In the next 48 hours, we’ll hear debate about which team should earn the fourth College Football Playoff bid if USC (11-1) suffers a second loss to Utah (9-3) in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday.
That fourth playoff qualifier should not be No. 7 Alabama (10-2, 6-2 SEC).
Even coach Nick Saban’s playoff pitch sounded a bit half-hearted Saturday, following Crimson Tide’s 49-27 win in the Iron Bowl, after he learned of some of the day’s upsets.
“We lost two games on the road against two top-10 teams by four points,” Saban said, “so we are a good football team, and hopefully people will recognize that.”
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Unfortunately for Alabama, touting two close losses as the top line on your playoff résumé points equates to a weak résumé, especially when those two defeats came to teams with a combined five losses.
Let’s review the scene.
A wacky day within a wacky season brought us to this debate.
Goodbye, Clemson. Goodbye, LSU.
No. 1 Georgia, No. 2. Michigan and soon-to-be No. 3 TCU should be playoff qualifiers regardless of what happens next weekend. Each is the undefeated, and, considering the other options, losing in a conference championship, while other teams sit at home should not be such punishment as to knock out any member of that trio.
USC should climb to No. 4 when the playoff rankings are updated Tuesday. The Trojans can prevent further wonkiness by winning the Pac-12 to secure the final playoff spot.
And if USC loses?
I’d entertain arguments that the Trojans should remain a playoff qualifier, depending on how competitive their conference championship game is.
If not USC, then the final spot should go to Ohio State.
OSU’s playoff credentials are flawed. The Buckeyes wilted on their home field in their stiffest test. But, OSU’s résumé remains better than an Alabama team that lost twice, despite not playing the best team in its conference. OSU only lost once — to an undefeated team.
Further, the Buckeyes’ best win was a 44-31 triumph at Penn State. The Nittany Lions trounced Auburn. They won 10 games. Penn State’s only other loss came against Michigan.
Alabama’s best win? A Week 2 escape at Texas, thanks in part to the Longhorns having to play their backup quarterback for the final three quarters.
Saban pointed out that Alabama is improved now that star quarterback Bryce Young is at full strength after playing a few games at less than 100%. Young injured his shoulder on Oct. 1 at Arkansas.
“He’s healthy again, which makes us a different type of team, I think,” Saban said.
Young is a special player, but his ailing shoulder didn’t cause Alabama to lose 52-49 at Tennessee.
In fact, if the selection committee must contemplate a two-loss team for the No. 4 spot, the Vols boast a stronger résumé than the Tide.
But, no need to overcomplicate this. USC is in with a win, and if the Trojans get skunked in the Pac-12 Championship, then the Buckeyes give the committee a fallback option.
OSU’s résumé is similar to that of Georgia’s last season, after the Bulldogs suffered one loss to a quality Alabama team in the SEC Championship.
Georgia had looked the part of playoff qualifier throughout the season, and the committee awarded it the No. 3 seed. The Bulldogs vindicated that selection by winning the national championship.
Ohio State is not as talented as 2021 Georgia and was not as consistently dominant before its lone loss, but if the debate is between OSU or Alabama, the math is simple – the Buckeyes have one fewer loss and should be ahead of Alabama, much like in 2017, when one-loss division runner-up Alabama qualified over the two-loss Buckeyes, the Big Ten champions.
Ohio State has 11 victories, beat a 10-win conference foe and lost to a team with zero losses.
Alabama won 10 games, beat no teams with more than eight victories and lost to teams with a combined five losses – and probably six losses after LSU (9-3) plays Georgia (12-0) in the SEC Championship.
Alabama is an excellent candidate for a New Year’s Six bowl.
It is a poor candidate for the playoff.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.