The upcoming College Football Playoff rankings may not suggest it, but the Crimson Tide knows where it stands.
As of Saturday night, it is on the outside looking in.
Alabama’s 46-41 loss to LSU once again leaves UA hoping for a chance in the Playoff, as opposed to having a chance to clinch it on the field. Barring the unlikely event LSU loses two of its upcoming three games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M — the three of them sporting a combined conference record of 5-12 — UA won’t get a chance to win the SEC Championship Game and force the issue with the Selection Committee.
Exactly how much help UA needs remains to be seen.
“We don’t want to waste a failure,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think everybody has to make a commitment to finish the season the right way. We don’t really control our own destiny, but if we finish the season the right way, we can see where it takes us.
“We’ve been in this situation before.”
In many cases, it would be as simple as comparing resumes — or more specifically, quality wins — among the final contenders.
In the likely event that Clemson and LSU both go 13-0, winning the ACC and SEC respectively, both are nearly assured of a spot given the Committee has yet to leave an undefeated Power 5 conference champion out of the field.
In that case, that leaves UA to be compared with the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12 champions, and potentially the No. 2 from each of those conferences.
That comparison may not fare well for UA based on quality wins.
If UA wins its final three games, it will have only one win against a team currently ranked in Selection Committee’s top 25, and that will be over an Auburn team that is a small risk to drop out of the rankings with losses to Georgia and Alabama to end its season. Texas A&M received votes in the most recent AP Poll and could be under consideration for the CFP, but the Aggies closing their season with road trips to Georgia and LSU leaves them a tough path to a top 25 spot.
The Aggies are a top 30 team in SP+, however, so by that measure UA could end its season 2-1 against top 30 competition.
Compare that with likely Big 10 champion Ohio State, which already has two wins against CFP top 25 teams (Cincinnati and Wisconsin) and could get two more with a home win against Penn State and a road win against Michigan. Minnesota is the leader on the other side of the Big 10, and the Gophers already have more top 25 wins than UA: Minnesota got one against Penn State and has future opportunities against Wisconsin and Iowa, if the Hawkeyes stay in the rankings after losing to the Badgers on Saturday.
In any event, if the projected Big 10 title game of Ohio State and Minnesota holds up, the two get a chance to add to their resumes by beating one another.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma and Baylor currently lead the conference and both have greater opportunities ahead. They have yet to play each other, a matchup that would be the No. 9 Sooners at the No. 12 Bears in the current CFP rankings; Baylor already has wins over SP+ No. 21 Iowa State and CFP No. 23 Oklahoma State.
How the CFP will treat Texas and No. 16 Kansas State remains to be seen after the Longhorns’ upset of the Wildcats on Saturday, but Baylor beat both of them. The Sooners already beat Texas and get to close with Baylor and Oklahoma State. The likelihood of a Baylor-Oklahoma rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game gives the winner another quality win UA will be lacking.
In the Pac 12, the CFP set the table for a collision course for No. 7 Oregon and No. 8 Utah to the Pac 12 Championship Game. No other Pac 12 team made the CFP’s first top 25, so UA’s resume against a Pac 12 champion is more favorable than others, but given the situation in the Big 10 and Big 12, that could be a debate for Nos. 5 and 6.
That being said, the Committee chairs — previously Kansas Director of Athletics Jeff Long, then at Arkansas, and now Oregon Director of Athletics Rob Mullens — have given different justifications for rankings.
The weight of a conference championship has been uniform, but at times it has been wins against top 25 competition, wins against bowl-bound teams and wins away from home given as deciding factors between teams.
Most recently, the so-called eye test benefitted UA.
“They’ve been dominant against their schedule, and while it may not be as strong as some others, when you watch the games, they certainly have been dominant,” Mullens said of UA last week.
That dominance was able to put Alabama, at the time 8-0 with no wins over teams ranked in the CFP’s top 25, over Penn State, 8-0 with two wins over then-top 25 teams, No. 14 Michigan and No. 19 Iowa. If that remains a consistent factor with the Committee, UA could find itself in a favorable position with other one-loss teams — until some of those one-loss teams become conference champions.
In the past, UA has been able to beat out some of those one-loss conference champions, as it did with Ohio State in 2017 and 2018 thanks 31- and 29-point losses to Iowa and Purdue, respectively.
Whether UA will have the advantage for the final rankings on Dec. 8 remains to be seen. What is known for certain: Alabama is once again forced to watch other scoreboards as much as its own.