If teams with the same record are in the running for a Playoff spot, a head-to-head advantage should break the tie.*

I believe in that statement. What’s the point of playing games if the head-to-head advantage is thrown out? That’s foolish. In a sport where there are so few common opponents and the schedules are wildly different based on conference affiliation, we have to default to head-to-head … with 1 exception.

Yeah, you saw the asterisk in that first sentence. You knew where I was going.

That relates to the Alabama vs. Texas debate. There’s an asterisk to that hard-and-fast rule that should settle 99.9% of Playoff debates, and it’s simple.

Beating Georgia, AKA the 2-time defending champions who have won an SEC record 29 consecutive games, is the ultimate trump card. Sorry. It just is.

And I know. Before you tell me that this is just some biased take, go back to last year when I banged the drum that a 2-loss, non-division champ Alabama team didn’t have a path to the Playoff with nothing better than victories against 4-loss teams on the résumé. It’s a year-to-year argument, but if we’re talking about the 2-time defending champs who are 41-1 in the past 3 seasons, that has to be part of the argument. Not all wins against 12-0 teams are created equal.

Just to recap, this is essentially the 4-leg parlay that would have to hit for there to be an Alabama vs. Texas debate for the final Playoff spot (I left out the Pac-12 Championship because I believe the winner of that game is in the Playoff):

  • Alabama beats Georgia
  • Texas beats Oklahoma State
  • Florida State beats Louisville
  • Michigan beats Iowa

No, the selection committee wouldn’t leave out an undefeated Power 5 champ like Florida State, which beat 2 SEC teams away from home by multiple scores en route to a 12-0 season. Tate Rodemaker might not be the second coming of Cardale Jones, but FSU would still have earned a spot if it can get to 13-0. No 13-0 Power 5 team has been left out of the field. That would be unprecedented in the final Playoff rankings

(In the first Playoff poll of the season, we did see the selection committee rank Texas ahead of Oklahoma even though they were both 1-loss teams and the Sooners had the head-to-head.)

A potential Alabama-Texas debate for the final spot would also be unprecedented. The closest thing to that we’ve had with the 4-team Playoff with 2 teams and a potential head-to-head decider was 2016 with Ohio State and Penn State. Penn State had the head-to-head against Ohio State, and the Lions even won the Big Ten Championship. But the selection committee gave that spot to a 1-loss Ohio State team instead of a 2-loss Penn State team that was at No. 5 in the final Playoff rankings.

In 2015, Michigan State and Ohio State were 1-loss teams that faced each other, though that wasn’t really much of an argument because MSU had the head-to-head advantage and it won the conference.

Alabama vs. Texas would be as scrutinized of a decision as any during the decade of the 4-team Playoff era. It might even top the 2014 Ohio State vs. Baylor/TCU debate. I’d still argue the Big 12 has itself to blame for that because it didn’t have a conference championship game while the Big Ten did.

Both Texas and Alabama will be playing in a conference championship game on Saturday. If either loses, this entire discussion is moot. If Alabama wins and FSU stumbles against Louisville on Saturday night, my guess is this is what the 4-team field would look like:

  • Pac-12 winner
  • Michigan
  • Alabama
  • Texas

It would turn into a debate about Georgia and whether that 1-loss résumé would stack up against a 1-loss Oregon or a 1-loss Texas. As much as the selection committee has shown respect to UGA, I don’t think the selection committee would justify putting a non-conference champ in over Texas when the Longhorns took care of their lone mutual opponent, and did so by double digits in Tuscaloosa. Oregon would have also capitalized on avenging its lone loss, which is a luxury that Georgia wouldn’t have.

Would that be the case in any other year? Probably not. But this isn’t most years.

There are 8 Power 5 teams with 0 or 1 loss heading into conference championship weekend. Here’s that number in each year of the Playoff:

  • 2014 — 6 (Alabama, Baylor, TCU, Ohio State, FSU, Oregon)
  • 2015 — 7 (Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UNC)
  • 2016 — 4 (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Washington)
  • 2017 — 6 (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Georgia, Miami)
  • 2018 — 6 (Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State)
  • 2019 — 7 (Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Georgia, Utah, Oklahoma, Baylor)
  • 2020 — Excluded because of pandemic-shortened season
  • 2021 — 6 (Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame)
  • 2022 — 5 (Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, TCU, USC)
  • 2023 — 8 (Georgia, Michigan, Washington, FSU, Oregon, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama)

That’s why it feels like for the first time since 2014, nobody is entering conference championship weekend with a Playoff spot already locked in.

We’ve had the same teams within the top 8 of each Playoff poll so far. That’s a first. Chaos was supposed to prevent the Alabama-Texas debate from having life going into conference championship, and instead, we’ve had no true chaos within the top 8. Not yet.

Maybe that’s coming this weekend. Alabama beating Georgia would indeed be chaos. After all, the Dawgs haven’t suffered a potential championship-dashing loss since 2020.

If the favorites win the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC championships, the chaos will be on the back burner. In that scenario, Alabama would be done with Texas likely on the outside looking in. We would have at least 3 Power 5 unbeatens representing the Playoff field, and possibly 4 if Washington wins the rematch against Oregon. That would be a bit like 2019, though in that year, every Power 5 team outside of the 4-team field had at least 2 losses. It doesn’t appear that’ll be the case this year.

This weekend will begin a fitting way to close the 4-team Playoff. It feels inevitable that at least 1 deserving team will be left out. Whether that’s Alabama and/or Texas remains to be seen.

But there’s no way a win against Georgia should keep the Tide at home. It took 10 years to find a true exception to the rule.