The hypothetical scenario has been rolling around Alabama fans’ brains for nearly a week now: If Ohio State beats Wisconsin on Saturday, will the College Football Playoff committee pick the Buckeyes or the Crimson Tide for the coveted No. 4 spot?
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says there’s a third team Crimson Tide supporters need to worry about.
That would be the USC Trojans, who have won four consecutive games and will take on No. 12 Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
If the committee is forced to decide between Alabama, Ohio State and USC, Herbstreit told SEC Country that the Tide probably will be out of luck. Nick Saban’s team needs another upset to get in, most likely in the Big 12 Championship Game between Oklahoma and TCU.
Herbstreit said the committee looks at specific factors when deciding between evenly matched teams: strength of schedule, common opponents, head-to-head, and conference championships.
“If everything is equal and they just can’t separate those three teams,” he said, “those are the four criteria that they use to be able to separate who should be where. That’s where Alabama would be at a disadvantage.”
Best days behind ‘Bama?
Of course, there’s enough mystery to the process that no one knows exactly what the committee would do in that situation. Last season, Ohio State was in Alabama’s shoes; the Buckeyes missed the Big Ten Championship Game but still found a way into the playoff field.
Herbstreit said Alabama can’t bank on a similar outcome.
“Where Ohio State had an advantage a year ago, even though they didn’t go to their conference championship game, is in the final rankings they had beaten three of the top 10 teams.
“With ‘Bama, not being able to win a conference championship — or going [to Atlanta] — they don’t have those three wins. If they had three wins against teams in the top 10, they could kind of hang their hat on that. But their best wins are LSU at 17, Mississippi State at 23 and Fresno at 25.
“So strength of schedule is not gonna help them. Common opponents, conference championships, none of that is going to help. Not to mention that their two last SEC games, the injuries have clearly started to mount up and affect them defensively. I think they played their best football in September and October when they were in a better position, health-wise.”
Critics can easily make a case against the Trojans, too. Southern Cal has only one win against a current Top 25 team (Stanford in Week 2) and lost to Notre Dame by five touchdowns in late October.
Does USC really have a shot at the playoff?
“If you just looked at the score [of the Notre Dame loss], you’d say, ‘Oh, USC’s terrible. Notre Dame’s not that good,’ ” Herbstreit said. “But if you really watched that game, USC was a team that was beat up. They were on the road. The game got away from ’em. I think Sam Darnold tried to do too many things.
“To their credit, since they lost that game, they’ve been a dominant football team. And now they’ve got an opportunity to beat Stanford, which has turned a corner and is playing really well. And if they beat them, I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk they’re in, but I also don’t think they should be left out of the discussion as the Pac-12 champion sitting there at 11-2.”
So, Alabama fans hoping for a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff appearance: You might need to root a little harder for Stanford and TCU than you thought.
“Between Ohio State, USC and Alabama,” Herbstreit said, “I think Alabama is going to lose that argument.”
Herbstreit’s interview was made possible by his work with Allstate and the “All Hands In” program. SEC fans in the Atlanta area are encouraged to help with a hands-on volunteer project at the Boys and Girls Club this week. Follow the hashtag #AllHandsIn for more information.
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