Column: Existential question: If Alabama isn’t in it, do playoffs really exist?


By Blair Kerkhoff - The Kansas City Star



A College Football Playoff without Alabama. … Is that allowed?

Strange as it sounds, the possibility exists after a weekend of action that revolved mostly around rivalry games, such as Auburn’s 26-14 triumph over the undefeated Crimson Tide.

That outcome and a loss by Miami at Pittsburgh a day earlier took out the top two teams in the CFP rankings, but it might only be costly to Alabama.

Both teams will likely find themselves outside of the CFP top four when the poll is announced Tuesday, but the Hurricanes can play their way back in with a victory over Clemson in the ACC title game.

For the first time in the CFP era, there is no SEC championship game for Alabama. Auburn won the division and meets Georgia in Atlanta on Saturday. That winner seems destined to finish in the top four.

If it’s Auburn, that would mean the selection committee will place a two-loss team on the bracket for the first time, but the Tigers will have earned it by defeating two of the committee’s top-ranked teams in their past three games.

With the ACC and SEC title-game winners, let’s say half of college football’s final four is set. How about the other half?

Oklahoma will be in if it beats TCU in the reborn Big 12 championship game.

We need a foursome. If Wisconsin defeats Ohio State for the Big Ten title, the Badgers will be in.

And no Alabama. The Tide’s best chance would seem to be a loss by the Sooners. A loss by Wisconsin also could do the trick.

So the prospects aren’t all bad for Bama. Over the first three years of the CFP, the selection committee has shown a preference for league winners. But it’s not an absolute. Last year, Ohio State didn’t win the Big Ten. Penn State did, but the Buckeyes were selected — not the Nittany Lions.

Another selection committee trend: Two teams from the same conference have yet to be selected for the semifinals. That likely would occur if Alabama enters as an at-large team.

Only the Crimson Tide has appeared in every CFP, beating Clemson for the championship in 2015 and losing the Tigers in a rematch last season. Alabama has been the top seed twice but won it as a No. 2 seed. A No. 1 seed hasn’t won the CFP.

Nick Saban finds himself in the rare position of rooting for other teams this weekend and stumping for his own.

“I think this team deserves the opportunity to get in the playoff by what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve been able to do,” Saban said after the Auburn loss.

It’s not Alabama’s fault that their opening-game victory over Florida State got downgraded by the Seminoles’ flop of a season. Turns out, the Tide’s best victories are over LSU and Mississippi State, teams with a combined seven losses.

Perhaps the most interesting decision would be this: Ohio State or Alabama if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten. Ohio State lost at home to Oklahoma and to Iowa by 31 but has victories over then-No. 2 Penn State and Michigan State and would have beaten the undefeated Badgers.

Programs that just missed the bracket would disagree, but in the first three years, the selection committee has mostly gotten it right. In a decision that resonated with the Big 12, Ohio State jumped past TCU in the final poll to grab the last spot, and the Buckeyes justified the decision by winning the national title. That call, when the Big 12 lost out because of what was described as a 13th data point, is why the league re-instituted a championship game this season.

The committee hasn’t been faced with the task of weighing Alabama as an at-large team. No matter what happens in the SEC’s conference championship game next weekend, the fate of a Crimson Tide team that’s not playing will hover over all of the action.

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By Blair Kerkhoff

The Kansas City Star