Is Alabama A Lock For The Playoff Even With A Loss To Missouri?

The Southeastern Conference won’t put two teams in the first College Football Playoff.

If Missouri pulls off a highly improbable upset of Alabama this Saturday evening in Atlanta, will the SEC and the Crimson Tide get shut out, or is Alabama already a stone-cold lock to make the field?

The Student Section editors discuss the matter, as Championship Weekend and Selection Sunday come into full view. It’s going to be a momentous weekend in the 145-year history of college football.


Is Alabama a lock for the College Football Playoff, even with a loss to Missouri?

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

Yes, Alabama is in the field if it loses to Missouri.

I realize that this point will cause many of you to think that this has something to do with ESPN revenues and television ratings. Even if those things are a factor (and I don’t believe they are), an 11-2 Crimson Tide team would belong in the field based on the criteria that the Selection Committee is supposed to use (e.g. using rock-hard data and not subjective things like “controlling the game”).

Let’s take a look at the criteria that the committee is supposed to use when comparing similar teams. Per the College Football Playoff website, “The selection committee will choose the four teams for the playoff based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results against common opponents, championships won and other factors.”

Using the rules above as a guide, it’s easy to see why Alabama makes the field regardless of how it fares against Missouri on Saturday. Without any head-to-head matchups against the other top contenders, the only two factors that would matter are strength of schedule and championships won.

Those metrics work in favor of the Crimson Tide. While a loss against the Tigers would prevent the Alabama from winning the SEC championship, it doesn’t change the fact that it won the SEC West – the deepest division in college football. While some might argue that other divisions might be tougher from top to bottom, it’s worth noting that all seven teams in the West are bowl eligible.

Since no other division in college football can say that, it’s not a stretch to think that the Selection Committee would give the Nick Saban and company the benefit of the doubt when deciding which four teams are the best in the land.

Even if – and it’s a big if – the committee opted to ignore Alabama’s SEC West title, the Crimson Tide would qualify for the field based on its strength of schedule. While it’s difficult to quantify this metric since the Selection Committee uses the “I know it when I see it” standard, it’s worth noting that Alabama would be 8-2 against Power 5 conference opponents that are bowl eligible. That win total is double that of Baylor (4-1 if it beats Kansas State) and Kansas State (4-2 if it beats Baylor) and three more than TCU (5-1).

Those numbers give the Tide the advantage against the Big 12 champion, meaning that there’s only one other league champion to dethrone to free up a spot for them. Considering that the Big Ten champion will be either a hobbled Ohio State team or a Wisconsin squad that lost to LSU early in the season, it’s safe to say that Alabama would get the nod over that league as well.

Of course, this question seems like a moot point. After the way the Crimson Tide fought back to win the Iron Bowl, it’s tough to see anyone beating them right now.


Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

This is a fascinating question, because if Alabama does lose to Missouri, the reputation and weight carried by the Crimson Tide in college football circles could ultimately bring Nick Saban’s team into the playoff.

However, the notion of a “lock” means nothing could possibly remove Alabama from the equation. I admittedly thought SMU was an NCAA tournament lock in early March, but a three-game losing streak put the Mustangs in the first spot out of the field. I learned an important lesson about the use of the “lock” label.

When people discuss “who’s definitely in with a win and who’s on the fence,” they often fail to account for possibilities. This, in short, is why Alabama is not a lock.

Let's say Missouri surprises Alabama, in much the same way that Kansas State surprised Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game. OU still got in that season, but on the night of that stunner in Kansas City, did everyone think the Sooners were still a lock for the BCS title game? It's an interesting question. We'll first have to see if Missouri can create a 2003-style situation. Then we'll see how the committee reacts.

Let’s say Missouri surprises Alabama, in much the same way that Kansas State surprised Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game. OU still got in that season, but on the night of that stunner in Kansas City, did everyone think the Sooners were still a lock for the BCS title game? It’s an interesting question. We’ll first have to see if Missouri can create a 2003-style situation. Then we’ll see how the committee reacts.

Let’s say Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, Baylor, and TCU all win next Saturday. Are we really going to say that Bama is a lock with a loss to Missouri? Even with only four of those five teams winning, Alabama — though perhaps still likely to get in — is not a lock.

Working on a more granular level, let’s say Oregon, Florida State, and TCU win while Baylor loses to remove the Big 12 championship deficiency from TCU’s resume. The Horned Frogs would be Big 12 champs, and their overall portfolio would look good as well. Throw in an Ohio State win at the end, and there would at least be some doubt as to whether Bama gets in with a loss to Mizzou.

What if Oregon loses a very close game to Arizona while TCU, Florida State, and Ohio State win… and Baylor loses? What if Bama loses to Missouri by 10?

Oregon would have an argument over Alabama — not an airtight one, but a legitimate one.

It all comes back to a fundamental point: You might think Team A is a lock and Team B is out, out, out, but various scenarios and dozens of moving parts shape the final result. If every scenario leads you to an unquestioned conclusion, go ahead and call Alabama a lock.

I simply don’t think we’re there if Alabama loses in Atlanta.


Bart Doan:

On Twitter: @TheCoachBart

The short answer is “yes.” The longer answer involves variables that are unlikely to happen, so the more safe answer is going to be the same as the short one: “yes.”

Whether you buy it or not, the SEC West has been perceived since Day One as the real Algonquin Round Table of college football powers, and Alabama has come out in the catbird seat.

It’s almost unfathomable to think that this inaugural playoff would be minus an SEC team, and since “unfathomable” seems like a safe bet, go there.

Alabama has won what is considered to be by far the best division in college football, right or wrong. They’ll play the champion of one with a much lesser profile in Missouri.

Think about the logic. Suppose SEC doomsday happens and Alabama loses, Ohio State wins, both TCU and Baylor win, plus Oregon and Florida State win.

Oregon and Florida State become no brainers. The other bunch become semantics. You’d need that exact scenario to get there. How will Ohio State be viewed in a win over a Wisconsin team LSU defeated on a neutral field with its starting quarterback injured?

Baylor tops Kansas State in this scenario … but so did Auburn. TCU is sort of twisting in the wind.

Personally, I think barring a Mizzou thrashing, Alabama is in either way.


For live-tweeting of this weekend’s big games plus live analysis of Selection Sunday and the announcements of the bowl pairings, follow us on Twitter at @TheStudentSect.