LSU-Alabama may be a critical game in the SEC title race, but it by no means will end the playoff hopes of the loser — regardless of whom that is.
According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, LSU would have a 42% chance to reach the playoff with a loss in Tuscaloosa, while Alabama’s chances would fall to 41% with a defeat. Should each win out and finish the regular season at 11-1, LSU and Alabama would have a 60% and 64% chance to reach the playoff, respectively.
We can play this out to see why.
Let’s presume that Alabama beats the Tigers on Saturday and then goes on to win the SEC championship. LSU takes care of business in its final three games and finishes 11-1. And then Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon all win out. Can a non-champion 11-1 LSU hold off not one but two one-loss Power 5 champs for the last spot?
The Allstate Playoff Predictor says: Yes.
In that instance, LSU would be the fourth-most likely team to reach the playoff (behind Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson) at 44%. That indicates that LSU would be the favorite to grab the last spot, but there would be quite a bit of uncertainty nonetheless.
Despite having one fewer win than Oklahoma or Oregon, LSU would actually have a better strength of record (SOR) than either. The Tigers would average an SOR rank of 3.4, while the Ducks would be at 4.6 and Oklahoma would be even worse. LSU is also better than both those teams, according to FPI. It would lack the conference championship, but with both a best and more deserving case in its back pocket, the model thinks the committee would favor LSU.
The slightly more contrarian take is that Alabama would be in just as good of a position as LSU if it lost, despite the fact that it didn’t face Florida or Texas the way the Tigers did. Remember that when considering Alabama’s schedule we have to factor in the games the Tide have yet to play, which includes a game at Auburn — a top-10 team in FPI — that we are banking on Alabama winning in this scenario. Overall, the Crimson Tide’s schedule is a little tougher than it’s probably given credit for: Alabama has two road games against top-20 teams (Auburn and Texas A&M) plus the game this weekend against a top-four opponent.
All three of those are tougher than, for example, any Oklahoma game (Baylor is the 21st-best team, per FPI) this season.
The Crimson Tide’s SOR at 11-1 would also be better than Oregon’s or Oklahoma’s at 12-1, though it would be closer. However, Alabama is also better than LSU, in FPI’s mind, so that would help offset the easier schedule than the Tigers’.
The point is, while winning is substantially better for either team’s chances, as long as the loser wins the rest of its games, it will be at worst a contender and at best a strong one on selection day.
What’s better for the SEC’s multi-bid hopes?
It actually doesn’t matter.
Because of the similarity between these two teams’ contending hopes, the effect on the conference is negligible. The SEC has a 47% chance to put multiple teams into the playoff with an Alabama win, and a 46% chance with an LSU win. Either way, it’s in a pretty strong position to pull off a multi-bid playoff again.
What happens in the SEChaos scenario?
We’re talking about the situation where the SEC ends up with three one-loss teams on selection day, with Georgia beating the winner of this week’s LSU-Alabama game in the SEC conference championship, and all three teams winning every other game they play.
We don’t really have a good precedent for a scenario like this, but the Allstate Playoff Predictor thinks the committee’s order of preference for the SEC teams here would be: 1. Georgia, 2. LSU/Alabama winner, 3. LSU/Alabama loser. While we’re not going to rule out the possibility that the SEC could put all three into the playoff, the most likely scenario is that Georgia and the LSU/Alabama winner get in and the LSU/Alabama loser is left out. This is one way that losing on Saturday can prove particularly costly.
Lauren Poe contributed to this article.