Analysis | Alabama football’s playoff chances


CW / David Gray

Alabama teammates share a moment of stillness together before the Crimson Tide take on Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium on Oct. 16, 2021.

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

With just four games left in the regular season, it’s now time to think about where Alabama football will stand in the College Football Playoff. 

”We still can accomplish everything we want to accomplish,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. 

The selection committee releases its first set of rankings on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. CT. The committee will release rankings every week until the end of the season. 

Right now, the general consensus puts the Georgia Bulldogs as the No. 1 team. The Bulldogs defeated the Florida Gators 34-7 on Saturday. On Sept. 18, Alabama squeaked past the Gators with a 31-29 win in Gainesville, Florida. 

Alabama, unlike Georgia, also has one loss this season. 

The Crimson Tide fell to the Texas A&M Aggies 41-38 at Kyle Field on Oct. 9. Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former assistant coach to beat Saban in 25 tries. The loss also ended Alabama’s win streak over unranked opponents at 100. 

This loss makes the Crimson Tide’s path to the playoffs a bit more complicated. 

Alabama is currently ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25. The Crimson Tide is the only team in the top four with a loss. 

The Oklahoma Sooners are just below the Crimson Tide at No. 4. Despite struggling against unranked opponents like Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia, the Sooners are undefeated. 

Based on previous years, it’s safe to say that if you’re undefeated, your chances of making the playoffs are high. That doesn’t mean the selection committee won’t select teams with one loss. 

Eleven of the 28 teams that have gone to the playoff were undefeated. The 2019 playoffs featured the most undefeated teams, with three: LSU, Clemson and Ohio State. 

That means 17 of the 28 teams have one regular-season loss. No team with two regular-season losses has made it. 

Alabama has made the playoff six times. Three of those times, Alabama had one loss. 

The last time the Crimson Tide made the playoffs with one loss was the 2017 season. Top-ranked Alabama fell to the No. 6 Auburn Tigers, 26-14. That win was the first time the Tigers beat a top-ranked Crimson Tide team since the Kick Six back in 2013. 

Fortunately for Alabama, Auburn lost four times that season. The Crimson Tide only had one loss. 

Alabama was selected as the No. 4 team. The Crimson Tide defeated No. 2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and No. 1 Georgia in the title game. 

Every team in the 2017 playoffs — Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma and Alabama — had one loss. 

This path isn’t easy, but it’s not one that is less taken. There is one criterion in the selection process that might help the Crimson Tide: strength of schedule. 

According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, a computer model at ESPN ranked Alabama’s schedule as the 16th-hardest schedule before the start of the season. 

The model predicted that an average top-five team would have a win percentage of 0.821 against Alabama’s schedule. That means that the average top-five team was projected to have a 9-3 record against Alabama’s opponents. 

Alabama is currently 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference. 

The Crimson Tide has three wins over ranked opponents. The closest victory was over the Gators, 31-29. In the season opener, the Crimson Tide routed No. 14 Miami 44-13. Then, on Oct. 2, No. 12 Ole Miss lost to Alabama, 42-21. 

Alabama’s sole loss was to Texas A&M. When they faced Alabama, the Aggies were unranked. Texas A&M has now moved back into the top 25 at No. 14, but the Aggies have been ranked as high as No. 7 this season.

Alabama’s final opponent, Auburn, is currently No. 18. 

The other top four teams’ schedules are all ranked below Alabama’s. 

No. 1 Georgia’s schedule was ranked 44th, No. 2 Cincinnati’s was ranked 79th, and No. 4 Oklahoma’s was ranked 55th. 

Strength of schedule is arguably the most important criterion to the selection committee. In fact, it has changed how some schools create their schedules. 

Gone are the days when teams had multiple “cupcake” games. Teams are scheduling tough opponents early and often with playoff implications in mind. 

Win percentages and strength of schedules aside, the Crimson Tide only has one number in mind: zero. 

Alabama cannot lose another game this season. If they lose another game, their playoff hopes are dashed. 

It took a humiliating loss to Texas A&M for the Crimson Tide to play some of their best football this season. But that can’t be — nor should it be — the path Alabama takes.

“I still think we shouldn’t need to be humiliated to go out there and play the way we’re capable of,” Saban said after the win against Tennessee. “We should be a team that wants to beat other teams because of who we are, what our DNA is, what our disposition is, what we want our identity to be, and we have to keep working on that.” 

Alabama’s best chance to show college football fans and the committee who they are is now.