Can the College Football Kings of Second Chances, Alabama, Get Another?
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The reaction was pretty much what one would expect.
When the College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled its second round of rankings and had Alabama at No. 5, it didn’t sit too well with a lot of people. It wasn’t so much where the Crimson Tide stood, although not being in the top four is never ideal, but with which team was at No. 4, Georgia.
“Alabama is Top 4, without reasonable argument,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas tweeted, while others openly wondered how Georgia could be ranked ahead of Alabama after losing to South Carolina, which the Crimson Tide soundly defeated.
On the flip side, others claimed favoritism. They claim the committee penalized Baylor and Clemson for not playing a stronger schedule, but not the Crimson Tide.
The answers from Rob Mullens, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair, were that the committee rewarded Georgia for having two wins against top-10 teams, and regarding Alabama: “We see a very, very, very good football team."
Thus, why it really doesn’t matter if Alabama is fourth or fifth right now with three games remaining in the regular season. If Georgia wins out it would have jumped past Alabama anyway. If it takes another loss and the Bulldogs fall back.
That there are different ways to determine the best four teams will always lead to debate and conjecture.
For example, consider for a moment if Alabama was to play any of the other playoff contenders. Which team would be favored?
It’s not always about the strength of schedule.
Last year, Georgia may have been better than Oklahoma, but the Sooners got in after winning their conference championship. OU was perceived to be the more deserving team and then made a quick exit from the Orange Bowl semifinal.
That’s an oversimplification, yet one trend that seems to be developing is the committee trying to give teams their due, or chance to make the decision for it.
Recently, the Big Ten has been complaining about being occasionally shut out of the playoff, only to see Ohio State at No. 1 last week. The Buckeyes were deserving, but came with the added bonus of quieting some of those critics.
It was obvious the winner of Alabama-LSU would move up to No. 1, only now Georgia is getting its chance. All it has to do is win out. Otherwise, they had their shot.
Consequently, Alabama is still in a pretty good position to make the playoff and in familiar territory. Since Nick Saban arrived in 2007, the Crimson Tide has been the king of second chances as only one of its five titles under the coach featured an undefeated team.
The last time Alabama was ranked No. 5 by the selection committee was 2017 following the 26-14 loss at No. 6 Auburn. After moving to No. 2, Auburn lost to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and No. 4 Wisconsin came up short in the Big Ten title game to No. 8 Ohio State. Alabama made the playoff at No. 4 and went on to win the title.
In 2015, Crimson Tide was No. 4 in the initial CFP rankings. The two immediate teams ahead of it ended up losing before the end of the regular season, including Alabama taking care of No. 2 LSU. As the No. 2 seed it knocked off Clemson for the title.
The biggest second chance of all, of course, was in 2011, the title game that many believe killed the BCS.
After Alabama lost the No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular-season showdown against LSU, 9-6 in overtime the Crimson Tide only dropped to No. 3 in the BCS standings but still needed some late-season help. No. 2 Oklahoma State was 10-0 and cruising along when it tripped at Iowa State, 37-31 in double overtime.
Alabama was back in the BCS title game and despite not playing for its own conference championship won the rematch in New Orleans, 21-0.
A year later, No. 1 Alabama was 9-0 when it lost the Johnny Manziel game to Texas A&M, 29-24. People forget that it was played on No. 10, and the Crimson Tide was playing its third ranked opponent in as many weeks.
It dropped to No. 4 and needed two of the three teams ahead of it — 1. Kansas State, 2. Oregon and 3. Notre Dame — to lose over the final two weeks or in a conference championship.
Just seven days later everything fell into place. The Wildcats lost at Baylor, 52-34, and Stanford upset Oregon, 17-14 in overtime.
Alabama went on to crush Notre Dame in the title game, 42-14.
As for what Crimson Tide fans should hope for in order to make the four-team playoff, that’s a little easier to define. There are three certainties:
1] Alabama has to win out, beginning with Saturday's game at Mississippi State (11 a.m. ESPN). Another loss and the Crimson Tide fans can start thinking about the Sugar Bowl, maybe to face Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma.
2] Alabama absolutely needs Georgia to lose another game, which not only seems possible but likely. The Bulldogs are at Auburn on Saturday, followed by games against Texas A&M and at Georgia Tech, and an almost certain meeting with No. 1 LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
If Georgia can pull that off, Alabama fans should tip their hats and say good luck. The chances of the committee taking three SEC teams are slim.
3] Otherwise, the more chaos the better, beginning with the three teams that appear close to being considered locks for the semifinals:
• LSU (9-0): at Ole Miss, Arkansas, vs. Texas A&M (SEC Championship Game)
• Ohio State (9-0): Rutgers, No. 9 Penn State, at No. 15 Michigan (Big Ten Championship)
• Clemson (10-0): Wake Forest, at South Carolina, vs. TBD in ACC Championship.
Then there's No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 Utah, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 13 Baylor and No. 9 Penn State if it can win at Ohio State in two weeks.
• Oregon (8-1): Arizona, at Arizona State, Oregon State.
• Minnesota (9-0): at No. 20 Iowa, at Northwestern, No. 14 Wisconsin
• Oklahoma (8-1): at No. 13 Baylor, TCU, at No. 22 Oklahoma State
• Utah (8-1): UCLA, at Arizona, Colorado
• Baylor (9-0): No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 19 Texas, at Kansas
• Penn State (8-1): Indiana, at No. 2 Ohio State, Rutgers
Oregon is closest in the rankings, although the Ducks lost to Auburn in their season opener. The only other ranked opponent it faced was then-No. 25 Washington, and barely won 35-31.
Utah’s only loss was to USC. It too has faced just one ranked opponent.
Regardless, the Crimson Tide was disappointed to be placed at No. 5.
No one knows exactly what to expect with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hobbled and the defense a work in progress with four true freshmen starting in the front seven.
But if we’ve learned anything about Alabama’s title chases under Saban it’s that his teams are more dangerous when not No. 1, and get that second chance.