It was a game Alabama had to win, and it was a game Alabama lost. The Tide fell, 26-14, to Auburn in the Iron Bowl this past Saturday, leaving their playoff hopes very much in doubt.
“For whatever reason, Alabama was not at their best,” Senior Bowl executive director and Crimson Tide color analyst Phil Savage said on The DA Show. “They had, of course, a lost fumble, the botched field-goal attempt, the snaps down on the ground – it was one of the worst performances that they’ve had. This is my ninth season (covering Alabama), and I have to go back to 2007 when they had failures in all three phases: offense, defense, and special teams. Usually if they have a failure in one area, the other two areas play well and they’re able to overcome those negatives.”
That was not the case Saturday.
Alabama, which has reached the playoff three years in a row, will be without a conference championship, a division title, and, in all likelihood, a top-15 win. The Tide’s best win of the season may have been a 31-24 victory at then-No. 16 Mississippi State on Nov. 11. Alabama needed a last-minute score to secure the win.
“Bama, I felt like, would have some confidence based on what happened at Mississippi State a few weeks earlier,” Savage said. “They had come from behind in the fourth quarter, a very noisy situation. But there was no carryover into Jordan-Hare Stadium. I think you have to give a lot of credit to Auburn. They played extremely well. They stuck to their game plan, which was to pound Kerryon Johnson between the tackles.”
Johnson rushed 30 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, as Auburn controlled the ball for more than 36 minutes.
Savage, though, believes Alabama still has a path to the playoff.
“We laid this out immediately after the game,” he said. “The first thought is, ‘Well, Bama’s probably out of it.’ Well, not just yet. The door is not completely closed. I think the reality is that the ACC winner, they’re in. The winner of the SEC, they’re in. So that leaves two more spots. I think you have to look at the two-loss teams that are in those games: TCU against Oklahoma and Ohio State against Wisconsin. If either could pull the upset – or both could pull the upset – then I think obviously the committee has to choose between a one-loss Alabama and a two-loss conference champion. That would be the debate.”
Ohio State, if victorious, would have two top-10 wins (Wisconsin and Penn State), a dominant 45-point win over a top-20 Michigan State squad, and a league title from one of the top conferences in the country. TCU, if victorious, would have a top-five win over Oklahoma and a road win over Oklahoma State, which entered Week 13 ranked 19th in the country.
“Do you take Alabama at 11-1 or TCU or Ohio State with two losses although they won their conference title? That’s going to be the debate,” Savage said. “The reality is Alabama’s got a strong resume behind them in terms of the history. They’ve been in the playoffs three times. They’ve been the No. 1 team in the country for the better part of two years. Does any part of that count or matter? Technically, it doesn’t. But I do think that the Alabama brand does carry some weight when it comes down to these board rooms.”