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Alabama jumps to No. 2, but other SEC teams still have playoff hopes

Derrick Henry and Alabama are guaranteed a playoff spot if they win out, but if the Tide lose, the SEC might get shut out entirely. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Before the College Football Playoff selection committee released its second set of rankings on Tuesday night, the question for SEC fans was not whether Alabama would be included in the top four, but how high it would jump after thumping LSU last weekend.

It turns out the Crimson Tide's resounding win was enough to help them move from No. 4 to No. 2, joining Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame as semifinalists if the playoffs started today.

The playoffs won't start today, however, nor will the committee have to make its final selections for another four weeks. That leaves us plenty of time to ponder and debate whether another SEC school can crack the top four.

Today, the only way that seems possible is if No. 11 Florida (8-1, 6-1 SEC) beats Alabama (8-1, 5-1) in the SEC championship game -- and even that might get tricky if the Gators drop a game between now and then to South Carolina or Florida State -- or if No. 9 LSU (7-1, 4-1) wins out to finish the regular season with only the one loss to Alabama.

In that scenario, LSU would advance to the conference title game with an Alabama loss to either Mississippi State or Auburn, or it would miss out on a trip to Atlanta altogether and simply have to pray for national chaos that might allow a one-loss team that failed to play for a conference championship to slip into the committee's final four.

Sound familiar, Alabama? In the pre-playoff era, the Tide's 2011 team lost to LSU in the regular season, did not play for the SEC title and still benefited from national tumult, gaining a rematch against the Tigers with a BCS title at stake. Alabama then demolished LSU 21-0 to claim the second of Nick Saban's three BCS championships with the Tide.

The point is this: If Alabama wins out, it will be a no-doubt playoff participant. It might even wrestle the No. 1 seed away from Clemson by the time we reach early December. The discussion gets complicated only if the Tide gets upset again and brings a wide range of possibilities into play, including that a hypothetical two-loss SEC champion could get left out of the playoff entirely.

Of the five remaining unbeaten Power 5 teams -- Clemson, Ohio State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa -- all but Clemson still must face an opponent that appears to be a legitimate threat. Ohio State has Michigan State and Michigan left on the schedule, and possibly Iowa in the conference title game. Baylor has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. Oklahoma State has Baylor and Oklahoma. Iowa has … does it matter? The Hawkeyes could make things interesting by winning the Big Ten title, but beating Ohio State in the conference title game seems like the only way they crack the top four.

And we haven't even gotten into the long list of one-loss teams that can and will make the playoff picture even cloudier. I'm looking at you, Stanford, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

There are enough head-to-head matchups between good teams to expect extreme volatility in the CFP rankings between now and early December. Insanity would have to break out for two SEC teams to qualify for the final four, but we can't rule out that possibility with four weekends of football remaining -- nor can we say with absolute certainty that the SEC champion will be assured of one of the four semifinalist spots.

Here's hoping for enough chaos to keep this conversation interesting all the way through bowl season.