Alabama edges out Ohio State for fourth spot in College Football PlayoffBy Matthew Speakman | 12/04/2017 10:47am
On championship Saturday, Alabama was left waiting and watching. The team didn’t qualify for its conference championship, despite only losing one game all season. The rest of Alabama’s season was out of its hands. The team needed the right pieces to fall into place, and they did.
Alabama was selected as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff after Ohio State defeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. The committee ultimately decided to put Alabama (11-1) in over the Buckeyes (11-2) in the No. 4 spot. The Crimson Tide will face No. 1 Clemson (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in its fourth straight playoff appearance.
“Alabama was clearly the No. 4-ranked team in the country even as a non-conference champion,” College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN.
Alabama needed desperately for Ohio State to beat Wisconsin, or for TCU to beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship on Saturday. The Sooners ended up smacking TCU, 41-17. Ohio State ultimately took care of Wisconsin, but in unconvincing fashion.
The lack of a signature win for Alabama played in Ohio State’s favor, but the committee ultimately decided that Alabama passed the eye-test. Ohio State’s 31-point loss to Iowa was also a big negative for the Buckeyes.
After those games, Alabama head coach Nick Saban went on Sportscenter on Saturday night to advocate for his team making the playoff over Ohio State.
“I don’t know if it had any impact on anybody on the committee, but I did want to at least put our case out there, in terms of our whole body of work, what we’d done all year long, trying to get the four best teams in there, and I think it worked out that way,” Saban said.
His pitch ultimately aligned with the committee’s decision. After being selected, Saban and The Crimson Tide were excited to make the playoffs. Still, Saban realized the situation Alabama was in. Other teams had to help Alabama, rather than the Crimson Tide deciding for itself.
“I think there’s a lesson to be learned here,” Saban said. “I shared this with the team today in our team meeting – that because we didn’t finish the season the way we wanted to finish the season and didn’t play the way we’d like to play or to the standard that we’d like to play to, we put our fate in someone else’s hands.”
The right pieces fell into place for Alabama, and it only gets harder for the team. Standing in its way is a familiar foe. Alabama and Clemson will meet in the CFP for the third-straight year.
It will be a rubber match. Alabama beat Clemson in the 2015 national championship, 45-40, while Clemson got its revenge in the 2016 national championship, 31-28.
Saban is planning to use those games as a way to gameplan for this year’s matchup.
“I think you can take some things technically from those games and maybe even a little strategically,” Saban said. “You always do sort of a what we did well and what we did poorly when you play a game, and you get those things out and kind of look at them and see how you can try to improve this time around.”
This year’s Clemson team is a little different, but just as dominant. The Tigers lost quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL, but Kelly Bryant has been a more than worthy replacement. Bryant has 24 total touchdowns this season.
Clemson has really hit its stride since losing to Syracuse on Oct. 13. The Tigers destroyed Miami, 38-3, in the ACC Championship to secure its spot in the playoff.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, an Alabama graduate, will face his old team for the third-straight year.
“Anytime you play a great team it’s really really, really hard,” Swinney said. “Even though Alabama's not in our conference, anytime you have to play those guys, you know it’s going to be an everything-you’ve-got type of game. But we look forward to it.”
Alabama ended its regular season in a bad way, but some of that was due to health problems. For most of November, the Crimson Tide was missing key linebackers in Christian Miller, Terrell Lewis and Mack Wilson. Those players came back against Auburn and should be more healthy against Clemson.
Still, it seems that Alabama will be missing another key player. Safety Hootie Jones will miss the game. Alabama will get back defensive end LaBryan Ray, however, who missed the last two games of the season.
“He probably won't be able to practice right off the bat,” Saban said. “We tentatively haven’t set a schedule for bowl practice yet, but I think we’re going to probably start somewhere around Dec. 15. But he may be ready to contribute after Christmas, but that'll be something that we’ll have to sort of go day-to-day on.”
Alabama and Clemson will face off for the fourth time since Nick Saban took over Alabama in 2007. The game will be on Jan. 1 in New Orleans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It will kick off at 7:45 p.m. CT.