The second annual Alabama Invitational bracket was announced Sunday, cagily disguised as the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Wait, you protest: Nick Saban's team is only one of the four selected to play Dec. 31, and the Crimson Tide is neither the No. 1-ranked team nor the defending champion.
Alabama might get bounced out of these playoffs one-and-done just as the Tide was bounced out last season.
So why am I making everything Alabama-centric, Alabama-focused and Alabama-arranged?
Because Alabama has won three national titles in the previous six seasons and remains the game's looming monster for as long as Saban decides it is.
Did you see the Alabama reaction to the announcement of the bracket? No, because I don't think there was a reaction in Tuscaloosa, while Clemson threw a big pizza party, and there was general happiness on the Oklahoma and Michigan State campuses.
"Getting in is one thing, which maybe we were a little bit too happy with last year," Saban said to the camera during the selection show, wearing a loose sweater and the tightest smile.
"Last year I thought our team thought, 'Well we got in the playoffs, that's a big reward for the season.'"
Sorry, but the Crimson Tide is in control of this until the moment somebody can establish otherwise.
That's precisely what Ohio State did in last season's semis, of course, by a stunning 42-35 result that left Saban's head spinning.
That game — featuring Buckeyes tailback Ezekiel Elliot going for an unimaginable 230 yards vs. the Crimson Tide defense — was the signature performance of the 2014-15 playoffs, not the one that followed.
But Ohio State didn't make it into the bracket this season, for which I imagine Saban and Alabama partisans are vastly grateful.
Nope, this is how the semifinals set up on Dec. 31:
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, for the right to be measured against the Crimson Tide.
And No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, for the purposes of proving the Las Vegas oddsmakers correct.
Don't blame me for this: Vegas quickly established Alabama as a 9.5-point favorite over Michigan State — a very tough team — and made Alabama the odds-on favorites to win the championship Jan. 11.
In my view, if quarterback Connor Cook's shoulder is fully healthy for the Dec. 31 game, the Spartans should, at the least, keep things very close vs. Alabama.
Michigan State, after all, traveled to beat Ohio State (essentially eliminating the Buckeyes) and Michigan (ditto) this season, then squeezed past Iowa (another potential playoff team) in the Big Ten championship game last Saturday.
But Michigan State plays a traditional power-based game, and that's hardly ever how you beat Alabama, which plays the power-based game with faster, bigger, stronger people across the field.
If the Spartans repeat what Ohio State did to the Crimson Tide last season, then we'll have to start wondering what happened to Alabama.
I don't think that'll be the result.
Which brings us to Clemson and Oklahoma, two teams that play the more wide-open style of offense that has given Alabama fits in several SEC games the past few seasons.
Vegas has Oklahoma as a slight favorite over Clemson, probably because the Sooners have averaged 46.3 points during their current seven-game winning streak, and some of that has been with star QB Baker Mayfield a little gimpy.
Meanwhile, Clemson is the only remaining undefeated team but might have peaked early.
The Tigers haven't had a commanding victory over a top-level team since they swarmed Florida State in early November.
But I like Clemson in this one, because QB DeShaun Watson can throw the deep ball as well as anybody and because the Clemson defense is better than anything Oklahoma has faced in the Big 12.
I think Alabama would be quietly pleased by a Clemson semifinal victory — Oklahoma might be the toughest matchup in the nation for Alabama right now.
So the selection committee did the Crimson Tide a favor by bracketing Michigan State with Alabama and keeping Oklahoma in the other side.
And that brings us to the championship game, presuming it's Alabama vs. Clemson.
Alabama might have some issues with Clemson's speed on both sides of the ball. But Alabama is fast, too, and more disciplined, and won't mess it up two years in a row. Or else Nick will be very, very angry.