A chaos-filled Rivalry Week chart has created the possibility, however slim, that a team previously eliminated from College Football Playoff competition could somehow make it into the top four.
And all it took were losses from No. 2 Ohio State, no. 5 LSU and no. 8 Clemson in the penultimate week of the season to give Alabama a chance — but only with the right circumstances.
Nick Saban and company aren’t technically out of the playoff picture, but Alabama’s placement at No. 6 in the latest college football playoff rankings makes it harder to contend for the championship. Ohio State, ranked fifth, needs only one of the four teams ahead to lose this weekend. Alabama needs two, and even then, it’s not a given.
It should be noted that no team has ever made the playoffs with two losses, especially one that did not play in Conference Championship weekend. Alabama may not have their playoff destiny in their hands, but they have nothing to lose this week as they await their playoff destiny.
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Here’s how Alabama could potentially make the CFP, depending on the outcome of this week’s games:
Can Alabama Still Reach the College Football Playoffs?
Technically yes. But without the ability to play through, Alabama’s chances of making it through are just 14.1 percent, according to ESPN — just 5 percentage points less than No. 4 USC, who did it with a win over Utah in the Pac-12 on Friday will create championship game.
In fact, the Trojans — and one other team — are central to Alabama’s playoff chances.
USC loss to Utah
For Alabama to make it, it needs both TCUs and USC is out for the weekend of the conference championship. Friday night’s Trojans game against No. 11 Utah will set the stage for whether the Crimson Tide can pull it off.
One thing in the tide’s favor here: The Utes have already beaten USC this season, coming back from a two-touchdown deficit to beat the Trojans 43-42 earlier this year. Another such loss would give USC their second loss of the season, ruining the Trojans’ chances and pushing Alabama up a spot in the rankings.
But even that won’t be enough for the Tide to make it through.
TCU loss to Kansas State
TCU ranked No. 3 in the latest CFP rankings and guaranteed the Horned Frogs a place at No. 10 with a win over Kansas State. But what if they lose? They were largely only considered a playoff team if they won the Big 12 championship with an undefeated record.
That means a loss to Kansas State at AT&T Stadium on Saturday could prevent the team from making the playoffs. And it’s worth noting that the Wildcats held a 28-10 lead over the Horned Frogs earlier this season before eventually losing 38-28. If Kansas State finishes it this time, TCU could drop out of the top 4.
The question then: Would TCU fall behind Alabama or remain the fifth team in the rankings? That’s a question for the playoff committee to answer, which may decide not to favor an idle team over one playing for a conference championship.
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Alabama Strength of Schedule
At least one clear advantage Alabama has over USC and Trojans is its strong schedule. The Crimson Tide is ranked eighth in the country, well ahead of TCU (35th) and USC (57th).
Alabama’s SOS metric also compares well to Ohio State (34th), but the committee has already made its decision to favor the Buckeyes by placing them fifth in the penultimate CFP rankings. Ultimately, Alabama’s chances depend on TCU and BYU losing.
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Alabama record strength
Alabama also has an impressive record strength, ranking fifth overall nationally (behind TCU, Michigan, Georgia and Ohio State). The Crimson Tide’s SOR metric is the highest among teams with two losses and ahead of USC (sixth).
Where Alabama may have its biggest hurdle is its SOR comparison to TCU, which is considered the strongest in the nation. Even if the Horned Frogs lost, it would only give them one loss. While that might be enough to knock them out of the top 4, it remains to be seen if that would be enough to jump Alabama in.