Tide Can Win Its Way Into The Playoff

It has happened to anyone who has ever been in a meeting, from the PTA to RCA. The subject is widgets, which is tough enough to get a handle on, and someone brings up thingamajigs, sending the conversation on a tangent that soon becomes the focus.

That seems to be the modus operandi of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. And this is not a complaint about how Alabama is being treated. Indeed, it was a slight surprise to see Bama go from fifth to first in the committee rankings released Tuesday night. Not a shock, but a mild surprise because it has been since 1977 when Notre Dame poll vaulted from fifth to first to beat the Crimson Tide out of a national championship since there has been such a leap to number one.

In any event, nothing has changed for Alabama, it would seem except that now the Crimson Tide has been recognized by the committee. After losing to Ole Miss in Oxford, Bama’s situation has been clear: win all remaining games, including the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, and advance to the first college football four-team playoff. Lose one more game and enjoy Orlando or some such.

Almost all polls this week – Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters, Coaches Poll conducted by USA Today, Legends Top 8 Poll of retired coaches – had the same four teams as the top four. Unlike the CFP poll, though, these polls all had Alabama in the top two or three spots prior to this week.

Other than a loss, it now appears that nothing would knock Alabama from the top four when the final bowl assignments are made on Dec. 7, the day after the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Wins over Western Carolina this week (3 p.m. CST on SEC Network), Auburn the following week, and the SEC Eastern Division champion would have Alabama as no worse than the second best record in the nation and wins over a number of ranked teams.

As of now (and that is important, because every week there’s a new beginning), the top four in the eyes of the committee are Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Mississippi State.

Alabama being on top doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns about this committee and wonderment about what they discuss in their meetings. Obviously, it has taken the 12-member group a little longer to appreciate the Crimson Tide than those who watch and study college football more than just on weekends. What it seemed to take was Alabama defeating the committee’s previous number one team, Mississippi State.

There is also the language that emerges each week. We’ve had “injury factor” and “quality loss.”

The “eye test” of the committee trumps a head-to-head victory?

This week we heard “victory margin,” which could lead to the end of any semblance of sportsmanship with teams running up the score to make an impression on the committee. Is that why Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen was so conservative in driving for a garbage touchdown against Alabama? Was he trying for a more advantageous position based on a close loss?

“Strength of schedule” seems innocuous, but that depends on who is determining how strong an opponent is. How has Minnesota worked its way into the top 25 – and stayed there. Things like that bring out the conspiracy theorists.

Another fear of “strength of schedule” is apparent this week. Alabama is playing a team it has no business being on the same field with. Western Carolina is 7-4, but look at some of the losses: Chattanooga 51-0, Presbyterian (that’s the team Ole Miss was roasted for beating 48-0) 19-14, Samford 34-20.

Suppose the committee decides to “make an example” of some team for playing weak competition? Everyone does it, but the example won’t make a splash unless it has shocking consequences. You know who that is. The same name that the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee nailed when it was SEC West Champion and had won 21 games in 2011.

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