The penultimate version of the College Football Playoff rankings was bittersweet for Alabama.
The Tide dropped outside the top four after their 26-14 Iron Bowl loss at Auburn, but only just outside at No. 5. Alabama's opponents in its two best wins this season -- LSU and Mississippi State -- both remained in the rankings at No. 17 and No. 23, respectively. Alabama has another win over a ranked opponent as Fresno State, revived by first-year coach Jeff Tedford, made its rankings debut at No. 25 (the Bulldogs visit Boise State in the Mountain West championship game this week).
This board looks pretty sweet for Alabama. So what's to be bitter about?
As the Tide spend SEC championship Saturday at home for the first time since 2013, they will be forced to root for their most hated rival: the Auburn Tigers. Auburn surged all the way to No. 2 after beating Georgia and Alabama in a three-week span. The committee clearly values what Auburn has done lately, putting the two-loss Tigers ahead of undefeated Wisconsin (now at No. 4) and a one-loss Oklahoma team with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Oklahoma State.
So Auburn is an excellent loss for Alabama. The Tide, as painful as it might be, want to keep it that way. A Georgia win over Auburn in Atlanta slightly devalues Alabama's loss on the Plains, and an Auburn win strengthens the Tide's case to make the final top four.
If pulling for Auburn isn't uncomfortable enough for Alabama fans, they also should root for Ohio State this weekend. They need a top-four spot to clear, and unless TCU beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, a win by the favored Buckeyes over No. 4 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship is the Tide's best bet.
Ohio State can't feel great about its playoff chances after Tuesday's rankings. If the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin, they would have three wins -- No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State -- stronger than Alabama's best victory, but the committee clearly is hesitant because of Ohio State's 31-point road loss at Iowa, which finished 7-5.
If it comes down to Ohio State vs. Alabama for the final spot, the Buckeyes might need a 2014-like smashing of Wisconsin in Indianapolis, plus a Georgia win over Auburn, to get the nod over Nick Saban's team. And just to be sure, the Buckeyes also should root for top-ranked Clemson, the team that humiliated them in last year's playoff semifinal, to beat No. 7 Miami in the ACC championship.
The committee clearly loves Clemson's profile, which includes big wins both at home and on the road. Even NC State sneaking back into the rankings at No. 24 helps Clemson, which won in Raleigh on Nov. 4. If Clemson loses a close game to Miami, would the committee consider putting the Tigers ahead of Big Ten champ Ohio State? You can't rule it out.
If Tuesday was bad for Ohio State, it was worse for TCU, which has never really resonated with the committee this year. The Frogs moved up only one spot to No. 11. Even if they beat No. 3 Oklahoma, they would need complete chaos to move all the way into the top four. The committee continues to be a bit down on the Big 12, for whatever reason.
Another loser Tuesday night was UCF, which also moved up a single spot to No. 14 despite arguably its best win of the season Friday against USF. AAC commissioner Mike Aresco's gripes clearly didn't help, and UCF athletic director Danny White voiced his displeasure after the rankings. UCF is a great team that will earn a New Year's Six berth if it beats No. 20 Memphis this weekend, but it has to be disheartening to be 11-0 and behind three-loss Stanford, which moved up to No. 13 after its win over Notre Dame. Coach Scott Frost loves it at UCF, but the rankings reality provides another reason why he has to take a Power 5 job this year, most likely at his alma mater, Nebraska.
The Pac-12 long has been thought to be out of the race, and Tuesday's rankings didn't change the view. USC moved up a spot to No. 10, but a second win over Stanford probably won't move Clay Helton's team up much in the final rankings.
Miami justifiably fell five spots to No. 7 this week following its loss Friday at 4-7 Pitt. The Canes' profile seemed to be overrated before the Pitt game, and Notre Dame's 18-point loss to Stanford, and subsequent drop from No. 8 to No. 15, doesn't help the U either. The good news: If Miami upsets Clemson in the ACC title game, it will reach the playoff.
The final rankings are only five days away, and after several boring championship weekends, we finally have an exciting slate of games featuring teams with everything on the line. Alabama is rooting for Auburn and Ohio State. Ohio State is rooting for Clemson.
Isn't the College Football Playoff great?