First and 10: The Playoff committee only has one choice: Include Alabama
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
They invented this mess, so there’s no turning back now.
Not even if it allows them to vanquish big, bad Alabama to the land of no one cares what bowl you’re playing.
The founding fathers of the College Football Playoff began this show of shows with the idea that “metrics” would decide who played in the annual 4-team Playoff that was supposed to be super-duper and make all things college football shiny and new.
Those metrics quickly devolved into random and ridiculous entry points (they call them “data” points) that, despite the insistence on their usage, hold zero weight when the final vote is tabulated.
Because at the end of the season, after the league championship games, the CFP is what every college football poll has always been: a beauty pageant. Or, in the words of the CFP, an “eye test.”
“They’re just like everyone else who watches the games,” one Power 5 coach told me last week. “It’s ‘I think this team is better than that team, so that’s who I’m voting for.’ I don’t know what a metric is, and frankly, they don’t, either. Whatever they think it is, it just allows them to hide behind the eye test. Because that’s what it is when they vote.”
If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it 100 times: We’ve replaced more than 100 human voters and a handful of computer dorks (don’t get me started on those “unbiased” formulas) with 13 eye tests. Thirteen people who may or may not have a vested interest who plays in the damn thing (of course they do).
And this, everyone, is how Alabama – despite losing to LSU last weekend in the biggest game of the season — can find its way into the CFP (again) without winning its own division, much less conference (again).
Let’s not forget that TCU was No. 3 in the country going into the final week of the 2014 season, annihilated Iowa State by 52 points and dropped 3 spots to finish 6th in the final rankings. Ohio State, which was No.6 in the rankings, jumped to No. 4 because it won a conference championship and TCU shared a conference championship (with Baylor, which beat TCU and had better “metrics” than Ohio State). Ohio State then won it all.
Or Penn State, which beat Ohio State in 2016 and won the Big Ten, then watched as the CFP chose 1-loss Ohio State – which didn’t win its division and play on the last week of the season – over the 2-loss Lions. Ohio State was shutout 31-0 in the Playoff semifinal.
Finally, there is Alabama in 2017. The Tide lost to Auburn and finished the regular season 11-1. Georgia then beat Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, knocking Auburn out of the CFP, and paving the way for the 1-loss Tide to be selected over 2-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State. Alabama then won it all.
For the next 3 weeks you’re going to hear over and over about “best loss” and “worst win” and “strength of schedule” and “strength of conference” and “conference champion” and my all-time favorite, “game control,” and it’s not going to mean a damn thing.
When the 13 men and women meet in suburban Dallas to decide the 4 teams to make up the CFP, it will be about eye test. Who they think are the 4 best teams in the nation.
Frankly, that’s the way it should be.
They can’t change now because Alabama, the only program in college football to be part of all 5 Playoffs, has its worst résumé ever under coach Nick Saban and lost by 5 at home to the best team in the nation.
They could use the “résumé” and “didn’t win their conference” arguments, but as they’ve clearly shown over the past 5 years, that’s not a factor in the final vote.
There’s no turning back now for the CFP committee. The only thing that saves them – and eliminates Alabama from the CFP race – is another loss by the Tide.
2. The path for Alabama
Let’s begin by saying the biggest problem for the CFP committee is an Auburn win over Georgia. That takes neat and clean and transforms it into a moshpit.
Because if Auburn beats Georgia and Alabama wins out, the Tide’s win over Auburn holds more strength – especially in a potential Alabama vs. Pac-12 champion Oregon argument (the Ducks lost to Auburn in Week 1).
At that point, you’re not picking Oregon — whose best win would be over Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game – over Alabama. You’re not choosing Oklahoma, whose best win would be Texas or Baylor twice, over Alabama.
