Why a 12-team Playoff should end the 'SEC wasn't motivated for that bowl game' narrative
When an SEC team loses what’s deemed a semi-important, non-national championship/Playoff bowl game, you see the narrative: “The SEC wasn’t motivated for that bowl game.”
Both sides have used that argument. There’s the side of the individual SEC team. Take 2020 Florida, for example. When Dan Mullen said after Florida was pounded by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl that “the last game the 2020 team played was 11 days ago,” it certainly fuels the narrative.
There’s also the side of the anti-SEC crowd, who loves to use that “SEC wasn’t motivated for that bowl game” line to troll the conference whenever it loses a postseason game.
Is it overdone? Absolutely. There’s no official number to prove this, but it does feel like the narrative continues to circulate on an annual basis because of the anti-SEC crowd.
And is there something to be said for it? Well, perhaps. When Florida is without its top 4 pass-catchers or 2018 Georgia plays Texas with a slew of future NFL Draft picks sitting out, sure, there’s a case that those teams aren’t at their best. A player on that 2013 Alabama team told me that when the Tide had to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl after Kick-6 happened and the Tide’s national title dreams died, he never saw a team less motivated to play in a game.
Speaking of that, here are some of the more popular recent games in which that “SEC wasn’t motivated for that bowl game” narrative was thrown out there by one side or the other because a favored SEC team entered a non-Playoff/BCS National Championship bowl having lost its previous game.
- 2008 Sugar Bowl: Utah beats Alabama
- 2013 Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma beats Alabama
- 2017 Peach Bowl: UCF beats Auburn
- 2018 Sugar Bowl: Texas beats Georgia
- 2020 Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma beats Florida
So why am I bringing this up now? Well, a 12-team Playoff should put that narrative to bed for good.
“Should” is the key word. We know the anti-SEC crowd will still run back to that narrative after a bowl loss the same way a dad can’t resist answering someone who asks if he got a haircut with “No, I got them all cut!”
But hopefully, for the sake of this outdated narrative, it’ll feel like a corny dad joke if and when the proposed 12-team Playoff goes into effect, perhaps as early as 2023.
Look at those 5 SEC teams. Under this proposed 12-team format, wherein the 6 highest-ranked conference champs and the 6-highest-ranked at-large teams would make up the field, all of those teams would’ve been in the Playoff instead of playing in some non-Playoff/BCS New Year’s 6 bowl.
Here’s the breakdown of how those seeds would’ve looked based on BCS/Playoff rankings going into bowl season:
- 2008 Alabama: No. 6 seed
- 2013 Alabama: No. 5 seed
- 2017 Auburn: No. 7 seed
- 2018 Georgia: No. 5 seed
- 2020 Florida: No. 7 seed
All of those teams would’ve hosted home Playoff games in the Round of 12. Those games would’ve felt monumental. And sure, the 2008 SEC Championship, Kick-6, the 2017 Iron Bowl and the 2018 SEC Championship wouldn’t have felt quite as monumental. The positive, however, is that those teams would’ve avoided that potential narrative.
For all we know, perhaps one of those 5 teams would’ve gone on to win a title in a 12-team Playoff. The good news is that if they had lost in the Round of 12, that narrative wouldn’t have really had any sort of juice because of the undeniable stakes. There wouldn’t be guys skipping bowl games, and like every other Playoff game, it would feel like an all-or-nothing game and not a murky, “is this team all in” debate.
If you’re in the camp that the regular season will be ruined by the 12-team Playoff, take solace in that.
We still don’t know what these future non-Playoff bowls will look like exactly, but in theory, the best SEC team appearing one of those games will likely have at least 3 regular-season losses.
Think about all the Outback and Citrus Bowl games you’ve watched in the Playoff era. Do those games really bring out that narrative? Not really. At least not where there’s anything more than a tongue-in-cheek joke from the anti-SEC crowd that doesn’t really carry much weight. It’s not like the college football world was saying 2015 Florida didn’t care when it lost to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl or that 2018 Mississippi State lacked interest in that Outback Bowl loss to Iowa.
The argument really starts for the SEC team that loses its Playoff hopes either in the SEC Championship or in a regular-season finale (think Kick-6). In the proposed 12-team Playoff, the SEC Championship loser would’ve made the field each of the past 4 years. It’s pretty simple. If you come into the SEC Championship with 1 loss, you’re getting into a 12-team Playoff. Multiple losses? It’s a coin flip at best.
In the previous systems, we usually don’t judge those teams entering the SEC Championship with multiple losses by that standard because their Playoff/BCS National Championship dreams already died a painful death.
There are the rare exceptions like 2017 Auburn and 2007 LSU, though both of those situations took an extraordinary set of circumstances for those teams to go into the SEC Championship with title hopes at stake (Auburn beat No. 1 twice and LSU benefitted from the wildest season in the sport’s history).
And I suppose there could be a situation in which a team enters the SEC Championship with 2 losses with Playoff hopes very much in play, but then gets blown out and misses out on the 12-team field. But would we really see that narrative if that SEC team were to lose in the Citrus Bowl? Probably not. At least I’d hope not.
It’s hard to predict when a narrative will die. Once upon a time, the anti-SEC crowd tried to predict that the SEC would stop winning so many titles once the BCS system was ditched. Seven years into a 4-team Playoff system that yielded 4 champions from the SEC and 7 of the 14 championship representatives from the SEC, that narrative is indeed dead. It’s dead thanks to the SEC continuing to win more meaningful football games than any other conference.
If the 12-team Playoff comes to fruition, “the SEC wasn’t motivated for that bowl game” narrative will be on life support.
And if it somehow doesn’t die with the new system, fingers crossed that the social media creativity packs more of a punch than a dad joke.