Can a one-loss SEC team that doesn’t win the league championship reach the inaugural College Football Playoff this season?

If they’re from the West, it’s a possibility.

Depending on how much emphasis the selection committee puts on conference champions, one of several unknown variables coming in, a one-loss Auburn as the runner-up to Alabama in its own division has a legitimate shot.

We know the SEC’s not likely a two-bid league, but here’s a scenario involving the Tigers and Crimson Tide that could vault Auburn into the No. 4 College Football Playoff slot as long as Nick Saban’s team doesn’t win the SEC Championship.

Thanks to an impressive schedule pre-Alabama featuring road games against Mississippi St., Ole Miss and Georgia along with home battles against LSU and South Carolina, there’s enough room for defending league champion Auburn to strengthen its postseason resume and stockpile quality wins before the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29.

Let’s say the Tigers go into that game unbeaten and Alabama’s 10-1. While a Crimson Tide victory seals a trip to Atlanta, Auburn could be viewed as the more attractive at-large pick for the College Football Playoff selection committee at season’s end depending on the result of Alabama’s next game.

Should Alabama fall to a multi-loss Eastern Division winner (notably Georgia or South Carolina who Auburn would’ve beaten) for its second loss, the Tigers could realistically be viewed as the SEC’s best team with the fewest losses (1) and most quality wins (5).

How 1-loss Auburn reaches College Football Playoff without winning the SEC

  • Goes into the Alabama game 11-0 with impressive wins over nationally-ranked Ole Miss, Mississippi St., LSU, South Carolina and Georgia
  • Crimson Tide drops one regular-season game, then falls to a two-loss Eastern Division champion in Atlanta

Would the selection committee view SEC Champion South Carolina or Georgia at 11-2 (including regular-season losses to Auburn) more favorable than the 11-1 Tigers? There’s not much of an argument considering Auburn’s head-to-head wins.

It could make for an interesting debate.