The easiest, safest way for Alabama to reach the CFP is to win out and Georgia doesn’t win the SEC Championship with only 1 loss (if Georgia wins out and LSU has 1 loss, Georgia and LSU are in the CFP). If all the favorites win out – Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oregon – who (other than Ohio State, LSU and Clemson) will the committee choose over Alabama?
It will be difficult for the committee chair to go on television and say Alabama didn’t win its conference championship and Oklahoma (which lost to Kansas State) or Oregon (which lost to Auburn) did. Difficult, but doable (see: TCU screwed in 2014).
One thing that is a stone-cold lock: LSU can lose 1 game, at any point in the season, and still make the Playoff.
3. They’re not out of it, The Epilogue
Here’s the problem for Alabama: When has star QB Tua Tagovailoa had enough? When does he begin thinking about his NFL future instead of his Alabama present?
He clearly wasn’t healthy in the loss to LSU, and was limping badly off the field on his injured ankle. I’d be shocked if Tagovailoa played this week at Mississippi State (a game that could get dicey if Mac Jones struggles), or the following week against FCS punching bag Western Carolina.
That leaves 2 weeks to heal before the critical game on The Plains against bitter rival Auburn and the best defensive line in college football. The last thing Alabama needs is a gimpy Tagovailoa against the Tigers, and playing him against Mississippi State could exacerbate the injury.
Get Jones ready to play against Mississippi State, and hope the sheer talent advantage pays off. Then sit everyone of significance against Western Carolina and put everything into the Iron Bowl.
A ticket to the CFP isn’t as far away as it seemed after the loss to LSU.
4. Georgia’s stretch run
It’s simple for Georgia: win out and reach the CFP. That means wins at Auburn, vs. Texas A&M, at Georgia Tech, and winning the SEC Championship Game.
A loss anywhere over the final 4 games ends any hope of reaching the CFP. Even a 2-loss SEC Champion Georgia will not make the CFP.
Now, the problem: Georgia better beat Auburn this week. Because if the Bulldogs lose to Auburn, the game against Texas A&M could absolutely wreck the season.
The Aggies need a win against an SEC heavyweight to make this season matter (more on that later), and Georgia will be in position where every series, every play, matters. That’s real, tangible pressure.
If Georgia beats Auburn, the Dawgs clinch the SEC East Division and they’ll ride into a home game the following week against a desperate Texas A&M team, full of confidence and zeroed in on the big prize. The idea of winning out and reaching the Playoff is more tangible at that point.
If they reach the Texas A&M game after losing to Auburn, they’re not even thinking Playoff. They’re thinking of blowing a season of so much potential – and how another loss gives the division to Florida.
Remember, these are 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old young men we’re talking about. Emotion and motivation is a big deal.
5. The Weekly 5
- Georgia (-2.5) at Auburn
- Alabama (-21) at Mississippi State
- Florida (-7) at Missouri
- LSU at Ole Miss (+21)
- South Carolina at Texas A&M (-10)
Last week: 2-3.
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down the draft prospects of an SEC player. This week: Georgia TB D’Andre Swift.
“He does almost everything well, and he’s a guy who hasn’t been overused. He has been in an offense that uses multiple backs, and the tread is like new. That’s a big plus. He runs hard and can push the pile, but he’s patient enough to wait for that crease. More important, he sees it. Once he gets to the second level, forget it. He has top-end speed.
“He seeks out contact, and you can’t do that all the time here. You have to run smart. I’m no sure he’s a 3-down back; his pass protection and pass catching needs work. But I think he can become valuable as a receiver. He doesn’t look uncomfortable doing it, so it’s just a matter of putting in the work. He’s a mid- to late-20s (first round) pick.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s SEC Power Poll (and one big thing):
1. LSU: A classic letdown game (at Ole Miss) for a team that will be physically worn down (how could they not be after the Alabama game?)
2. Alabama: Forget the doom and gloom projections. Go play – and play well – and force the CFP committee to make a difficult decision.
