Saturday was full of small miseries for Alabama football fans, the sort of frustrations inevitably suffered when you lost control of your own future and must rely, like Blanche DuBois, on the kindness of strangers.
TCU was unkind, although that was hardly unexpected. Crimson Tide fans were pulling for the Horned Frogs in the same way that they’d watch the Nature Channel and pull for that scrappy little antelope with the sore hoof against the wolves. TCU was overmatched by Oklahoma and its soon-to-be Heisman winning quarterback and when Crimson Tide fans finally tuned out the Big 12 Championship Game, it was in the same spirit that one throws away a $2 PowerBall ticket after not hitting the $300 million jackpot.
That game led into the SEC Championship Game, with slight detours to Conference USA (that Lane Kiffin play calling!) and the American Conference, where Central Florida capped an undefeated season and lost its coach simultaneously.
The SEC game was a vexing test for hard-core Alabama fans clinging to every data point for an inevitable selection showdown against Ohio State. The problem: even if they believe in data points, no one knows exactly what that data point would be worth. If Wisconsin were to win later, it was worthless. And the cost would be high. In fact, for Alabama fans, watching Auburn win the SEC and clinch a playoff spot is a prodigious price.
So as the game in Atlanta wore on and it became obvious that Auburn star running back Kerryon Johnson was slowed by injury, the fact that Georgia was going to win was not really treated as a disaster. The series of emotional peaks — Georgia, then Alabama, then Georgia again — would have been a tall order for many teams.
That left the final hope: Ohio State. A Buckeye win (and the game was too late for deadline) only guaranteed a seat at the debate but it was obvious what the talking points would be. For Alabama, it has a better record, and a single understandable, if bitter, loss. A Wisconsin win would mean no debate about anything, and what fun would that be?
Without knowing the winner, remember this. If there is a debate, there is no way of knowing precisely what the committee will do, because they make up the rules as they go from year to year. The image of the hard-working committee burning the midnight oil and poring over every result is as warm and fuzzy as a Hallmark movie, and about as real. Criteria are used to justify selection, not the other way around. If you want Ohio State (if the debate materializes) in this year’s field, then conference championships matter.
If you wanted Ohio State in last year’s field, then conference championships don’t matter and neither does head-to-head competition. If you want Ohio State in, then Auburn’s loss to Georgia “hurts” Alabama but somehow, as Iowa sits in the snow and contemplates corn futures, the Hawkeyes’ five losses don’t hurt anyone at all. How convenient that a team that makes it to a championship game can “hurt” you while a 7-5 team that beat you by five touchdowns can be locked away like a crazy uncle that no one talks about in polite company or on a Fox football broadcast.
Again, these are things that happen when your future is out of your hands. Alabama has had years where that wasn’t the case because it beat everybody. To be fair, it has gotten some fortunate breaks, especially in the old BCS days. But it makes for uncomfortable Saturdays and contentious Sunday mornings and that’s the best-case scenario, if Ohio State wins. If they do, the debate will be fiercer than any game this year.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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