There’s still a long way to go, but there are playoff whispers in Tuscaloosa

So something funny happened on Alabama’s way to an Elite Bowl game that didn’t have the words “College Football Playoff” appended to it for a change.

Yeah, did you hear the excited whispers too?

The ones about the Crimson Tide, whose playoff hopes reportedly died a sudden death in Death Valley about a month ago and actually had a real shot at sneaking into the CFP four weeks later.

Yes, those crazy whispers that suddenly, incredibly, aren’t so crazy anymore.

Because on Sunday — 1 day after Bama dispatched Auburn to end his 10-2 regular season, 1 day after Ohio State was mauled by Michigan, 1 day after South Carolina stunned Clemson in the other Death Valley and 1 day after the same LSU team that seemingly ended, the Tide’s playoff hopes fell on their head in College Station — the new AP and Coaches Poll rankings seemed to indicate that the Tide’s dream of making it into the fourth and final playoff -Squeezing space wasn’t as dead as Death Valley told them after that overtime loss at Baton Rouge.

Suddenly, as of Sunday afternoon, Alabama was ranked 6th in both polls after moving up 2 spots in the AP poll and 1 spot in the coaches poll.

Suddenly you started doing the math, didn’t you, Crimson Tide fans?

As in, 4 teams make it to the college football playoffs and there were 2 losses in Alabama, which was in the weeds just 2 places from the top 4 despite what it had been through, despite Bryce Young’s injury, despite the sloppiness of the street, despite the inconsistencies in the passing game, despite the … 2 defeats.

Normally, in college football, 2 losses is an unofficial death sentence (there’s that word “death” again).

Usually 2 losses means you had 1 lifeline and 1 mulligan and you got through that and had the guts to lose again.

Usually 2 losses in the boldest way means you just weren’t good enough this season to be considered for a national championship.

But there were exceptions.

There were 2 defeats in the national champions.

There was Minnesota, way back in 1960, and then there was LSU — yes, the school that plays its home games in Death Valley (or one of them) — which won everything in 2007, despite losing twice. Interestingly, this was Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa, 4 years after Saban himself won a national title in Baton Rouge.

That brings us back to Saban’s current team, now in his 16th season in Alabama, because it always comes back to Saban, right?

Take a closer look at these Sunday’s AP and Coaches polls, and you’ll see that Tennessee sits right behind Alabama, ranked 7th in the AP poll and 8th in the Coaches poll. You know, the same volunteers team that knocked the Crimson Tide out of the undefeated on Oct. 15 in Knoxville with what was probably college football’s Game of the Year. Today, the same Tennessee team has the same 10-2 record as Alabama, so the tiebreaker would theoretically amount to a neck-and-neck game should the two schools still be battling for a playoff spot after the dust settled over the championship weekend .

But we also know, fair or unfair, that Alabama and Tennessee will be viewed differently in college football’s pecking order around 2022. We know the Crimson Tide usually gets the nod when it comes to these situations because they’re Alabama and they’ve earned it over the last 15 years or so.

And we know whoever is unlucky enough to get into these kinds of situations with Bama usually gets the short end of the stick. That’s why Tennessee trailed Alabama in both polls, at least as of Sunday, though it tumbled 52-49 in that epic at Neyland Stadium.

LSU, meanwhile, has completely disappeared from the national championship talk, suffering its third loss of the season on Saturday night to a Texas A&M team that came in 4-7 and had absolutely nothing to lose. So the Aggies went out and ruined Brian Kelly’s slim chance of winning his 1st national title, even though Kelly still has a shot at an SEC crown in his 1st season at LSU this Saturday against Georgia.

But now the SEC championship game is immaterial to the Crimson Tide. Because LSU is out of Alabama’s way — even if the Tigers landed in their own division before the flood — and Georgia is destined for the playoffs regardless of what happens in Atlanta.

For Alabama, the next checkpoint in this furious 11 hour chase for a playoff spot comes Tuesday night when the 5th CFP rankings are released. Then the Crimson Tide will really see where they stand. Then they will see how much the committee punished Ohio State for laying an egg at home against its biggest rival on Saturday with absolutely everything at stake.

Both polls had the Buckeyes ranked No. 5 on Sunday, just a tiny old spot ahead of Bama. Logic would tell you that Tuesday’s playoff rankings would still have Ohio State ahead of Alabama because the Buckeyes were undefeated before Saturday and because, as tempting as the tide can be in these sticky situations, those two losses are like Bama’s back be struck a scarlet letter.

They cannot be deleted.

They cannot be ignored.

Saban did exactly what he should have done after his team took care of Auburn on Saturday. He campaigned to get his resilient but flawed team into the playoffs, likely in the knowledge that no team has made it to the CFP with two losses since its inception in 2014.

Saban also probably knows that his powerful program has been in all but 1 of the playoffs in those first 8 editions. And so, with a robust if not spectacular 10-2 record, he has every right to try and change some committee members’ minds before everything is decided this Sunday.

“I don’t make those decisions, but I know what a resilient football team that was,” Saban told ESPN after Auburn’s win. “We lost two games against top 10 opponents, both in the last play of the game and away. We could have easily won both games, but we didn’t. We’re a good football team and hopefully people will recognize that and we’ll get a chance.”

Of course it makes a lot of sense.

He speaks the truth.

His team was far from perfect in 2022. But it persevered through serious injuries, through big mistakes, and through those two crushing defeats that brought ecstatic fans from the stands in Knoxville and Baton Rouge.

Somehow, as college football prepares for its many championship games, his team still has a shot at sneaking into the playoffs. The Tide probably needs a few more dominoes to fall this weekend, definitely at least 1 to really have a shot at this thing when the sun comes up Sunday morning.

Alabama could certainly use a USC loss to Utah in Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game. That would put it on the precipice of a highly unlikely playoff spot that everyone thought was out of reach on that early November night in Death Valley.

Ohio State is no longer playing, Michigan faces Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night and that’s kind of a problem for the Crimson Tide. You’d think the Wolverines would still be playoff-tied even with an upset loss to the Boilermakers, but who really knows?

And it’s by no means a given that TCU, college football’s Cinderella of 2022, will beat a solid Kansas State team in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game.

So, yeah, a funny thing happened on Alabama’s sure road to insignificance when playoff decision time comes.

As in, the Crimson Tide are hardly irrelevant.

They are certainly buggy, but hardly finished.

Right now, that whisper is just that—whisper.

But check back at the weekend, e.g. B. late Saturday evening. And with just the right results, Tuscaloosa could suddenly be a little noisy.