3. Georgia: The first of two critical – and loseable – games for the Dawgs. This week, the most difficult: at confident, talented Auburn.
4. Florida: Gators can’t trip up at suddenly struggling Missouri — in a cold (temps in the 40s), sleepy (11 a.m. local kick) environment — if they want to play in a New Year’s 6 bowl game.
5. Auburn: Tigers have gotten better since an ugly loss at Florida, and are playing their best ball right now. Not a good sign for Georgia.
6. Texas A&M: The last of 4 consecutive get-well games for the Aggies, who still haven’t found consistency (much less efficiency) on offense.
7. Tennessee: From destined to get its coach fired, to the bottom of the first half of SEC teams. I’m not sure if that’s about Tennessee’s improvement, or the putrid state of the bottom half of the SEC.
8. Kentucky: UK has played hard all season with so much uncertainty at QB and almost no passing game. Next development step for UK under Mark Stoops: making sure they’re never in this QB position again (see: graduate transfers).
9. Missouri: An offense with so much potential has scored 21 points in 3 consecutive losses. QB Kelly Bryant’s hamstring injury has devastated the offense.
10. Mississippi State: A home game against a physically beaten up Alabama team coming off a gut-punch loss, and possibly playing a backup QB (Mac Jones).
11. South Carolina: I can’t see any way Gamecocks avoid losing 5 of 6 to finish the season – with the only win over a Vanderbilt team that will have won 3 times all season.
12. Ole Miss: These next 2 games – against rivals LSU and Mississippi State – are a referendum on the state of the program under Matt Luke. The electric play of freshman QB John Rhys Plumlee can build only so much goodwill.
13. Vanderbilt: If Derek Mason had a chance to make a statement, it was last week vs. emotionally-drained Florida. And the Commodores got drilled.
14. Arkansas: Facilities, money, fan support. Get a coach who knows Texas recruiting (Mike Leach) and who knows how to win in a conference where he’s not the big dog (Mike Leach).
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Why would Mark Stoops leave all that he has built at Kentucky? He’s coaching in the best conference in college football, he makes more money than most coaches, and UK isn’t the mess that FSU is. I don’t see the value in it.
Stacie: As much as your blood runs blue – and I respect the hell out of that – if Stoops is offered the FSU job, he has to take it. There are legitimate issues at FSU – too much power for Seminole Boosters, Inc., a president and athletic director who will both likely be retired in a year, dealing with the beat that is Clemson – but there’s also one thing UK can’t match: the ability to recruit among the nation’s elite.
Want to know how you make all of those problems in Tallahassee go away? Recruit great players and win big games.
Jimbo Fisher left FSU, in part, because the university wouldn’t commit to specific upgrades he wanted in the program, including a football-only facility scheduled to be complete by July 2021. Stoops would make more money at FSU (likely in the $5-6 million range), but the expectations would be higher. If he wins 2 games, 5 games and 5 games in his first 3 seasons at FSU like he did at Kentucky, he wouldn’t last to a 4th season.
9. Numbers game: 6
There is no more deceiving record in all of college football than Texas A&M. The Aggies have won 6 games, and if you didn’t know better, a 6-3 record when you’re in the SEC West Division looks solid.
Texas A&M’s 6 wins: Texas State, Lamar (FCS), Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, UTSA. Combined record of those teams: 21-36.
Texas A&M’s 3 losses: Clemson, Auburn, Alabama. Combined record of those teams: 25-3.
A victory over South Carolina (4-6) this weekend won’t improve the look of those wins.
Only an upset of Georgia or LSU in the final two weeks of the season will keep the Aggies from an ugly 7-5 record (4-4 in SEC).
10. Quote to note
LSU players were posting video from the postgame locker room celebration against Alabama. An instant classic from coach Ed Orgeron’s speech included this gem: “We gonna beat their ass in recruiting! We gonna beat their ass every time they see us! You understand me!? Roll Tide, what? (expletive) you!”