over Texas and Baylor, likely twice (the second in the Big 12 title game). Oklahoma has also been relatively dominant over its schedule, save for Saturday’s slim victory over Iowa State. I do not think Alabama gets selected over Oklahoma at 12-1, so the Tide need help here.
Oregon: If the Ducks win out and finish 12-1, they will be an interesting team to compare to Alabama. Their schedule would be OK. Oregon would have a win over Utah and its only loss would be to Auburn in the last minute on a neutral field early in the season. One thing working for Alabama in this case is that the Tide would have a win over those same Tigers. Still, I would only give Alabama no better than a 50-50 shot of being selected ahead of Oregon. If Oregon gets someone besides Utah as its opponent in the Pac-12 Championship Game, that would help Alabama. Also, taking another loss would eliminate the Ducks.
Utah: Same as Oregon except for having a good nonconference opponent. The Utes best nonconference opponent was BYU. 12-1 Utah would have defeated Oregon, though. That might be enough to carry it past Alabama.
So, can Alabama get in the playoff? Yes, but it’s a long shot.
Alabama needs to win out and root for LSU and Ohio State do the same. Then it needs to see two of Clemson, the eventual Big 12 champion or the eventual Pac-12 champion take a loss to open the door.