TUSCALOOSA — Although many described Alabama's home game Saturday against LSU as practically an elimination game to get into the College Football Playoff, Tide players are hoping that isn't the case.
LSU beat Alabama 46-41 and is now No. 1 in both the Associated Press and coaches polls, while the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 4 in both. The playoff rankings will be revealed Tuesday evening.
Still, in the hour immediately following the Crimson Tide’s first home defeat in four years, its players remained hopeful for a sixth-straight playoff appearance this season.
When asked directly if he’s optimistic of making the four-team playoff field, senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings answered, “Hell, yeah.”
“We’re just going to control what we can control and we’re going to work,” Jennings said Saturday. “I mean, it doesn’t stop here for us. We’re still going to do what we do and go back to work on Monday and finish this season strong. We’re going to do what we do, man.”
Added junior safety Xavier McKinney: “We don’t think it’s over yet, so we’re just going to try to get better, man. We’re just worried about us right now. That’s all we can do: worry about us and worry about getting better — which we will do. Next week we’ll be better, I promise you that.”
With the loss, Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) likely lost its chance to represent the West Division in the SEC Championship Game in December.
It’s because of that reality that locking down one of the four playoff seeds will certainly be an uphill task and one that will likely require some outside help and a little grace from the 13-member CFP selection committee at the end of the regular season.
"We don't really control our own destiny, but if we finish the season the right way, we can see where it takes us," Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said Saturday. "We've been in this situation before, so I think the big thing is everybody needs to learn from the mistakes that we made today and try to get better."
Alabama's resume includes only one Top 25 win, 47-28 over Texas A&M, but the Aggies have fallen out of the rankings.
In 2011 and 2017, Alabama made the playoff despite not appearing in the SEC Championship Game — winning the two-team Bowl Championship Series playoff over LSU in 2011 and beating Georgia in the finals of the four-team playoff in 2017.
It would help if Alabama can beat rival Auburn on the road in another high-stakes Iron Bowl three weeks from now.
The cross-state Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) are No. 11 in the playoff poll and have a big chance to improve their own stock with a win next Saturday against Georgia (8-1, 5-1 SEC) in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry game.
That could create a situation where the Iron Bowl effectively becomes a potential play-in game for an outside shot at the coveted No. 4 playoff spot.
Also helping Alabama’s cause matters is the show junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the explosive Tide offense put on with its 28-13 second-half comeback bid Saturday night, revealing a fully-capable team that has the offensive firepower to compete with anybody in the country.
Tagovailoa, who played like a “warrior” in his return from tightrope ankle surgery three weeks ago, completed 21-of-40 passing for 418 yards and four touchdowns — much of which came in a second-half rally with Alabama down 20 at halftime — and remains one of college football’s most exciting players and a potential Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I think he was a warrior, in terms of what he did,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “I think probably missing the practice that he missed over the last couple weeks, he may not have been quite as sharp as normal, but I thought he did a good job in the game and I'm proud of the way he competed in the game.”
But in order to even be a part of the playoff discussion at the end of the season, the Crimson Tide players know there’s only one sure-fire way to strengthen its playoff resume over the final three weekends.
“Just go out and dominate, and make sure we win out,” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said Saturday.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser sports reporter Alex Byington at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_AlexByington.