College Football Playoff: Alabama could test two-loss rule, and you won’t like the final answer

Alabama might have a chance to rewrite yet another rule when it comes to the College Football Playoff.

No two-loss team has made the CFP since it started in 2014. No. 2 Alabama (9-1) is the highest-ranked one-loss team behind No. 1 Georgia (10-0). CFP selection committee chairman Gary Barta said there was debate for that No. 2 spot with No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. 

“I can tell you that 2, 3 and 4 was an area where the conversation was a little bit longer,” Barta said. “I mentioned earlier, we didn’t learn a lot about Alabama this week but continue to be impressed with the way they play on both sides of the ball. There was good conversation about where Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State should be placed.”

If the Crimson Tide win out, then they will stay ahead of the Ducks and Buckeyes and likely take the No. 1 seed in a two-team SEC scenario with Georgia. That will go mostly undisputed. 

So what happens if Alabama loses? Would a two-loss Crimson Tide team be poised to break a few of the CFP’s unwritten guidelines and become the first two-loss team to make the playoff? The groundwork for that debate is already being fleshed out in two scenarios. 

Alabama could lose to either Arkansas or Auburn in one its last two games then beat Georgia in the SEC championship game. Or Alabama could lose to the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. If it’s close, then would the Crimson Tide still make the playoff? 

Look at the highest-ranked two losses teams in the final CFP rankings to see where that might end up. 

Highest-ranked two-loss team in final CFP rankings

*Denotes conference champion
**Denotes conference runner-up

Georgia landed in the No. 5 spot in back-to-back seasons, including in 2018 when the Bulldogs lost a 35-28 thriller to Alabama in the SEC championship game. There was no window to the playoff, however, with Alabama (13-0), Clemson (13-0), Notre Dame (12-0) and Oklahoma (12-1). 

This year’s field is much different. Georgia could clinch a playoff berth simply by going 12-0 in the regular season. The rest of the one-loss crowd of Power 5 contenders is going to thin out over the next few weeks.

Ohio State (9-1) plays No. 7 Michigan State (9-1) and No. 6 Michigan (9-1) the next two weeks. No. 9 Oklahoma State (9-1) and No. 13 Oklahoma (9-1) could play each other twice, and the Big 12 still could be on the outside looking in. Oregon (9-1) is an underdog this week at Utah (7-3) in the Pac-12. 

So, let’s say Georgia beats Alabama in a close one and Ohio State and Oregon hold their spots. Who would the Crimson Tide have to hold off to stay in? 

A one-loss Big 12 champion? A one-loss ACC champion if No. 10 Wake Forest (9-1) wins out? No. 8 Notre Dame (9-1) without a conference championship? Alabama could win those debates with relative ease.

Ultimately, it comes down to a question that the committee might be forced to answer. If No. 5 Cincinnati (10-0) wins out, then would the committee let the first Group of 5 team in or the first two-loss team in?

Cincinnati should be the team that gets in at that point. The Bearcats have a top-10 victory against Notre Dame, an unbeaten record and they can help themselves by dominating SMU, East Carolina and likely Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship. If they don’t let a Group of 5 school in at that point, then what is the point of having G5 schools in the top 25 rankings at all?

Still, Alabama could be the team that gets the No. 4 spot, and the CFP committee will use any matter of justifications to make that happen. The Crimson Tide’s best victory is against Ole Miss, a two-loss team that could crack the New Year’s Day Six. The SEC strength of schedule argument will come into play, and the phrase “put Alabama on a neutral field against (insert team here)” will be used for all of those teams they squeeze out. Just wait until Alabama coach Nick Saban plays politics. 

The committee already set a dangerous precedent by putting Michigan ahead of Michigan State the last two weeks. What will stop them from writing their own bylaws with Alabama?

They did that in 2018 when Alabama made the CFP despite not making the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide proved them right with a 26-23 victory against Georgia in the CFP championship.

Alabama, like it or not, operates with its own set of rules. Fair or not (it’s not fair), that could lead to the first two-loss team making the CFP.

If it comes to that, then that conversation Barta referenced about slotting the top four teams won’t take as long as you might think.

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