I remember being on the air when the College Football Playoff was announced. The number of fans feeling pure bliss over the SEC being guaranteed one team — with two likely — in the initial College Football Playoff came at no surprise.
Aside from the recent dominance of the conference, what gives fans that feeling? This new day of college football will bring many changes, but how much will truly stay the same in such a cyclical sport? What will ultimately determine which four teams are chosen?
Scheduling has been a popular topic surrounding college football this offseason. How many conference games leagues will play; which non-conference matchups will happen and strength of schedule has dominated the airwaves. Scheduling also seems to be one of the major factors that will play into who will be selected to play for a national championship this season. Lets not talk talent returning and how certain teams match up for now. Rather, let’s look at how process of elimination will play a large factor.
ESPN.com recently revealed the “16 Contenders” for the 2014 CFB Playoff. If we move ahead with these “16 Contenders”, could the selection process leave out a team from the SEC? We have no idea who 2013 Auburn or 2012 Texas A&M will be this season. There could easily be a team left out of this list that smashes this entire theory, but for now we will play along with these “16 Contenders”. If you haven’t seen the 16 contenders, you can read them here.
The idea of a selection committee and process isn’t being talked about enough, which is much different than the BCS era and really, ever. With no formula to automatically qualify teams or bowl ties that will send certain teams to set destinations, the cloud of who, what, where, and most importantly why, will be interesting to watch. What criteria will each individual on the committee hold most valuable? We don’t know yet. Strength of schedule will certainly be important. How will teams’ history and qualifications affect their status with the committee? Based on what lies ahead, the road to the CFB Playoff looks less predictable for the SEC.
Of the 16 Contenders, six are from the SEC. All six labeled contenders play at least three of the other 15 contenders. Alabama and UGA will see three contenders each. UGA has two of those in the first three weeks of the season, then spend 42 days away from home in October and November. Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina each play four of the other 15 contenders. Those three teams will join Clemson as the only four teams that will open and close with a contender. Texas A&M is the only team that will play three contenders on the road. LSU has two contenders away from home and will not have a bye until week 10. Then there is Auburn. The Tigers are the only one of the 16 Contenders that will face five other contenders. I like the Tigers being off weeks three and eight with an extended break around a Thursday night game, but the schedule is downright filthy. Toss in an SEC title game, and it’s hard to imagine too many labeled contenders surviving the conference slate. This has been possible for the last decade, yet the conference seems to always have at least one unexpected team slide into contention for a title. The issue with this season, more than most, is the comparative schedules of other teams across the country.
The ACC enters 2014 with the favorite, not only to play for, but also win the initial CFB Playoff. FSU plays one contender and will be off weeks three and nine. The interesting part of the Seminoles’ schedule is the perception of power within it. Only Clemson is listed as a contender, but with the history of teams like Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Miami and Florida, FSU seemingly could feel much more impressive than a 12-0 record looks on paper in the minds of the committee. The average age of the 13 members is 63, with the youngest being 54. How does this change minds? Maybe it doesn’t, but perception is often times reality in this sport. Both Clemson and FSU will be away from home five times, with both of the Tigers’ games versus contenders being road games. FSU seemingly has the road paved with a police escort.
The B1G will bring three teams to the list. Ohio State travels to Michigan State on November 8th, and the Spartans travel to Eugene in week two. Ohio State’s schedule is enviable until you see Wisconsin’s. LSU to open the season is never a simple task regardless of talent being replaced. The Badgers are on cruise control after the opener. Might we find out how important strength of schedule will be with Wisconsin? All three B1G teams play away from home five times, and each will play back-to-back road games, but the opportunity for multiple teams from the Big Ten to glide through the regular season unscathed looks rather realistic.
The Pac-12 would fall just behind the SEC as the conference most likely to be eliminated. Oregon, Stanford and UCLA all meet in the regular season, with UCLA having the most advantages. First, the Bruins have the other two conference contenders at home. Although UCLA will play six games away from home – one is a neutral site, and traditional power Texas and a road trip to Virginia could bolster resume perception. Stanford has all six games away from home after September, with a few rivalry games sprinkled in. Oregon will only travel five times but will see two of college footballs’ most physical teams at home in Michigan State and Stanford.
The Big 12 seemingly will play their CFBP quarterfinal game October 18th when Baylor travels to Oklahoma. There isn’t much to discuss after that. Both are away from home six times and Oklahoma will have an SEC team on the schedule to brag about beating in Tennessee. Without a conference title game the conference is on cruise control towards a team in the inaugural playoff.
So, it would appear the Big 12 and ACC will be filling up at least half of the first College Football Playoff. Who else gets in? The strength of schedule going into the season doesn’t help SEC teams like LSU and Alabama, even though they see more contenders than teams like FSU and Michigan State. How will that be perceived over the course of the season? The real asterisk in all of this could end up being conference championship games. Of course the BIG 12 has the advantage here and could be a complete game changer for all the major conferences. Nobody is really talking about that. The last few weeks of the season could be as dramatic as ever based on how many of these contenders will see each other.
The selection process will not be easy, especially in year one, where we have no comparative selections with which to weigh. The reality of not having an SEC team in the initial CFB Playoff just seems wrong. If you look at the paths that lie ahead for the teams that already have a mental lean with the committee and the media, there is a much larger chance it happens; a much greater chance than any of us would ever want to believe.
It’s a little different than the guaranteed “two SEC teams included every year” every SEC fan originally predicted.