This is unfamiliar territory. For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, Alabama might be watching―not preparing for―the four-team championship tournament.
LSU's 46-41 victory over the Crimson Tide in Week 11 means Nick Saban's squad cannot force the CFP selection committee's hand. Nobody can control destiny, but a 13-0 record and SEC title leave no room for doubt. Had the Tide accomplished it, the CFP would be in their future.
Instead, the team's realistic best-case scenario is 11-1 and no SEC crown. Alabama, which is ranked fifth in the latest College Football Playoff poll, needs some help.
And it's geauxing to feel pretty uncomfortable.
Yes, LSU―the rival that just celebrated a win on the Tide's home field―is the most critical component of Alabama's road back to the College Football Playoff. If the Tigers don't finish 13-0 atop the SEC, the Crimson Tide's chances of sneaking into the CFP tumble from slim to nearly nonexistent.
We'll pause here while Alabama fans shudder at such an unpleasant feeling.
All right. Let's continue.
Taking a realistic look around the country, 11 teams have an inarguable chance at reaching the CFP.
Beyond top-ranked LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are thrashing their opposition. The Buckeyes are averaging a 42.4-point winning margin, while the Tigers own a dominant 33.8 clip. The three schools boast a combined 28-0 record and are pointed toward the Playoff.
Could any of them lose? Sure. This sport is bizarre sometimes, and no future outcome is an absolute certainty. Still, those programs are clearly atop the college football hierarchy right now.
If we project unbeaten seasons for the trio―whether your opinion or not, let's play the game―three of the remaining eight potential candidates will be eliminated. Ohio State would knock out Penn State and Minnesota, and then LSU would bounce Georgia. (In this hypothetical, Minnesota and Georgia lose in their respective conference title games.)
Throw in a guaranteed clash between Oklahoma and Baylor, plus a likely showdown of Oregon and Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and that further trims the field.
So, the remaining teams for the No. 4 CFP slot would be the Big 12 winner, Pac-12 champion and Alabama.
Should the Crimson Tide end up 11-1, they'll have defeated Auburn―which toppled Oregon earlier this year. While Oklahoma could win the Big 12 title, a loss to Kansas State looks a whole lot worse than the Tide falling to LSU. The same applies to Utah, which fell to a middling USC team.
This isn't us campaigning for Alabama; each portion of the preceding paragraph is a fact. Head-to-head results should matter. Losing to the No. 1 team in the nation isn't embarrassing. Would the lack of a conference title outweigh both of those?
That answer is debatable. And that's all the Tide need.
As long as Baylor doesn't go undefeated, there is a reasonable argument to include the Tide. You don't have to agree with the conclusion, but that much is apparent.
The one massive complication for Alabama would be if Georgia beats Auburn and then LSU in the SEC championship to close the season. In that case, the 12-1 Bulldogs are a definite CFP team. LSU, then, would be 12-1 with a head-to-head victory over the Tide.
Alabama has no chance in that comparison.
Yet if the favorites keep winning and secure their conference crowns, a one-loss Crimson Tide will definitely be a factor on Selection Day. They might not like the committee's final decision, but their place in the conversation is safe right now.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.