The College Football Playoff selection committee showed its high regard for Alabama in two ways this week: by again ranking the Crimson Tide No. 1 and by dropping LSU only four spots to No. 7 despite a 29-0 loss at home to Bama.
Such respect for the defending national champion inspires this question: Could Alabama make the four-team playoff even if it loses to underdog Georgia in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 1?
“It looks like there could be a way,” said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan, a close observer of the playoff selection process.
“In that case, you could get two SEC teams in the playoff, Georgia and Alabama,” Stokan said. “And if you had two SEC teams, plus (current No. 2-ranked) Clemson and (No. 3) Notre Dame, you’d be leaving three conferences – the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 – out of the playoff, which would really be an interesting sight.”
And a controversy for the ages would sweep across three conferences.
First things first: A prerequisite to put that scenario in play would be for Alabama and Georgia to win their three remaining regular-season games.
If that happens, and if Georgia then secures a playoff spot by upsetting Alabama in a close game, Stokan thinks a one-loss SEC runner-up Alabama could be chosen for the playoff ahead of a one-loss Big Ten champ Michigan (this week’s No. 4-ranked team) based on the Crimson Tide’s season-long dominance on offense and defense.
Or maybe not. Faced with a choice between two one-loss teams, the selection committee could well settle on a conference championship as the deciding factor.
For its part, the committee doesn’t pontificate, publicly or privately, about what-ifs, of which there are many.
“We don’t project,” said committee chairman Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon. “We are laser-focused on only doing our work through the results to date. We don’t look ahead.”
Alabama reached the playoff in each of the event’s first four seasons – three times as SEC champion and last season despite not reaching the SEC Championship game. A one-loss Alabama team got the final playoff berth over Big Ten champion Ohio State last season, but the Buckeyes had two losses at the time.
Georgia is ranked No. 5 this week, one spot behind Michigan, and is widely expected to move into the top four if it sweeps its final three regular-season games (Auburn, UMass, Georgia Tech) and beats Alabama.
“Georgia does control its own destiny,” Stokan said.
On to the rest of our weekly update of college football’s road to the playoff:
On paper, this week’s schedule pales in comparison to last week’s. But, within these Saturday matchups, maybe at least one upset lurks somewhere that could affect the playoff picture:
No. 1 Alabama (9-0) at home vs. No. 16 Mississippi State (6-3); No. 2 Clemson (9-0) at No. 17 Boston College (7-2); No. 3 Notre Dame (9-0) at home vs. Florida State (4-5); No. 5 Georgia (8-1) at home vs. Auburn (6-3); No. 6 Oklahoma (8-1) at home vs. Oklahoma State (5-4); No. 8 Washington State (8-1) at Colorado (5-4); No. 9 West Virginia (7-1) at home vs. TCU (4-5); No. 10 Ohio State (8-1) at No. 18 Michigan State (6-3).
There’s a double-digit favorite, though, in all of those games except Ohio State-Michigan State (Buckeyes favored by 3-1/2) and Washington State-Colorado (Cougars by 6-1/2).
IF THE SEASON ENDED NOW …
If the CFP rankings remain the same on Selection Day, Dec. 2, as they stand today, the playoff semifinals would pit Alabama vs. Michigan and Clemson vs. Notre Dame. The semis will be played in the Cotton and Orange bowls.
The matchups for four other bowl games also will be set by the CFP committee, although those bowls aren’t part of the playoff this season.
Based solely on current rankings and bowl contracts, Stokan projected those bowl matchups would line up this way if the season were over now: Washington State vs. Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Georgia vs. Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl (which would be a rematch of last year’s CFP semifinal Rose Bowl that the Bulldogs won in double overtime), LSU vs. West Virginia in the Peach Bowl and Kentucky vs. Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Almost all of those teams, though, still have playoff aspirations.
ASKED AND ANSWERED
Q: How did the playoff committee distinguish between its Nos. 4 and 5 teams this week, Michigan and Georgia?
A: “You look at Michigan – No. 1 defense in the country and (quarterback) Shea Patterson continues to improve in that offense,” Mullens said. “They’ve looked really good the last two weeks (with) a dominant win over Penn State and a win over Michigan State. Georgia also has back-to-back impressive wins — Florida and at Kentucky. Georgia’s defense continues to be strong. But after 10 weeks, the committee felt that 8-1 Michigan deserved a 4 spot above an 8-1 Georgia.”
> Nov. 13, 20 and 27: Playoff selection committee releases weekly updated rankings.
> Dec. 2: Committee releases its final rankings, which set the four-team playoff field.
> Jan. 7: National championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.