Can the SEC get two teams in the Playoff? Sure it can ... with lots of help
The first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings are out and, of course, Alabama is No. 1 and the team we’ve all been assuming will eventually represent the SEC in the Playoff.
But could the SEC get a second team in?
The short answer? Of course it could. We’re just now getting to November, and crazy things happen once we hit that home stretch.
And make no mistake, for a second SEC team to get in, there needs to be PLENTY of crazy things.
But we enter the season’s last month with five SEC teams — Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M (in alphabetical order) — with at least a puncher’s chance at the Playoff. Alabama is unbeaten and has an inside track. Florida has one loss and controls its own destiny. Texas A&M has one loss and needs help. Auburn and LSU have two losses and need to win the SEC to have a realistic shot.
But for any of that to happen, let’s first look at potential events outside the SEC that could help a second SEC team get in:
- Washington losing the Apple Cup: No. 5 Washington is a shoe-in for the Playoff if it wins out. But if the Huskies lose at No. 25 Washington State on Nov. 25, they could fail to win the Pac-12 North title (Wazzu is 6-2 and would need to win out to set up a winner-take-all showdown). If that were to happen, Washington would be in a bind by not winning the division in a year where the Pac-12 is not at its strongest. Washington State has losses to FCS Eastern Washington and Boise State and would not likely make the Playoff over a two-loss SEC team like Auburn or LSU. The Pac-12 South has no serious contender.
- Michigan going undefeated: The Big Ten has been strong enough that a second one-loss team would be deserving of consideration into a Playoff. Let’s say, for example, that Nebraska wins out and beats unbeaten Michigan in the conference championship game. Nebraska would be a shoe-in, but a one-loss Michigan team would be deserving as well. Michigan can take care of that by beating both Ohio State and Nebraska. Of course, the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers play this week, so somebody will have their second loss already.
- Louisville loses another: Let’s be clear: One could make a strong argument for the résumé of a one-loss Florida or Texas A&M team or a two-loss LSU or Auburn team over No. 7 Louisville’s potential one-loss résumé. After all, there are no more big wins available for the Cardinals to pick up. But just to be safe, it would help if somebody (Kentucky? Your conference may need you!) hands the Cardinals that second loss.
- Oklahoma wins the Big 12: The Sooners have losses to Houston and Ohio State, which pretty much kills their chances at being picked over one-loss SEC teams and potential two-loss SEC champions. But by winning out, OU would have to beat Baylor and West Virginia, the league’s two current one-loss teams. That eliminates the possibility of the committee weighing a one-loss Big 12 champion against a two-loss SEC champion. If OU is up against an 11-2 Auburn team or a 10-2 LSU team, you have to go with the SEC champion, right?
Given that enough of the above scenarios happen, which SEC teams have the best chance at being a SECOND SEC team in the College Football Playoff?:
- No. 1 Alabama (8-0) — Remaining schedule: at LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga, Auburn. The skinny: The assumption in most of these discussions is that Alabama wins the conference championship and is the first choice. But let’s say the Crimson Tide lose to either LSU or Auburn and ultimately do not win the division but have only one loss. Or let’s say Alabama loses to one-loss Florida in the SEC Championship Game. The Tide will be a strong contender to still get in the Playoff if the above dominoes fall. Even if they lose to LSU this weekend, to get to a one-loss finish, they’ll need to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl. That would give them wins over Auburn and Texas A&M, plus a non-conference rout of USC. It’s hard to see this team losing twice.
- No. 4 Texas A&M (7-1) — Remaining schedule: at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas-San Antonio, LSU. The skinny: Even before the Aggies got the surprising No. 4 ranking in the initial CFP rankings, they were in decent shape for a playoff run. The Aggies’ toughest remaining game, against LSU, is at home, as are three of the four games overall, and the only road game is at the worst team in the division (MSU). The Aggies’ only loss is to Alabama, so it’s not inconceivable the Aggies could get in without winning the division title. In fact, it might be best for the Aggies if Alabama won out and not allow LSU, Auburn (two teams on Alabama’s remaining schedule) and, potentially, Florida to muddy the waters more.
- No. 9 Auburn (6-2) — Remaining schedule: Vanderbilt, at Georgia, Alabama A&M, at Alabama. The skinny: With the way the Tigers are playing, it’s fair to say they should be 9-2 and 6-1 in SEC play for the Iron Bowl. Win that and the Tigers can at least claim a share of the SEC championship and could end up in a three-way tie for the division that would be settled by a complicated tiebreaker (more on that later). Auburn may need to win that tiebreaker and win the SEC title game to have a shot at the Playoff at 11-2.
- No. 11 Florida (6-1) — Remaining schedule: at Arkansas, South Carolina, at LSU, at Florida State. The skinny: The Gators control their destiny as much as any team in the country. If the Gators win out, they are a shoe-in for the Playoff. But winning out will be extremely difficult. It would require three road wins — including games at LSU and Florida State — and a game in Atlanta against the SEC West champion. That’s brutally difficult and why we rank the Gators behind a couple of teams that don’t control their own destinies but have more manageable schedules. It’s also possible for the Gators to lose a second game (at LSU, for example) but still win the East, then get in the Playoff conversation with a win over Alabama in the SEC title game.
- No. 13 LSU (5-2) — Remaining schedule: Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida, at Texas A&M. The skinny: LSU has been a hot team since Ed Orgeron became the head coach, outscoring three teams by a 125-38 count. For this to be something you have to pay attention to, the Tigers need to upset Alabama this weekend. Nobody can help their résumé more from here forward than the Tigers. But those same potential résumé wins make this the hardest road of the contenders. LSU would have to beat Alabama and hope for a Tide win in the Iron Bowl because Auburn owns a tiebreaker advantage over LSU.
One more loose end to discuss:
What if Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama finish tied at 7-1?: This requires an Auburn upset of Alabama and for Texas A&M to win out. The SEC has an eight-step tiebreaker for three-way ties with the last step being a coin flip. The first six scenarios (head-to-head record among tied teams, division record of tied teams, head-to-head against other West Division teams going top to bottom in the standings, record against SEC East teams, combined record against common non-division teams and record against the top common SEC East opponents, top-to-bottom) would all be even if this were to happen.
That means it would come down to scenario G, which is the best combined conference records of each team’s SEC East opponents.
With everybody playing two cross-divisional games, that means the SEC West would be determined by the play of SEC East teams. Here are the standings of the three teams in question, based on their SEC East opponents’ records.
- Alabama: Tennessee (2-3), Kentucky (4-2). Overall 6-5.
- Texas A&M: Tennessee (2-3), South Carolina (2-4). Overall: 4-7.
- Auburn: Vanderbilt (1-3), Georgia (2-4). Overall: 3-7.
So Auburn could win out and win the Iron Bowl, but still not get into the SEC Championship Game unless LSU beats Texas A&M. Or unless Vandy and Georgia get their acts together.