Alabama just made life much easier for the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
With the Tide's 48-45 loss against rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday, the greatest potential source for debate -- a very good team that didn't win its division -- has been eliminated. Alabama, the only team in the country to reach every playoff since its inception in 2014, lost the two games that mattered most, opening the door for the Pac-12 and Big 12 champions to garner the most serious top-four consideration to date.
"We just didn't play well enough," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "You have to give their team credit, because they fought back and did a great job in the game, as well. ... I know our fans are disappointed, but I can promise you that our players are disappointed and we're all very disappointed and it's my responsibility to get our team to do these things better, and that certainly will be the goal in the future."
Alabama's loss also reiterated the importance of conference championship games during the playoff era, as the top four teams are almost guaranteed to have played in Power 5 title games next week.
It was an uncharacteristic finish for the Tide, who lost two games in November for the first time since 2010, when they also lost against LSU and Auburn. From 2014 to 2018, Alabama had one November loss combined, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
This one, though, was the most damaging.
When the committee releases its fifth of six rankings Tuesday, Utah and Oklahoma should move up (at the expense of Alabama) to the No. 5 and No. 6 spots, respectively. After posting convincing wins Saturday, they each will have another opportunity to impress in their conference championship games.
Don't be surprised, though, if Oklahoma jumps Utah this week after adding another top 25 win to its résumé. The No. 5 spot is the question of the week for the committee.
That's what we know at the end of the regular season. Here's where we still have questions:
Are No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 LSU already in?
Prediction: Yes. Both teams finished the regular season undefeated and should remain in the same spots Tuesday. The order could be shuffled a bit if both lose their respective conference title games, but Ohio State and LSU would likely still be in the top four on Selection Day -- assuming they were close losses. LSU is set to face Georgia in the SEC title game, while Ohio State faces Wisconsin in the Big Ten conference clash.
What happens to Wisconsin or Georgia if they win?
If two-loss Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes would probably get in instead of the Badgers. It would be easy for the committee to justify that decision because Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 38-7 on Oct. 26 -- one week after the Badgers suffered what was the season's biggest upset at the time, a 24-23 loss at Illinois. It would be hard for the committee to ignore the loss against an unranked 6-6 Illini team. A two-loss team has never finished in the top four, and Wisconsin doesn't have the résumé to become the first. We've also seen a two-loss Big Ten champ left out before (Penn State in 2016).
If Georgia finishes as a one-loss SEC champ, the Dawgs are in along with LSU, blocking the way for the Big 12 and Pac-12 champions. The committee has made it clear Georgia's good wins (Notre Dame, Florida and Auburn) have more than compensated for its ugly 20-17 home loss against South Carolina on Oct. 12, and a win against a top-four LSU team would only enhance that.
Can Oklahoma leapfrog Utah for a top-four finish?
Prediction: Yes. The most obvious way this happens is if Utah loses against two-loss Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, but it can also happen if Utah wins a close game and Oklahoma earns a convincing win against Baylor in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners got a boost last week when the committee promoted Baylor to No. 9, its first appearance in the top 10. Since OU has already beaten the Bears this season, it has a stronger win on its résumé than any on the Utes' schedule -- and Lincoln Riley's crew has a chance to beat the Bears again.
Does Baylor have a chance?
Prediction: Yes. Now that Alabama is out of the mix, there are no other teams not playing in their conference championships that can make a case for being "unequivocally" better than any of the Power 5 winners -- including Baylor. The only way the committee reverts to the word "unequivocal" to justify a top-four team this year is if LSU or Ohio State loses its respective conference title game. It's extremely unlikely the group would consider any two-loss teams ahead of any contenders playing in their conference title games this year.