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If the College Football Playoff Selection was inclined to pull back the curtain an inch or two and allow some insight into what it might be thinking, Tuesday night was not the time.
After a weekend in which Alabama fans felt their world flip upside down after a season-ending injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the CFP rankings were a quiet harbor for the status quo. The Crimson Tide remained at No. 5 in the latest rankings and, barring some further unforeseen calamity for Alabama (or someone else), will be there again next Tuesday.
That’s probably less reflective of any deep committee thoughts about a Tide Without Tua and more of a recognition that there’s no need to do that sort of heavy lifting before Alabama faces Auburn in two weeks.
Normally, rankings at this point in the year don’t merit a column full of analysis. Think of the thousands and thousands of words written and tears shed about Minnesota and Baylor being “disrespected” last week, only to have those two teams proceed to do what many observers (and Las Vegas) anticipated: lose.
This week wound have been a bit different had the committee tipped its hand about its Tua thinking. Instead, there really hasn’t been much change.
The top four — LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia — are all in the “win-and-in” category. I have found that if you phrase that as “control their own destiny,” hordes of online Calvinists descend upon with the fury of digital-age Cotton Mathers.
Everyone else is going to need something. Either LSU or Georgia will inevitably lose in the SEC Championship Game. All the other hopefuls will pull for LSU, who would probably get in despite a loss. Ohio State has tough games left. Everyone might as well concede a spot to Clemson, which has cleverly figured out that you can’t lose to a top 25 team if you don’t play any top 25 teams.
There is a strong national opinion that Alabama has a lot still to overcome and needs the most help. First, while there was no indication of a Tua factor at play Tuesday, it has to be percolating in the back of some committee members’ minds. At the risk of angering someone, I’m not going to explore the unthinkable option of a misstep against Western Carolina.
Second, and this is harder to quantify, but a combination of factors — the loss to LSU, the hip injury to Tua, the quality of schedule that Alabama partly controls (the SEC part depends on rotation) — this might be the “time” to pass over the Crimson Tide for someone from some other league.
That’s not a conspiracy theory. The CFP Selection Committee has been fair to Alabama since its inception. I’m not going to scream “unfair” at this juncture. Too many variables are unsettled and it’s a narrow window for Alabama to squeeze through right now.
So the No. 5 ranking this week is little comfort, even if it looks promising. Alabama will have to state its case at Auburn — not an easy place to do so — and hope that it’s enough.