Could the SEC be left out of the initial CFB Playoff? The possibility is much greater than you think

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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.

RELATED: SDS ranks the SEC’s strength of schedule

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.

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COMMENTS

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  • Anything can happen when you have a political committee with non-football people on it, and (as Jon Cooper often points out) refuses to use any computer non-personal standard, and when the committee is allowed to apply qualifiers that have not been scrutinized by previous process analysis, and when a former political process the BCS was so unsuccessful. It’s not like the Division 2 and Division 3 haven’t been getting it right for a long time. Why is it so hard to develop a power conference ranking by inter-conference games for the current year. Once you have this, you know what conference champions should be in the play-off and which ones shouldn’t be in the play-off.

    • They can’t comprehend simple

    • I actually welcome non-football people on the committee. It always seems to me that the stupidest non-sense that came out of the polls and current BCS always came from a lack of analytical ability, not a lack of football knowledge. I would take the opinion of a Law Professor at Stanford with more than a casual amount of football knowledge (say Condeleeza Rice) than a highly respected coach who can’t understand why strength of schedule is more important than how a team performed 10 years ago (say Lou Holtz).

  • This Playoff system all the SEC folks was sooo sure would favor the SEC are about to find out what they really got. This system is designed to level the playing field for the weaker conferences. The conference champions are going to determine the top 4. The SEC is going to lower their participation, by beating each other up and letting the ACC, B1G and Big 12 Champions with better records in. The Pac 12 is going to be our competition for the 4th spot because they also beat each other up, just not to the extent the SEC does every year. This system is like Obamacare. We’re going to find out to late, the SEC wasn’t included. We’re football rich, so we have to pay. The other conferences are standing there with their hands out so we have to pay for them to. Just as an example, let’s assume this year FSU goes undefeated (with their schedule there is no reason to think they won’t), oSu wins the B1G with 1 loss, Oregon wins the Pac 12 with 1 loss and UGA win the SEC with 2 losses. Who do you think is staying home in Jan. It won’t matter if the E champion beat an undefeated W team in the SEC Championship game. It doesn’t matter that FSU plays no true competition the whole year. It doesn’t matter what went on in the B1G or Big 12. All that will matter is the won – loss column. THAT’S the system y’all wanted and that’s what you got. The playing field is leveled to the point the wimp conferences are almost guaranteed playoff spots and if these playoffs are extended to 8, then all conferences are in, quality and strength be damned. They couldn’t beat the SEC on the field so they just bypassed us with some committee.

    • It’s lonely at the top. But I have to agree with the Bama baby as hard as that is. If a 2 loss SEC team beats an undefeated team in the SECCG? They will not make the final 4. Great point. Never mind the fact that 2 loss team could have beaten 3 or 4 top 10 teams along the way. While a team that makes the final 4 like an FSU that only plays Clemson and Miami. UGA could have played LSU, Florida, Auburn, Clemson, USC, Tenn, Georgia Tech and won the SECCG. And, go to the Alamo Bowl.

  • OR…..the committee will be subjective in their findings, and follow that truism that the SEC is not by chance a better overall conference, but by battle. the committee in itself is educated, and can see that the SEC has historically, recent history of the last fifteen years in fact, been the dominant force in college football . yes, there could only be on SEC team in the “final four” but the odds of another LSU-Bama 12′ is infinitesimal at best. the 12; match up was unique at best, and boring for anyone inside the old confederacy, and boring for those behind enemy lines. the SEC will make a footprint inside the final four, even with a one loss team, but no one will with a two loss; that is rare anyway. besides….Ohio State vs any SEC team is always fun.

    • If you think the ACC schedule FSU plays is a battle, then you have absolutely no place in a conversation about football. People like you and your subjective assumptions are what put ND in the 12, NC game. There were 4 SEC teams that were better and probably another 4 from the other conferences. This committee is not going to be any better. They’ll pick pretty teams on looks. There is no damn way 13 people can meet once a week for 8 or 9 weeks can pick the top 4 teams without any transparency or public exposure. You might as well have The Chosen Ones inform us the first of Sept who the top 4 are and just skip that messy play before Jan.

      • reading comprehension is a class that is taught at both the Barn and at Bama. try enrolling. nothing was said about Free Shoes having a “battle” as a schedule. ND’s schedule was a joke at best, and anyone who watched a game that entire season would tell you that the national title game was played in the Georgia Dome on a cold night in early December, but then again….I have not met many Bama fans who have actually attended a class in Tuscaloosa, unless you include DUI school.

        • You have nothing to add to a football conversation other than personal insults issued by a smart ass towards people you know nothing about, because they disagree with your elitist attitude. I have no problem with reading or comprehension. Your post pointing out the educational magnitude of the committee was plain enough for most anyone to recognize. They are so smart they will just understand and make good decisions based on what they know about college football. You are talking about a subject that a lot of smart people have been trying to figure out for decades. The football experts are thrilled if their predictions are right 30% of the time, yet these 13 individuals because they are highly educated have been anointed as all knowing. Please, your subjective beliefs go out the window the first time it suits their beliefs and social agenda’s. They don’t have a set of rules to follow, nor do they have to make any justification for their findings. Power corrupts and absolute power, corrupts absolutely. As for your insults, just kiss my Old Bama _ss!

    • That depends on how you define fun. I don’t want to watch anyone win a championship 42-14. That’s lame

  • Didn’t a 2 loss LSU (under Saban) win a modern National Championship?

    • My point exactly. This is the same argument we’ve heard for the last 15 years. The SEC has gotten into the the NCG the last 8 years in a row when it was only a 2 team playoff. I’m sure someone will run a mock BCS and i’d be willing to bet the top 6 will be damn close to what the committee picks. Therefore they’ll be picking which 5/6 teams to leave out. The SEC has consistently been in the top 2.

      • Do you realize how much the rest of the Conferences hate the SEC? They don’t give a Jolly Roger damn about the quality of football played. They only care that one of their candy teams is named Champion. This whole playoff scam was started to get the SEC out of the NC game. They don’t care if there are 2 or 3 SEC teams better than they are, so long as they can claim Champion.

        • Maybe so but the media loves the SEC. That wasn’t always the case, or else Auburn would have played for a title in 2004. But nowadays, yeah, we get a lot of love down south. Because we earned it.

          But I digress. Just because the other conferences hate us means nothing. We get love in the polls.

    • The funny thing about the LSU National Championship in 2003-4 was that it was still considered a split championship with USC, despite LSU actually winning the Championship game. Although, I don’t think it will be a problem because the SEC has proven itself since then, there always seemed to me a Big-10/PAC-10 bias until the SEC run on championships (and not until the 3rd or 4th). I remember in the 2006-7 Florida championship that started the run, a lot of analysts were clamoring loudly that it should have been an Ohio State/Michigan rematch. Because of that, I’m always leary of SEC snubs, but I still don’t think it would happen this year (but it might!).

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