Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I’ll unveil 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Let’s continue with the No. 8 seed … Alabama.

Why the Playoff path exists

This is a 1-of-1 situation. We’re talking about the first year after replacing the best coach in the history of the sport. It did so while facing the 30-day transfer portal window, but it had the benefit of the first year of the 12-team Playoff. There are 3 unique factors at play when evaluating Alabama in 2024 compared to any other year.

But yes, the Playoff path exists because 10-2 is very much on the table for the Tide. I won’t do the thing where I tell you that Kalen DeBoer’s Year 1 competition at Washington is the same that he’ll face at Alabama. But I will say that he’s inheriting more proven talent than that group, especially on offense.

Related: Looking to place a bet on the 2024 Heisman Trophy? SDS has you covered with all the latest odds!

It’s almost like the Michigan loss and the offensive shift overshadowed the 2023 transformation of Jalen Milroe. As in, the guy who finished higher in the Heisman Trophy voting than any returning player in the sport who didn’t lose a single game against SEC competition, including the SEC Championship against Georgia. That matters, as does the fact that the offensive line should be improved after adding Parker Brailsford from Washington, as well as the return of 2023 underclassmen Tyler Booker and Kadyn Proctor.

The offense might experience some growing pains, but it’s more than capable of doing the heavy lifting. Even if there are questions to be answered in the passing game — I do buy Washington transfer Germie Bernard having All-SEC upside as Milroe’s go-to target —the offensive scheme upgrade should produce one of the most potent units in America.

You can have a mediocre defense and still get to 10 regular season wins. Think 2021 Ole Miss or 2022 Tennessee. That’s the path for this Alabama team in Year 1 of the DeBoer era.

The potential roadblock

I’m going to combine 2 things here because I think you have to when you understand that this is a new Alabama regime. The potential roadblock is the elite offensive competition that this new-look Alabama defense will face.

It’s not that the cupboard of defensive talent is totally bare after Caleb Downs bolted for Ohio State. The Tide have a multi-year starter returning at every level of the defense (DL Tim Smith, LB Deontae Lawson, DB Malachi Moore), but the lack of proven pieces is significant — most notably in the secondary — as is the offenses that Alabama will face.

The Tide will play 5 teams that could easily have top-15 offenses by season’s end:

  • vs. Georgia
  • at Tennessee
  • vs. Mizzou
  • at LSU
  • at Oklahoma

Mind you, that’s not including a matchup against the ever-dangerous Hugh Freeze. I don’t need to tell Alabama fans that you never discount his play-calling ability within a 60-minute window. It’s also not including an early-season trip to Wisconsin, which will be the first true test for the new-look Tide defense.

Related: Who will win it all in 2024? SDS has the latest betting odds for who’ll win the next national championship!

I’d argue that at least half of Alabama’s schedule are matchups against offenses that could get up and down the field with a ton of success. This is no longer a team that can turn to the greatest defensive trouble-shooter in the history of the sport in Saban. That’s not a slight at Kane Wommack, who’ll have total autonomy on that side of the ball. But there’s only 1 Saban, which was why Alabama had nothing but top-20 offenses from 2008-23.

Perhaps more than any of those teams, Alabama will be tasked with winning games 42-35. Can that happen? Sure. But if Alabama is 8-4 or 9-3 and on the outside of the Playoff looking in, it seems likely that it’ll be due to defensive issues that were exposed against elite offenses.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

Let’s go with a firm 50%.

Here’s how I look at Alabama in Year 1 with DeBoer. With that schedule, it’ll be a popular preseason pick to leave the Tide out of the 12-team Playoff. I, however, still view the Alabama expectation is making the Playoff. Going 10-2 should be enough for that, even if that doesn’t include a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Anything less than a Playoff berth and I think it’ll be viewed as a disappointment. Anything more than a Playoff berth — like winning a game — and that’ll be viewed as a successful Year 1 for DeBoer. That’s why 50% to win a Playoff game feels right. Alabama getting the 8-seed would mean hosting a home Playoff game. The odds would still be in the Tide’s favor.

Let’s also remember that DeBoer’s track record in postseason games is pretty impressive. He beat 2022 Texas in the Alamo Bowl, he won the rematch against 2023 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship and then he beat 2023 Texas in the semifinal game. If your argument is “what about Michigan,” I’d say “what about Alabama losing to that same Michigan team a round earlier?”

Of course, the scenario I mapped out is Alabama hosting Ole Miss in the Round of 12. Lane Kiffin is still searching for his first victory against the Tide, though obviously he never faced the Tide without Saban. Should we throw history out the window?

Something tells me that question will be asked a few times when talking about Alabama in 2024.

Predicting the Playoff will continue on Wednesday with No. 7 … Notre Dame.