Alabama, Ole Miss and how the CFP avoided true chaos

What if Ole Miss had beaten Arkansas? (2:08)

Mike & Mike explore how things would be different if Ole Miss defeated Arkansas in overtime and what that would have meant for Alabama's playoff chances. (2:08)

Let me start by saying Alabama is clearly or, to use College Football Playoff lingo, unequivocally one of the best four teams this season.

Now that we have that established, let's have a little fun with this whole selection process, which is jeered, cheered and smeared every Tuesday night when the committee's rankings are unveiled.

The most fascinating "What if ..." in a season full of them is how everything would have played out if the ball hadn't bounced just right for Arkansas back on Nov. 7 in the Hogs' thrilling 53-52 overtime win against Ole Miss. Even Arkansas coach Bret Bielema referred to the fourth-and-25 lateral play in overtime as "divine intervention." Tight end Hunter Henry gathered in a short pass and flung it backward about 30 feet as he was being tackled. The ball was tipped by an offensive lineman and scooped up on the bounce by Alex Collins, who rambled for the first down, but not before he fumbled. Teammate Dominique Reed was there to recover for the Hogs.

The whole thing is still dizzying when you watch the replay, but the Hogs went on to score a touchdown and convert the winning two-point try in one of the more exciting games of the season.

It was a great win for Arkansas and a crushing loss for Ole Miss.

But think about the conundrum the committee would have right now had Henry's wild lateral not bounced just right.

For one, assuming the rest of the season played out the same way, Ole Miss and not Alabama would be playing in the SEC championship game this weekend. And yet, nothing seemingly would have changed with the Crimson Tide. They've been a solid No. 2 in the committee's rankings, and just two weeks ago, committee chairman Jeff Long said there was even some discussion about moving Alabama to the No. 1 spot.

But without an SEC championship to play for, would we have seen Alabama drop out of the top four when the other conference championships were decided this weekend? Again, that's a topic we could spend hours on and one that would generate heated (and I mean heated) debate.

On one hand, if Alabama's résumé had been good enough and the Tide had been impressive enough to garner a No. 2 ranking, the only thing that would have changed is that they wouldn't have played for their conference title.

But we also saw TCU go from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final rankings a season ago after the head-to-head quotient was applied by the committee, which brings us to the next set of questions.

If Ole Miss were to win the SEC championship against Florida, is there any way the committee could have selected Alabama over Ole Miss when the Rebels would own the conference championship and a head-to-head win against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama?

Conference championships are supposed to matter, and the most unwritten rule of all in this process is that you'd better be the equivalent of the 1985 Chicago Bears if you're going to trump a conference champion as a non-champion.

That's what would have made the Alabama situation so intriguing. The meltdown in that state would have been nuclear had Alabama gone from No. 2 to out of the playoff and watching from home. The phones into Paul Finebaum's show would have shut down, maybe even blown up the entire computer system at the SEC Network.

It would have gotten even better if Stanford were to lose in the Pac-12 championship game to USC. A two-loss Ole Miss as the SEC champion would have been in the conversation at that point, but one of those losses was to Memphis. And that takes us back to our original sticking point.

Conference championships and head-to-head results are the gold standard when it comes to comparing teams in the committee's eyes, along with strength of schedule.

Without a conference title, as good as Alabama has been, the Crimson Tide could have been squeezed -- all because of one bounce.

It's not the first time the ball has bounced Alabama's way, either. Just to get into the BCS Championship Games to close out the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Tide benefited from teams in front of them losing after they had dropped November games at home. In 2011, Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State, paving the way for Alabama to move into the top two spots of the final BCS standings. And in 2012, both Kansas State and Oregon lost on the third Saturday of November, helping Alabama recover from a home loss to Texas A&M the week earlier.

Before I'm bombarded with reminders that there are funky bounces in every football season, I'm well aware that most championship teams have some good fortune along the way. (And that Ole Miss was the beneficiary of a friendly bounce on a 66-yard touchdown catch that helped the Rebels beat the Tide.)

Of course, if it all works out for the Crimson Tide and they win their fourth national championship in the past seven years, they might want to send a fruit basket, thank-you note or some token of appreciation to Arkansas.

And by the way, the athletic director at Arkansas also just happens to be the College Football Playoff committee chairman.

Hey, Jeff, where do bounces rank with the eye test?