For the first time since the College Football Playoff replaced the BCS to decide the national championship, Alabama will not be participating. The Crimson Tide are currently fifth in the pecking order for SEC teams, based on current College Football Playoff rankings.
LSU and Georgia obviously headline that group. The No. 2 Tigers and No. 4 Bulldogs play for a conference title on Saturday, and a Georgia win very well may send both teams to the CFP.
No. 9 Florida and No. 11 Auburn also sit ahead of Alabama, which is ranked 12th. None of the three play this weekend, obviously, so there is no way to justify a shuffle between these three schools, especially with Auburn’s Iron Bowl win over Alabama.
Working with the assumption that LSU wins tomorrow, bumping Georgia out of the top four, here’s what things look like for the SEC, and how far Alabama might tumble.
College Football Playoff: LSU – The Tigers are probably locked in already, and if they can’t pass Ohio State, they have a likely date with Clemson here.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia – The best non-playoff SEC team is heading to New Orleans. That is the Dawgs, once again, in this scenario.
Orange Bowl: Florida – Here is where the Big Ten Championship plays in. If No. 8 Wisconsin gets skunked by Ohio State, the Badgers could tumble a bit. The Orange Bowl can take the best non-Sugar or Rose Bowl-bound SEC/Big Ten team. A bad Badgers loss could send Penn State to Pasadena, and Florida down to the Orange Bowl here.
Cotton Bowl: The top available at-large will face the Group of Five champion (Memphis with a win Saturday, Cincinnati or Boise State otherwise) here. Wisconsin could get the spot if it falls behind Florida, but stays ahead of Alabama. Baylor or Oklahoma are also possibilities, depending on the results of the Big 12 championship, and how that impacts the Playoff. Either way, Alabama seems unlikely with all of the teams ahead.
We get down to the fifth spot to find potential fits for Alabama.
Citrus Bowl: This is one of the most popular projections for the Crimson Tide, with many pitting the team against Michigan. On paper, it is difficult to see a bowl with a free choice here passing on Alabama, though potential attendance and fan excitement matters. As Banner Society‘s Jason Kirk states, that could lead to higher-ranked Auburn getting the nod.
“Bama could fall here, and this would be a huge Helmet Game for the Citrus, but what if they’d rather have the happy winner of the Iron Bowl, not the mad loser?”
The Outback and TaxSlayer Gator Bowls are next up, and are probably the worst case, but very real scenarios for Alabama here. Kirk projects the Outback as Alabama against Minnesota, a team having its worst season in some time vs. one having its best in generations.
Without the Crimson Tide playing for a title, Nick Saban may have to deal with players skipping bowls for the first time, and motivation is always a question in games like this. These are very interesting times we’re living in.