A precedent-breaking playoff decision is hurtling toward the College Football Playoff selection committee — and I’m not talking about Cincinnati. The toughest question the committee may have to wrangle with on selection day could be: what to do with an 11-2 Alabama team?
No two-loss team has ever made the playoff, let alone a two-loss non-champion. But this is Alabama, and for reasons other than just brand value, they may still get in.
There’s no guarantee Alabama will end up 11-2 — they could beat Georgia, after all — but let’s break down the case with the Allstate Playoff Predictor when that is the scenario.
Should 11-2 non-champion Alabama get in if the committee wants the four best teams?
Unequivocally yes. This is the easiest question to answer today: The Crimson Tide are the third-best team in college football right now, according to FPI. But the real key is that they are the third-best team and eight points clear of any team outside of FPI’s top four (Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan). That means it’s virtually impossible for Alabama to fall outside of the top four with just two games left between now and the playoff selection.
The selection committee’s protocol is titled “How to select the four best teams to compete for the college football national championship” and if they really mean that, we don’t even need the SEC Championship Game to know that Alabama is one of the four. And while that’s according to FPI, I’m sure if you asked oddsmakers they’d agree.
Should 11-2 non-champion Alabama get in if the committee wants the four most deserving teams?
This one is a little trickier.
Strictly in terms of Strength of Record, Alabama is still likely to be a top-4 team even if it ends up 11-2. How can that be? Because they play more difficult games! When you add a 13th contest, and that game is against Georgia … that is most likely a loss, even for a top team. Other contenders don’t have such a likely loss on their schedule. Alabama’s total strength of schedule is the third-hardest in the nation, only behind non-contenders in Arkansas and Auburn, and Strength of Record allows them more leeway in the loss column as a result.
At 11-2, the Crimson Tide project, on average, to rank fourth in Strength of Record. It’s not a guaranteed top-four spot, though. If a 12-1 Ohio State or Michigan, 12-1 Oklahoma or Oklahoma State and 13-0 Cincinnati all happen, then Alabama would be on the outside looking in. Ultimately, Alabama has a 70% chance at a top-4 SOR.
If that happens the Tide would still be without a conference championship, but their record — given the schedule they faced — would be among the four most impressive. 24 of the 28 teams with a top-four SOR have gotten into the playoff in the format’s history.
Would 11-2 non-champion Alabama get in?
The trickiest question of all.
As it currently stands, the Allstate Playoff Predictor puts the chances at 46%. It’s really a close call.
Note that in the 70% of the time when the Tide end up with a top-4 FPI and Strength of Record, that puts them in a club that almost always gets in. But there has been an exception: 2014 TCU, who missed the playoff. TCU was a Big 12 co-champion that year, but Alabama would have lost to Georgia in this scenario. On the other hand, it’s still Alabama, and it’s possible they get some deference from the committee on that front.
The worst thing that can happen to Alabama: Everyone else wins. 13-0 Cincinnati, 11-1 Notre Dame, 12-1 Ohio State and 12-1 Oklahoma State. If that all happens and Alabama goes 11-2, the Allstate Playoff Predictor only give the Crimson Tide an 18% chance of getting in the playoff. There’s just more options to pick over Alabama. With each successive one of those … maybe Cincinnati loses, and maybe Oklahoma and Oklahoma State split games … the Tide’s chances increase.
If 11-2 is Alabama’s fate, their playoff hopes truly could go either way.