Alabama may become College Football Playoffs’ biggest headache



Imagine this: Alabama loses a heartbreaker on Saturday. It makes Georgia sweat, taking a lead deep into the third quarter and nearly handing the powerhouse Bulldogs their first loss.

In postgame press conferences, both Nick Saban and Kirby Smart say the Crimson Tide prove they are one of the four best teams in the country, if not No. 2.

What does the College Football Playoff committee do? Does it buck history and invite a two-loss team for the first time? Does it pass on the big brand that is Alabama with the likely Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young?

The biggest storyline entering the final week of the season revolves around Cincinnati and Oklahoma State for the last spot in the playoff. Both teams are favorites in their respective conference title games — Cincinnati meets Houston and Oklahoma State faces Baylor — but Alabama’s role in all of this is intriguing because of the decision the committee could be faced with.

There’s always been this argument when it comes to the playoff of what is more important, résumé or the eye test. The committee has gone different ways depending on the year. The historically strongest programs tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

Alabama has two wins over teams ranked by the committee (No. 9 Ole Miss and No. 25 Arkansas) and owns six victories over teams above .500. It has failed to show “game control” in recent weeks — a popular phrase of the committee’s — beating its last three conference opponents, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU, by a combined 15 points. But by playing Georgia close, it would prove it is an elite team.

Bryce Young celebrates Alabama’s win over Auburn.
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Now, maybe we get some unexpected results. It is possible that Michigan, Oklahoma State or Cincinnati lose, and possibly more than one of them. Alabama could get blown out by Georgia or pull the upset.

There is also the very real possibility that chalk holds in the conference title games, and Alabama’s seventh-ranked passing attack presents problems for Georgia. It hasn’t seen an offense anything like the Crimson Tide’s this year.

This would create an extremely difficult decision: The better team or the better résumé?

Yes he Michi-can!

Saturday was a win for patience. It was a win for staying the course. It was a win for not making rash judgements. Michigan could’ve made a move after last season, parted ways with Jim Harbaugh after his ballyhooed return didn’t come close to living up to the immense hype. He went 2-4 last year, and is 1-4 in bowl games.

Instead, the school reworked his contract while adding on years, making it more tenable to let him go if last season’s struggles continued. And now, after vanquishing their Ohio State demons, snapping the Buckeyes’ eight-game winning streak in The Game, the Wolverines are headed to the Big Ten Championship game for the first time as a heavy favorite to reach the playoff.

Everything worked in Michigan’s favor. The game was in Ann Arbor. The wintry weather conditions favored its ground-and-pound style. Ohio State had struggled with consistency all year, and played a ‘C’ game. But the Wolverines earned it by owning the line of scrimmage to the tune of 297 rushing yards and not sitting on the lead. The school didn’t take the easy way out, when so many other big programs have after a few underwhelming seasons. It deserved this.

Land of Lincoln

We told you the coaching carousel could be wild a few weeks back. This certainly is one helluva way to get it going, as Lincoln Riley is leaving Oklahoma for USC, it was announced Sunday night. This is a home run hire for the Trojans. Riley is an offensive mastermind and quarterback guru who has reached the playoff four times and has produced two Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

USC has fallen on hard times, ever since Pete Carroll’s departure in 2009. Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Clay Helton weren’t the answer. Recruiting hasn’t been the same. The 2022 class is ranked 67th, behind the likes of Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Tulane. USC has two losing seasons in the last four years and last won double-digit games in 2017. Riley will change that. And for him, rather than moving to the SEC with Oklahoma, he goes to the very winnable PAC-12 that will miss the playoff for the fifth straight season. A win for both sides, while Oklahoma, after its run of Big 12 titles ended at six, has to find a new coach. The musical chairs of coaches switching jobs is just getting started.

Top 10

1. Georgia (12-0) (Last week: 1)

Georgia’s perfect regular season is complete, and it was one of pure dominance. The Bulldogs outscored the opposition 488-83, coasting to victories on a weekly basis.

2. Alabama (11-1) (2)

The Crimson Tide’s dominance has evaporated, but its championship muscle memory is still there. This team finds ways to win, closing the regular season with three league victories by a combined 15 points. Now comes the ultimate test: Georgia in the SEC title game.

3. Michigan (11-1) (8)

Losing streak to Ohio State: Over. Big Ten East title drought: Over. Michigan and Jim Harbaugh appear headed to the playoff for the first time barring an unexpected loss to Iowa in the conference championship game.

A.J. Henning celebrates his touchdown against Ohio State.
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4. Cincinnati (12-0) (4)

The Bearcats have won 21 straight regular-season games, and 17 by multiple scores. Forget what happens next week in the AAC title game against Houston. That consistency should be appreciated.

5. Oklahoma State (11-1) (7)

The Cowboys own two high-level wins, over Baylor and Oklahoma, and can add a third one in the Big 12 Championship game by beating the Bears a second time. That likely would be enough to leapfrog Cincinnati.

6. Notre Dame (11-1) (5)

The Irish took care of business against Stanford, winning their seventh straight game and fourth in a row in blowout fashion. Now Notre Dame waits and hopes someone slips up. That is its only path to the playoff.

7. Ohio State (10-2) (3)

Saturday was a surprise, because of the one-sided nature of the rivalry with Michigan, but the performance should not be a shock. Ohio State started slowly, and nearly lost to Penn State and Nebraska just a few weeks ago. Consistency eluded the Buckeyes all year.

8. Ole Miss (10-2) (8)

Lane Kiffin’s top-20 recruiting class contributed to a second-place finish in the rugged SEC West. Like him or not, the man can coach, recruit and develop talent.

Ole Miss
Lane Kiffin talks to Jake Springer.

9. Baylor (10-2) (NR)

They’re playing the “what if” game in Waco — what if the Bears didn’t fail to show up against under-.500 TCU? Saturday’s Big 12 title game would mean more than just a New Year’s Six bowl — it could have sent Baylor to the playoff.

10. Oregon (10-2) (10)

Revenge, and a trip to the Rose Bowl, will be on the line next Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship game for Oregon when it meets Utah.

Dropped out: Oklahoma (10-2)

Heisman Watch

(in predicted order)

QB Bryce Young, Alabama

When he’s been needed the most, Young has answered the call. Saturday was the latest example, as the sophomore kept Alabama’s playoff hopes alive with a number of clutch plays in a dramatic four-overtime Iron Bowl victory.

QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

The cards were stacked against the freshman on Saturday. It was snowing, Ohio State couldn’t run the ball and he was up against a fierce pass rush. He still threw for 394 yards and two scores in a gutty performance that wasn’t enough.

RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

Walker went out strong, running for 138 yards and a touchdown in a win over Penn State, his eighth 100-yard rushing day of this fantastic season.

QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Pickett guided Pittsburgh to its first 10-win regular season since 1981, and broke Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown record of 37 in the process. A season they won’t forget anytime soon in the Steel City.

DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

The highly regarded NFL prospect wrote his name into Michigan lore with three sacks in The Game, adding to an already impressive season.


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