Alabama football fans are connoisseurs of good football. Even with our refined tastes; bad football beats no football. The early part of the season will have some bad football games because of mismatched teams. But early in the 2023 college football season, there are also pivotal games for several CFB Playoff contenders.
At this point, maybe there are 12-15 legitimate CFB Playoff contenders. In a typical November, there will be no more than six.
The ESPN Football Power Index algorithm has 11 teams with at least a 10.6% chance to make the Playoff field. Neither USC nor FSU made the top 11 in the ESPN projection. Based on the recent preseason Coaches Poll, the Trojans are No. 6 and the Seminoles are No. 8. The Oklahoma Sooners, ranked No. 19 by the coaches are given an 11.4% chance to make the Playoff.
Alabama football fans are normally only concerned about who the top six teams are when the first CFB Playoff rankings come out in late October. With the Crimson Tide not making the Playoff field last season, Alabama fans may look at slots three through six more carefully than normal.
In the long run to a Playoff slot, how much do early games matter? They certainly don’t matter as much as games in the second half of the season. The risk in losing an early season game is it means a team has lost almost all margin for error.
Alabama Football has a different situation
For Alabama and other top SEC teams, the conference schedule matters most. An SEC team in the SEC Championship game is in a secure position to make the Playoff, despite one loss.
Teams from other conferences don’t get that kind of credibility boost. In the ‘swan song’ season for the Pac-12, four teams, Utah, Oregon, Washington ad USC are often tabbed as Playoff contenders. But a one-loss team in that group, even as the Pac-12 Champion is not a Playoff lock.
Five Pivotal Early Season Games
The short list below comes from college football’s first month of the 2023 season. Technically it includes five weeks, zero through four of the season.
Week One – FSU vs. LSU in Orlando – Neither team will be out of Playoff contention with a loss, but the winner will get an important boost in reputation.
Week One – Florida at Utah – The Gators are not a Playoff contender without multiple major upsets during the season. If Utah is a contender, the Utes must not lose to Florida at home.
Week Two – Texas at Alabama – The Crimson Tide does not have to win the game, but the Longhorns will have an uphill climb to a Playoff berth if they lose.
Week Four – Ohio State at Notre Dame – The Buckeyes had trouble with the Fighting Irish while winning at home last season. Going into South Bend with an expected-to-be-improved Notre Dame team, Ohio State could have a stiff test. If the Irish are, for a change, truly a Playoff contender, beating the Buckeyes would put them in a strong position.
Week Four – FSU at Clemson – It is difficult to envision the ACC getting more than one team in the Playoff field. The winner of this game will have the best chance.
When Alabama plays its final fall camp scrimmage on Aug. 19, we’ll be 14 days from the season opener. It has been such a long wait this offseason.