So a funny thing happened on Alabama’s way to an elite bowl game that didn’t have the words “College Football Playoff” attached to it, for a change.

Yeah, you heard the excitable whispers, too?

The ones about the Crimson Tide, whose Playoff hopes supposedly died a sudden death in Death Valley about a month ago, actually having a real chance to sneak into the CFP 4 weeks later.

Yeah, those crazy whispers that suddenly, incredibly aren’t so crazy anymore.

Because on Sunday — 1 day after Bama dispatched Auburn to finish off its 10-2 regular season, 1 day after Ohio State was manhandled by Michigan, 1 day after South Carolina stunned Clemson in the other Death Valley and 1 day after the same LSU team that seemingly ended the Tide’s Playoff hopes fell on its face in College Station — the new AP and Coaches’ Poll rankings seemed to indicate that the Tide’s dream of squeezing into that 4th and final Playoff spot wasn’t as dead as Death Valley told them after that overtime loss in Baton Rouge.

Suddenly, on Sunday afternoon, Alabama was No. 6 in both polls, having moved up 2 spots in the AP Poll and 1 spot in the Coaches’ Poll.

Suddenly, you started to do the math, didn’t you, Crimson Tide fans?

As in, 4 teams make the College Football Playoff, and there was 2-loss Alabama, laying in the weeds, a mere 2 slots away from the Top 4 despite everything it had been through, despite the Bryce Young injury, despite the sloppiness on the road, despite the inconsistencies in the passing game, despite the … 2 losses.

Normally, 2 losses in college football is an unofficial death sentence (there’s that word “death” again).

Normally, 2 losses mean you had 1 lifeline, 1 mulligan, and you blew past that and had the audacity to lose again.

Normally, in the boldest of ways, 2 losses mean you just weren’t good enough that season to be in the conversation for a national championship.

But there have been exceptions.

There have been 2-loss national champions.

There was Minnesota, way back in 1960, and then there was LSU — yep, the school that plays its home games in Death Valley (or 1 of them) — which won it all in 2007 despite losing twice. Interestingly, that was Nick Saban’s 1st season in Tuscaloosa, 4 years after Saban himself won a national title in Baton Rouge.

Which brings us back to Saban’s current team, in now his 16th season at Alabama, because it always comes back to Saban, right?

Take a closer look at those AP and Coaches’ Polls from Sunday, and you see Tennessee sitting right behind Alabama, at No. 7 in the AP Poll and at No. 8 in the Coaches’ Poll. You know, the same Volunteers team that knocked the Crimson Tide from the ranks of the unbeaten with what was probably the Game of the Year in college football back on Oct. 15 in Knoxville. Today, that same Tennessee team has the same 10-2 record that Alabama sports, so theoretically the tiebreaker would come down to head-to-head should the 2 schools still be in the mix for a Playoff spot after the dust settles on Championship Weekend.

But we also know, fair or unfair, that Alabama and Tennessee are viewed differently in the pecking order of college football, circa 2022. We know that the Crimson Tide normally get the nod when it comes to these situations because, well, they are Alabama and they’ve earned it over the past 15 years or so.

And we know that whoever has the misfortune of being in situations like this with Bama normally gets the short end of the deal. Which is why Tennessee sat behind Alabama in both polls, as of Sunday at least, despite toppling the Tide, 52-49, in that epic at Neyland Stadium.

LSU, meanwhile, is absolutely gone from the national championship conversation, suffering its 3rd loss of the season on Saturday night against a Texas A&M team that was 4-7 coming in and had absolutely nothing to lose. So the Aggies went out and ruined Brian Kelly’s slim chance to win his 1st national title, even if Kelly still has a shot at an SEC crown in his 1st season at LSU this Saturday against Georgia.

But now, the SEC Championship Game is immaterial to the Crimson Tide. Because LSU isn’t in Alabama’s way anymore — even if the Tigers did finish in front of the Tide in their own division — and Georgia is bound for the Playoff regardless of what happens in Atlanta.

For Alabama, the next checkpoint in this furious, 11th-hour chase for a Playoff spot comes Tuesday night when the 5th CFP rankings come out. That is when the Crimson Tide will truly see where they stand. It is when they will see how much the committee punished Ohio State for laying an egg at home against its biggest rival on Saturday, with absolutely everything at stake.

Both polls had the Buckeyes at No. 5 on Sunday, just 1 little old spot ahead of Bama. Logic would tell you that the Playoff rankings on Tuesday would still have Ohio State ahead of Alabama, because the Buckeyes were undefeated before Saturday and because, as tempting as the Tide can be in these thorny situations, those 2 losses are slapped on Bama’s back like a scarlet letter.

They can’t be erased.

They can’t be ignored.

Saban did exactly what he should have done after his team took care of Auburn on Saturday. He lobbied for his resilient but flawed team’s inclusion in the Playoff, probably knowing that no 2-loss team has made the CFP since its inception in 2014.

Saban probably also knows that his mighty program has been to every Playoff but 1 in those first 8 editions. And so with a sturdy if not spectacular 10-2 record, he has the absolute right to attempt to change some committee members’ minds before everything is decided this Sunday.

“I don’t make those decisions, but I know what a resilient football team this has been,” Saban told ESPN after the Auburn win. “We’ve lost 2 games to Top-10 opponents, both on the last play of the game and both on the road. We could have easily won both games but didn’t. We’re a good football team, and hopefully people will recognize that, and we’ll get a chance.”

He makes a lot of sense, of course.

He speaks the truth.

His team has been far from perfect in 2022. But it has hung in there, through major injury, through major mistakes, through those 2 crushing defeats that brought delirious fans from the stands in Knoxville and Baton Rouge.

Somehow, his team still stands a chance to sneak into the Playoff as college football gets ready for its slew of championship games. The Tide probably need a few more dominoes to fall this weekend, definitely at least 1, to really have a shot at this thing when the sun comes up on Sunday morning.

Alabama sure could use a USC loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night. That would put it on the precipice of a most unlikely place in a Playoff that everyone thought was out of reach on that early November night in Death Valley.

Ohio State doesn’t play again, with Michigan facing Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night, and that is sort of a problem for the Crimson Tide. You would think that the Wolverines would still be Playoff bound even with an upset loss to the Boilermakers, but who really knows?

And it’s certainly not a given at all that TCU, college football’s Cinderella of 2022, will beat a solid Kansas State team in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday.

So, yeah, a funny thing did happen on Alabama’s sure path to irrelevance come Playoff decision time.

As in, the Crimson Tide are hardly irrelevant.

They are surely flawed but hardly finished.

For now, those whispers are just that — whispers.

But check back over the weekend, like late Saturday night. With just the right results, it suddenly could get a little loud around Tuscaloosa.