TUSCALOOSA — With so much criticism already surrounding Alabama's strength of schedule this season, the College Football Playoff committee sent a message when it doused any hope for another true "Game of the Century" with its initial rankings released Tuesday night.
The 13-member playoff committee did manage to pick Alabama's upcoming opponent, LSU (8-0, 4-0 SEC), at No. 2 in its first rankings of the season, behind fellow undefeated Ohio State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at No. 1. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) remained in the current playoff field at No. 3, ahead of fourth-place Penn State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten). Defending national champion Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) was the first-out at No. 5 with Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) rounding out the top 6.
Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC), which many believe has the nation's toughest schedule, opened up at No. 11 as the last of five SEC teams in the Top 12 of the initial CFP rankings.
The initial playoff rankings put a wet blanket on Saturday's highly anticipated 1-versus-2 "Game of the Century" matchup between Alabama and LSU, clearly diverging from the AP Top-25 and USA Today coaches polls, which had Tide and Tigers as dueling No. 1s in their latest editions, respectively.
Based on the first CFP ranking, it's clear at least some within the committee took issue with the Crimson Tide's overall lack of multiple quality wins to this point in the regular season.
Alabama and Clemson only have one Top-25 win to speak of this season — for both it is Texas A&M (6-3, 3-2 SEC) — while Ohio State, LSU and Penn State each have at least two Top-25 wins already on their resume
In fact, LSU's three victories over ranked teams this season are all Top-10 wins against then-No. 9 Texas, then-No. 7 Florida and then-No. 9 Auburn two weeks ago. Ohio State's Top-25 wins came against then-No. 25 Michigan State and then-No. 13 Wisconsin two weeks ago, while Penn State has beaten both then-No. 17 Iowa and then-No. 16 Michigan earlier this month.
Alabama — which debuted at No. 1 last season and held that spot until after the 44-16 loss to Clemson in the national championship game in January — has a strength of schedule rating of 68.48 to rank 59th in the country, according to the nationally-recognized Sagarin rating system. For comparison, No. 5 Clemson's schedule is ranked 64th nationally with a 67.14 rating, while both Ohio State and LSU have schedules ranked in the Top 35 in the country, per renown sports statistician Jeff Saragin.
It's because of LSU's strength of schedule that most prognosticators believe a loss to the Tide on Saturday won't necessarily remove the Tigers from the playoff picture. The same can't be said of Alabama, which would not only seemingly fall out of SEC Championship game contention with a loss, but only have one Top-25 game remaining on its schedule to make up ground: at No. 12 Auburn on Nov. 30.
Not that any of the current Tide players are worried about that scenario playing out.
"As players ... we don’t make the schedule, we just play the games that’s on it," Alabama junior receiver Henry Ruggs III said earlier Tuesday. "The only thing we can do to change that narrative is to play the best football we can and try to prove to (the media) that we are a top contender."
Ruggs and the rest of the Crimson Tide will get that chance in Saturday's SEC West showdown against the top-ranked Tigers (2:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS).
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney responded to critics of the Tigers' much-maligned ACC competition by taking a not-so-veiled shot across the bow at Alabama's dominance in the SEC, including its 39-2 record against conference opponents (including the postseason) since 2015.
"Who's beat Alabama in the SEC? Who's beat them?" Swinney said Tuesday, according to the Athletic's Grace Raynor. "How many games have they lost in the last five years in their conference? You gotta really think about that, don't you? It ain't many. And yet we've had a great run in our conference and it's only because nobody is any good."
The SEC currently has five teams all ranked in the Top 12 nationally in both the AP and coaches polls, while No. 19 Wake Forest is the ACC's only other ranked team outside of Clemson entering Tuesday. For comparisons, the Big Ten has six teams in the Top 20 nationally.
The CFB Playoff committee will release new rankings each of the next four Tuesday nights before the final postseason rankings are unveiled at 11 a.m. CT Dec. 8, the Sunday after the conference championship games.