Supremacy Chatter: Why the SEC's 2-team Playoff bid is on life support
I came into Saturday optimistic.
The odds that the SEC could earn two spots in the College Football Playoff seemed favorable heading into the weekend. Those chances might’ve even improved (slightly) when Washington fell to Stanford, which essentially eliminated the Pac-12 from the Playoff hunt. With three matchups of top-10 teams, the stage was set for the SEC to make a big-time leap to its 2-team fate.
After weeks of doubting the possibility, I was beginning to turn the corner on the likelihood of Alabama and Georgia making the Playoff field, and making a little history in the process.
Instead, I came out of the weekend thinking that there were very few scenarios in which I could see it happening. Much of that was the result of Georgia’s blowout loss at Auburn on Saturday. It was a telling performance. We were told that the Dawgs were a lot further from perfection than maybe we realized.
We were also told that in order for the SEC to become the first conference to get multiple teams into the field, it was going to need a few to bounce its way. Georgia getting blown out at Auburn wasn’t one of them.
Let’s start with that reason as to why the SEC’s 2-team bid lost a lot of life Saturday.
Georgia only has one path now
Duh. Obviously it’s pretty simple for the Dawgs. Win out and they’re in. If they beat Auburn or Alabama in the SEC Championship, they’ll have no worries making the field.
What that also meant was that Georgia can no longer lose the SEC Championship — or any game, really — and make it into the field. Two losses, especially in the final month, is too much for any team to overcome.
For Georgia, this isn’t about style points or quality wins anymore. This is simply about winning every game left on the schedule and knowing that’ll be enough. The odd predicament would be if Georgia lost to Georgia Tech and then beat Auburn in the SEC Championship. Alabama would actually get in with that scenario, and Georgia wouldn’t.
I’m already sick of the debates that would create. But it shouldn’t, because conference titles are not as important as having 2 losses. Sooner or later, the college football world will grasp that concept.
The SEC has one 2-team path, and it’s murky
Let’s say Georgia and Alabama run the table in the regular season. Georgia wins a close SEC championship.
That’s it. That’s the only 2-team path for the SEC.
Before thinking about every other Playoff contender, think only about what would happen if Georgia blew out Alabama. You would have Georgia, Alabama and Auburn all with one win apiece against each other.
If we’re deciding between Alabama and Georgia — Auburn would have suffered 3 losses in that scenario — the tie goes to the team with the head-to-head advantage (Georgia), the conference champ (Georgia) and the team with the quality non-conference win (Georgia). It’s not crazy to think Alabama gets left out in that scenario.
There’s still a decent field of contenders
So let’s go off that crazy scenario. You know, the one in which Alabama’s first loss comes at the hands of a blowout against Georgia in the SEC Championship.
Miami is still undefeated, and it boasts better wins than Alabama. If Mark Richt’s squad runs the table, it will undoubtedly make the field ahead of the Tide. Don’t forget about 1-loss Clemson, which also has plenty of top-25 victories (that Auburn win looks huge) and would have a victory against the possibly unbeaten Canes in the ACC Championship. That group isn’t getting bumped in favor of Alabama, either.
The same goes for a 1-loss Oklahoma team. The Sooners would have more top-25 victories than Alabama, they would have a big non-conference true road win (Alabama doesn’t) and they would have a conference title.
Wisconsin, despite what you think about its strength of schedule, is still unbeaten. The Badgers aren’t getting left out of the field if they run the table. Period. Three wins against potential top-25 teams (if Michigan is in the top-25 on Tuesday) in the final month would lock that up.
In my opinion, there are still five non-Alabama teams (including Georgia) who control their fate. How could five teams control their own destiny for 4 spots? Clemson and Miami will compete for one spot in the ACC Championship. But there’s even a scenario in which Miami losing its first game to Clemson — a close game — could have a better Playoff argument than one-loss Alabama that gets trucked by Georgia.
After Miami trucked Notre Dame, does the ACC have a clearer 2-team path than the SEC? We’ll save that debate for a couple weeks from now.
OK, I’ll stop forecasting scenarios that include Alabama blowouts
Let’s get back to the main issue here. After all, we’re not assuming that Alabama is getting blown out any time soon. But that shows you that there’s still an extremely open field with three weeks of season left.
The belief that a 1-loss, non-SEC champ is undoubtedly in is hard to believe at this point. There are probably some who are pointing to 2-loss Auburn winning out, which would force the committee to include the Tigers and 1-loss Alabama. I’m still not convinced that Auburn makes the field in that scenario (see 2016 Penn State).
That’s not brand bias. I promise.
That’s following what the Playoff has valued throughout this whole process, not what a random analyst said about who they believe is the best team in America. We have 14 weeks of data to show that.
At this point, the SEC hasn’t played its way out of a 2-team bid. It’s not as if it’s Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and a bunch of 6-win teams. Teams like LSU, Mississippi State and even South Carolina all helped prevent that.
But I believed that the SEC’s most obvious 2-team path included unbeaten Alabama and unbeaten Georgia playing for an SEC Championship. On Saturday, that path was closed. We can sit here and forecast chaos until we’re blue in the face. At this point, anything can happen.
Well, maybe not anything.