By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
Alabama’s body of work is complete.
All that’s left is the waiting game.
The powerhouse program, which had been ranked No. 1 all season by The Associated Press, ceded control of its playoff destiny with its first loss of the season.
A 26-14 setback to bitter rival Auburn dropped the Tide to fifth in Sunday’s AP poll, and will likely bump coach Nick Saban’s team out of the top four when the College Football Playoff releases its new standings on Tuesday.
The only rankings that really matter come out next weekend, after a final round of conference championship games that won’t include the Crimson Tide.
Alabama (11-1) is stuck on the sideline.
“We are a one-loss team and we lost to a really good team,” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said, beginning the lobbying effort. “We deserve a chance to be in the playoffs.”
Unfortunately for the Tide, that single loss knocked them out of the Southeastern Conference title game, which will pit No. 4 Auburn (10-2) against No. 6 Georgia (11-1). The winner is certain to land a spot in the playoff.
Ditto for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship between No. 1 Clemson (11-1) and No. 7 Miami (10-1). While the Hurricanes were stunned by Pittsburgh (5-7) over the Thanksgiving weekend , bouncing back with a victory over the defending national champions would surely be enough to boost Mark Richt’s team into a playoff berth.
There are spots where Alabama could sneak in while spending next weekend as a spectator.
No. 2 Oklahoma (11-1) will face No. 10 TCU (10-2) in the Big 12 title game, knowing a victory will lock up a playoff spot. If the Horned Frogs come out on top, it probably clears the way for Alabama to make the final four.
There’s also the Big Ten championship between No. 3 Wisconsin (12-0) and No. 8 Ohio State (10-2). If the Badgers stay undefeated, they’re playoff bound. If the Buckeyes win, things get very, very interesting.
MAKING THEIR CASE
Would the playoff committee go with an Alabama team that didn’t even win the SEC West and lacks a signature victory? Or would the members chose an Ohio State team that has two double-digit losses, including a 31-point blowout to Iowa (7-5) at the beginning of November ?
Unfairly or not, Alabama’s resume is hurt by its schedule.
The Tide opened against then-No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta, romping to a seemingly impressive 24-7 victory . But after losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury in that game, the Seminoles plummeted to a 5-6 record, so that Week 1 triumph no longer adds any luster to Alabama’s credentials.
Two wins came against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, a 24-10 victory over No. 17 LSU and a 31-24 squeaker against No. 24 Mississippi State.
Ohio State also has two Top 25 wins but they’re more impressive — 39-38 against No. 9 Penn State and a 48-3 rout of No. 19 Michigan State — with a chance for another against Wisconsin. But that ugly performance at Iowa is a real blemish, not to mention a 31-16 home loss to Oklahoma . It might be too much to overcome.
For what it’s worth, Clemson has the worst loss of any of the contenders, a 27-24 shocker to Syracuse (4-8) . But that is more than offset by wins over Auburn , No. 22 Virginia Tech and 8-4 teams South Carolina, North Carolina State and Louisville.
In addition to rooting for Ohio State and TCU, Alabama may want to cheer on its biggest rival.
An Auburn victory in the SEC championship game would probably help the Tide’s case, since it would show the Tigers are playing as well as anyone in the country at the moment — maybe good enough to be a No. 1 seed. Alabama could make a pretty strong case if it’s only loss came on the road against a team of Auburn’s caliber.
No matter what, Saban will have to rely on others to get a shot at his fifth national title in 11 years at Alabama. His team is the only one to make the College Football Playoff every season since it was launched in 2014.
Saban, who probably craves being in control more than any college coach, is no longer in control.
“I think this team deserves the opportunity to get into the playoff by what they have been able to accomplish and what they have been able to do,” Saban said. “We have won 11 games, and not many teams have been able to do that. I really don’t know what all the scenarios might be where we would have an opportunity to (make the playoff). I certainly would like to see this team get the opportunity to do it.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
For more AP college football coverage: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)