Could Alabama Miss the College Football Playoffs in 2017? Auburn Loss Leaves Rankings, National Title Picture Hazy

The University of Alabama’s vice grip over the college football regular season ended suddenly, brutally, on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Nick Saban’s vaunted defense couldn’t stop Jarrett Stidham or Kerryon Johnson, who ran 30 times for Auburn University while nursing injuries; Alabama’s serviceable offense, led by Jalen Hurts, couldn’t hurt the Tigers. The final score, 26-14, and comfortable in the end for Auburn, failed to reflect the magnitude of the shock of the loss.

The ramifications are many. Auburn is going to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game next weekend to play the University of Georgia in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta. If the Bulldogs win, and take back their loss to the Tigers from earlier in the season, they will almost certainly represent the SEC in the College Football Playoffs.

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama, on November 25. The loss to the Tigers has cast the Tide's playoff aspirations into doubt. Kevin C. Cox/Getty

It’s more complicated if Auburn beats Georgia next Saturday. On the one hand, that could benefit Alabama as the College Football Playoff Committee—which will make its final decision on December 3—would generate controversy by sending a two-loss team to the final four. But then, Auburn would have won the SEC and raised questions, at least, over the caliber of teams the Crimson Tide have faced.

“While the Tide have been dominant, the committee will also point out that their best wins have come against three-loss LSU, which lost to Troy, and four-loss Mississippi State. Their only other Power 5 win against an opponent over .500 was vs. Texas A&M,” Heather Dinich wrote for ESPN on Sunday. Alabama isn’t going to get in over the SEC champion.

That leaves three more spots open. The winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game between Clemson and Miami will finish the regular season with one loss, so one of those two teams is getting in.

Then down to two more spots, one of which will be taken by the University of Wisconsin-Madison if it beats Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday. The Badgers will have gone through the regular season unbeaten if they beat the Buckeyes. The AP rankings, released on Sunday, had Oklahoma second behind Clemson. SB Nation noted an irony on Saturday: without a Big 12 title game, the Sooners would almost certainly already be in the playoff thanks to a one-loss regular season and a statement win on the road against Ohio State.

But the championship game that the Big 12 introduced to make it more competitive in the national title conversation means the Sooners have to play a tough Texas Christian University team again. Win and they are in as the third seed. Lose and it gets weird. Maybe, as SB Nation points out, TCU has a shot. But losses for Wisconsin or Oklahoma would also bring Alabama back into the conversation.

Saban’s team isn’t out of this, yet. Heading into a climactic weekend of championship games, the playoff picture remains mysterious.