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Alabama or State of Ohio? We’re 1 key loss from an epic No. 4 playoff debate

We understand you have Alabama PTSD. Hold on, it’s almost over.

The window for Alabama’s chances of a playoff spot is closing fast. The program, which has dominated college football like no other for 15 years, is staring at watching the playoffs from home.

This also applies to the state of Ohio.

The thought of both happening is absolutely delicious (although no one in the current top 4 would want anything to do with Alabama in a playoff game).

Only the unthinkable — on the field and off the field — will get Alabama into the playoffs. Ohio State’s path — despite a 22-point home loss to Michigan last weekend — isn’t nearly as difficult.

Both will benefit from what they have done in the past as well as what they have done this season. Because if both are judged on what they did in 2022, neither should be in the playoffs.

The current playoff poll top 6: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC, Ohio State, Alabama.

Key to the ranking: Boo Corrigan, NC state selection committee chairman and athletic director, said, “It was a tough decision” to put Ohio State ahead of Alabama.

In other words, there’s wiggle room depending on what happens this weekend.

“It’s something that’s out of our control,” Alabama quarterback Bryce Young said after last weekend’s Iron Bowl. “People decide that.”

While we don’t know what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee thinks, we can use previous comments (and previous seasons) as a roadmap.

For history, no one has made more playoff appearances (or won more championships) than Alabama. If this was any other 2-loss team that hadn’t won their own division, let alone the conference, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But since Alabama has been the standard for nearly 2 decades, the Tide has the benefit of the doubt. It is difficult to argue against:

  • 2017: National Champion.
  • 2018: national runner-up.
  • 2019: Missed the playoffs.
  • 2020: National Champion.
  • 2021: national runner-up.

Meanwhile, there’s Ohio State, which hasn’t exactly been the playoff darling since winning it all in 2014. But it’s this season — when Ohio State earned a final 4th place finish ahead of TCU and Baylor in the inaugural season of the playoffs and won it all — that changed the narrative of the Buckeyes and the postseason.

Ohio State lost to Penn State in the 2016 regular season and did not win the Big Ten East Division. Penn State, meanwhile, won the Big Ten — but Ohio State with 1 loss was picked against Penn State with 2 losses (keep that in mind for the committee’s final rankings next week).

In 2020, the Big Ten changed their return to the rules of the game mid-stream to put the Buckeyes in the conference championship game and find a way to get Ohio State into the playoffs — where it was knocked out by Alabama in the national title game.

Now fast-forward to this season, and the mayhem scenarios that are bringing Alabama and Ohio State closer to a playoff are both undeserving.

Both are not division winners. Alabama (10-2) has 2 last-play losses (No. 7 Tennessee, No. 14 LSU) and 1 top-25 win (No. 24 Mississippi State), while Ohio State (11-1) was beaten at home by No. 2 Michigan and has top-25 wins over Penn State (No. 8) and Notre Dame (No. 21).

How does each team get in? This is where it gets tricky.

Ohio State Playoff Fight:

– If TCU wins the Big 12 and USC loses to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, the odds of the Buckeyes advancing to the playoffs increase significantly.

In this scenario, the Buckeyes’ competition consists of 2-loss Alabama and 2-loss USC, with relatively similar strength schedules and no conference championships among the 3.

Planned Field: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, Ohio State.

– If TCU loses and USC wins, Ohio State’s contest is then 1-loss TCU. Ohio State would have 2 wins against the top 25 teams and TCU would have 2 (Texas, Big 12 Champion Kansas State).

That scenario likely leans towards TCU being recognized for a 12-0 regular season and playing an extra game that Ohio State didn’t have to play. But the allure of Ohio State will be hard to ignore.

Planned Field: Georgia, Michigan, USC, TCU.

Alabama’s playoff fight:

– TCU and USC both lose in championship games and LSU beats Georgia. This scenario adds weight to Alabama’s losses: The Tide will have lost to No. 7 Tennessee and SEC champion LSU (likely as high as No. 8). USC will have lost twice to the likely top-10 in Utah.

Planned field: Michigan, Georgia, TCU, Alabama.

And the most chaotic scenario…

Welcome everyone to the nuclear option. Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC lose championship weekend. This is the worst-case scenario for TCU, which was set to win over Ohio State in the previous neck-and-neck race.

It won’t be that easy this time. If Purdue and LSU win conference championship games, the basis remains that both the SEC and the Big Ten are by far the best conferences in the game.

And that – here’s the key – leads to the narrative that these 4 teams took harder paths to get into the final week.

Planned Field: Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State.

“The strength of the schedule is based on the overall season and overall work,” Corrigan said. “We go back and evaluate (each schedule) on a case-by-case basis. Make sure we have everything that goes with it.”

Of course, the chalk can hold this weekend – all favorites win – and nothing changes for the final standings. In this scenario, Georgia plays TCU in the Peach Bowl Playoff semifinals and Michigan plays USC in the Fiesta Bowl semifinals.

But where’s the fun in that?

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