Alabama's Uncharacteristic Mistakes in Loss to Auburn Throw CFP Race into Chaos

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 25, 2017

Jalen Hurts
Jalen HurtsBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

Even if you loathe Nick Saban and Alabama football with every fiber of your being, you have to admit this team has been incredibly well-prepared for just about every matchup over the past decade. You don't win four national championships and 123 out of 136 games without poise and a commitment to error-free play.

However, in arguably the most important contest of the 2017 college football season, the Crimson Tide looked about as disciplined as an eight-week-old puppy, nervously leaving wet spots all over Jordan-Hare Stadium en route to a 26-14 loss in the Iron Bowl.

That's not to take anything away from Auburn's incredible effort. Kerryon Johnson ran until his body physically couldn't take any more due to a shoulder injury, finishing with 128 total yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). Save for one fumbled snap, Jarrett Stidham was almost flawless both as a passer and rusher. And an offensive line that infamously surrendered 11 sacks in a Week 2 loss to Clemson only allowed one sack in this gameand it was effectively nullified by one of Alabama's many careless mistakes.

Knocking off No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama in the span of three weeks is nothing short of phenomenal and makes the Tigers the biggest story of the year.

But we've got all week to talk about Auburn in the lead-up to the SEC title game.

For now, let's discuss an Alabama team that is finished playing until bowl season and finds itself at the mercy of some combination of Ohio State, TCU and the College Football Playoff selection committee.

There's no way to sugar coat it: Alabama was a mess in this game.

It started with lackadaisical defensive effort in the first quarter. Alabama defenders have made wrapping up ball-carriers and driving them backward a common sight over the last 10 years. But Saturday, Tide defenders made getting bowled over for an extra yard or two a common sight. That, or Auburn ball-carriers shed arm tackles and tacked on a significant number of additional yards with frequency.

Alabama had no answer for Kerryon Johnson.
Alabama had no answer for Kerryon Johnson.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Of particular note was a screen pass to Darius Slayton. It came right after Auburn converted on a 3rd-and-9 with a 25-yard gainthe first of many indications this wasn't Alabama's day. Stidham hit Slayton for what should have been a five-yard gain along the boundary. However, instead of tackling him or aggressively forcing him out, the defender tried to spin Slayton into the sideline and accidentally set him loose for a 23-yard gain.

Two more third-down conversions later, Auburn had an early 7-0 lead and had set the tone as the better, more aggressive team.

While it wasn't necessarily all downhill from there, things didn't get much better for the Crimson Tide.

Their ensuing offensive possession ended with an illegal block on one play, a sack on the next and a lost fumble from quarterback Jalen Hurts to finish off a trifecta of self-inflicted wounds. Were it not for the aforementioned fumbled snap by Stidham (inside the Tide 5-yard line), Alabama would've been down by two possessions before the game had barely begun.

The Crimson Tide trailed 10-7 at the intermission, but they got the ball to start the third quarter and stormed down the field like bats out of hell. It only took five plays and 79 yardsincluding a couple of "vintage" Bo Scarbrough runsfor it to feel like Alabama had figured things out and was ready to win this thing.

Instead, it went back to looking lost on defense and helpless on offense, getting outscored 16-0 the rest of the way.

There were blown coverages, botched snaps, gaping holes in the defensive front seven, ill-timed and bone-headed penalties and just a lot of stuff that didn't resemble the crisp Alabama football we've come to expect.

The final margin was only 12 points, but by Alabama standards, this felt like a blowout loss. At any rate, per Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News, it was Alabama's largest margin of defeat in this rivalry in nearly half a century:

Prior to a couple of clock-bleeding possessions in the fourth quarter, the average Auburn drive lasted 7.9 plays and went for 45.7 yards. To put that number into better perspective, in Alabama's first three SEC games (against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Texas A&M), it allowed a grand total of two drives that went for 45 or more yards. But for a little over three quarters, that was just par for the course for Auburn.

Through its first 11 games, Alabama allowed 14 first downs per game. Auburn had 13 by halftime and finished with 25the most any team has had against the Crimson Tide since Clemson's 31 in last year's national championship.

And because of that uncharacteristically undisciplined performance, now we'll get the answer to the hypothetical question everyone has been asking for weeks: What will the committee do with a one-loss Alabama?

Per Charlie Potter, Alabama beat writer for 247Sports, Saban thinks Alabama deserves the chance to compete for the playoff:

Will chairman Kirby Hocutt and the rest of the CFP selection committee agree?

Since January, everyone has had Alabama penciled into the No. 1 spot in this year's playoff. Even when Georgia was ahead of Alabama in the initial CFP rankings, the writing on the wall was that the Bulldogs would have to go through the Crimson Tide to get there, and most in the bowl-projection business were expecting Alabama to win that game.

But this single road loss to one of the best teams in the country knocks Alabama out of a shot at a conference championship—as was Ohio State's fate last season because of a wild loss at Penn State. The Buckeyes ended up with the No. 3 spot in last year's playoff, but it'll take a little championship-week chaos for the Crimson Tide to finish in the Top Four.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

At this point, it seems clear the winners of the ACC and SEC championships will get into the playoff and the losers will not. If Oklahoma and Wisconsin win the Big 12 and Big Ten title games, respectively, there's no chance Alabama will finish higher than No. 5 in the final rankings.

But what if Ohio State beats Wisconsin? Then it will come down to an argument between a two-loss conference champion that was annihilated by both Oklahoma and Iowa, a one-loss Wisconsin that hadn't played a Top 25 team until Nov. 11 and a one-loss Alabama that didn't play a much better schedule than the Badgers. Maybe the Crimson Tide will sneak in.

What if TCU upsets Oklahoma? Would that conference championship be enough for the two-loss Horned Frogs to edge out 11-1 Alabama? (Would TCU even move ahead of USC if the Trojans win the Pac-12 with two losses?)

If both Oklahoma and Wisconsin lose next week, then, my friend, prepare yourself for a deluge of playoff-expansion hot takes, because there's no telling how the committee would rank Nos. 3-8.

The moral of the story is there are still scenarios in which Alabama competes for a national championship. But after three straight years of comfortably finishing either No. 1 or No. 2 in the rankings heading into the playoff, the Crimson Tide have to sit at home next Saturday and hope at least one other title contender makes as many mistakes in its championship game as Alabama did in the Iron Bowl.

                        

Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.