TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If the University of Alabama football team’s chances of making the College Football Playoff come down to strength of schedule, which in this case is largely beyond its control, it would have been better served opening the season against UCF than Florida State.
Think about that for a moment.
The same news outlets and personalities which were lauding the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta for maybe being the greatest opener in college football history, are now claiming the Crimson Tide haven’t played a tough enough schedule due to the Seminoles’ collapse without their starting quarterback.
Yet here we are, with No. 5 Alabama (11-1) sitting at home, waiting for the conference championships to be played and to see if it will be involved in the College Football Playoff.
Chances of that happening are probably about 50-50.
It’s zero if the teams in the top four spots of this week’s playoff rankings all win: 1. Clemson, 2 Auburn, 3. Oklahoma and 4. Wisconsin.
Specifically, two of the four semifinal spots will almost certainly go to the winners of the ACC and SEC championship games, Clemson vs. No. 7 Miami and Auburn vs. No. 6 Georgia. Oklahoma and Wisconsin can round out the field with wins, although Ohio State is favored to win the Big Ten title game.
Consequently, Alabama needs one one of the top four teams to lose and two to be certain.
Here’s how the process will work on Sunday, when then semifinals are announced. CFP committee members vote on the top six teams, separating them from the field. Each person then ranks them and the top three seeds are set based on the vote total. They then do it again, adding three teams at a time until they have 25.
The guidelines specifically state: When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered as a sort of tiebreaker:
- Championships won
- Strength of schedule
- Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
- Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
So if the committee votes in Alabama as one of the top four teams, and the vote isn’t particularly close, that’s it. Considering the Crimson Tide only dropped to No. 5 may indicate that it feels that way. But if the vote is close the tiebreakers are discussed, and that’s where the gray area comes in.
Here’s how the computers used as part of the BCS process have it heading into the weekend:
Billingsley : 1. Wisconsin, 2. Georgia, 3. Auburn, 4. Alabama
Colley : 1. Wisconsin, 2. Clemson, 3. UCF, 4. Georgia
Massey : 1. Wisconsin, 2. Clemson, 3. Georgia, 4. Alabama
Sagarin : 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Auburn, 4. Penn State
Wolf : 1. UCF, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Clemson, 4. Georgia
Anderson &Hester : 1. Wisconsin, 2. UCF, 3. Clemson, 4. Georgia
None of the computers have Alabama worse than fifth, so if it was up to them the Crimson Tide would be in position. ESPN’s Power Index also has Alabama at No. 1, ahead of Ohio State, Penn State and Clemson.
There are two important points of precedence:
- The CFP committee has never selected a two-loss team. Auburn could be the first after defeating two No. 1-ranked teams, but it still has to win the SEC Championship Game.
- Overall record is more important than a conference title or head-to-head win. That was established last year by, ironically, Ohio State. At 11-1 it was chosen over Penn State, which had defeated the Buckeyes and won the Big Ten title. However, the Nittany Lions were 11-2, with a narrow loss to Pitt and a blowout to Michigan — both after losing numerous linebackers to injuries.
Regardless, here’s how Alabama would compare to the other teams should a “tiebreaker” scenario occur. Strength of schedule is from USA Today’s Sagarin rankings and opposing records are against Division I opponents, and teams with two losses that don’t win a conference championship shouldn’t be able to leapfrog ahead.
- The Crimson Tide are 11-1 and not playing this weekend. It’s the only team that had another strong contender in the same division.
- SOS: 54. Record of opposing teams: 78-54.
- Loss: At then-No. 6, Auburn 26-14.
- X-factor: How much credit should Alabama get for defeating then No. 3-Florida State in the season opener, plus Fresno State is not ranked in the AP Top 25.
- With a win over Wisconsin, the Buckeyes would be 11-2 and Big Ten champions. They previously played three teams that were ranked at the time, defeating then-No. 2 Penn State 39-38 and No. 12 Michigan State 48-3. Both games were at home.
- SOS: 42. Record of opposing teams: 75-56
- Losses: Ohio State lost at home to then-No. 5 Oklahoma, 31-16, and was routed at Iowa, 55-24.
- X-factor: Ohio State was a controversial selection only to get crushed by Clemson last season, 31-0. The Big Ten has had a team in every playoff, but should the Buckeyes get the benefit of doubt for the third time in four years there might be some serious backlash — especially with the poor performance at Iowa.
- Should Clemson lose to Miami, the Tigers would be a longshot at 11-2. The reigning champions knocked off five ranked teams, four on the road — then No. 13 Auburn 14-6, at No. 14 Louisville 47-21, at No. 12 Virginia Tech 31-17, at North Carolina State 38-31 and No. 24 South Carolina.
- SOS: 11. Record of opposing teams: 76-52
- Loss: at Syracuse 27-24.
- X-factor: For some reason, the Tigers are getting a pass for the horrible loss at Syracuse because their quarterback was hurt. Alabama isn’t getting the same consideration for Florida State and Mississippi State quarterbacks getting hurt. However, the Syracuse game will be more glaring with a second loss.
- A loss would make the Sooners 11-2. They played three ranked opponents at the time, at No. 2 Ohio State 31-16, at Oklahoma State 62-52, and TCU 38-20.
- SOS: 36. Record of opposing teams: 68-64
- Losses: Iowa State, 38-31.
- X-factor: Quarterback Baker Mayfield is the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, but this is one of the few times there’s a head-to-head matchup that could come into play as Oklahoma won at Ohio State this season.
- At 10-2, the Horned Frogs need the conference championship and some help to get in. Its wins include at No. 6 Oklahoma State 44-31, and No. 23 West Virginia 31-24.
- SOS: 46. Record of opposing teams: 67-63
- Losses: at then-No. 25 Iowa State, 14-7, and 28-20 at No. 5 Oklahoma.
- X-factor: TCU has nothing to lose and will be facing the Sooners at a neutral site instead of at Oklahoma.
- The only undefeated team left in the mix still needs a win to get into the playoff. At 12-0, the Badgers’ biggest wins were against then-No. 20 Iowa 38-14 and No. 24 Michigan 24-10, both at home.
- SOS: 61. Record of opposing teams: 69-64
- Losses: None
- X-factor: Wisconsin can get a lot of respect with a win, but its three non-conference games were against Utah State FAU and BYU.
- At 10-2, the Trojans need to win the Pac-12 title plus something like every other title game to be an upset.
- SOS: 26. Record of opposing teams: 74-58
- Losses: at then-No. 16 Washington State 30-27, and at No. 13 Notre Dame 49-14.
- X-factor: Teams that lose 49-14 shouldn’t make the playoff, but the Trojans could have a nice opponent in the Fiesta Bowl.
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