In an Iron Bowl matchup that sent No. 6 Auburn to the SEC Championship game to play a Georgia team the Tigers have already beaten, the Alabama Crimson Tide fell to head coach Gus Malzahn, Kerryon Johnson, Jarrett Stidham, and crew, 26-14.
It wasn’t a shocking loss because Auburn proved against then-No. 1 Georgia a few weeks back that it’s a giant killer. But it’s never normal to see Alabama lose — which is a testament to the dynasty Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa. Auburn is a great team, so there’s certainly no shame in losing to the Tigers, but it was a notable stumble and fall for the Crimson Tide none the less, especially from an SEC context.
Remember, Alabama has won the past three SEC Championships in a row and four of the last five.
An SEC title game that doesn’t feature the Crimson Tide is going to be strange, but it goes deeper than that. There’s a very real chance the College Football Playoffs will be sans Alabama as well, and that’s a shocker because, since the inception of the CFP back in 2014, the Crimson Tide has always been a part of the playoffs. Alabama won it all in 2015-16 by beating Clemson in the National Championship game. Last season, the Tide made it back to a rematch game with Clemson in the title game but ultimately ended up losing to Deshaun Watson and the Tigers, 35-31.
Alabama in the CFP is a college football playoff staple, but Saturday night’s loss in the Iron Bowl absolutely puts Saban’s streak in jeopardy.
There were already questions about Alabama’s schedule heading into the Iron Bowl, so even though the team was undefeated and ranked No. 1 heading into the matchup with Auburn, there were some that felt the Crimson Tide didn’t have a strong resume. And with games against Fresno State, Colorado State, and Mercer (a win 56-0 tune-up game for the Tide in Week 11) on the schedule, that’s a legitimate concern to have about Alabama when evaluating the Tide’s playoff chances.
Of course, don’t tell Saban that. Speaking after the loss to Auburn, the Alabama head coach still felt his team deserves a shot at the CFP, per ESPN:
“I think this team deserves an opportunity to get in the playoff by what they’ve been able to accomplish and what they’ve been able to do,” Saban said after the game. “Certainly not maybe in this game, but I think the team we played tonight is a very good football team, probably one of the best teams in the country.
“They won 11 games, and not many teams are able to do that. I really don’t know what all the scenarios might be where we’d have an opportunity to do it, but I’d certainly like to see this team get an opportunity to do it.”
There is, of course, also the rest of the field to consider.
Clemson and Miami
Clemson and Miami are both 11-1 heading into the ACC Championship game, so it stands to reason that one of those two squads will make the CFP — whichever one wins that game.
Ohio State and Wisconsin
The Big Ten has a pretty strong case in undefeated Wisconsin, but that’s only if the Badgers can beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. Speaking of OSU, the Buckeyes will be making noise if they beat the Badgers in Indianapolis, and a two-loss Urban Meyer-led squad could have an argument to make the CFP over one-loss Alabama because the Buckeyes would boast wins over No. 2 Penn State, No. 12 Michigan State and undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, which would give them a conference title to brag about as well.
Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma would seem like a lock for the CFP if the Sooners beat TCU in the Big 12 Championship game and then, of course, there’s the SEC Championship game. If Georgia gets revenge on Auburn it’s a shoo-in for the CFP as a one-loss SEC champion with a redemptive win over the Tigers. And if Auburn wins, well it’s going to be very hard to keep the two-loss Tigers out. Sure, they have losses to LSU and Clemson on their schedule, but a win over UGA would give them two over the Bulldogs this season, plus wins over No. 24 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama. Keep in mind, Auburn is on a five-game win streak and looks very, very good.
Sure, Alabama has wins over No. 3 FSU, No. 19 LSU and No. 16 Mississippi State on its resume, but that loss to Auburn hurt. Combine the Iron Bowl loss with three cupcake games, including one in late November, and it would look like this may finally be the year the Crimson Tide don’t make the College Football Playoffs.