photo credit Lisa Horne
by Lisa Horne
An SEC champion getting left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff leaves a bad taste in your mouth, doesn't it? The champion of a league that claims to be the best—its resume is hard to argue against—is supposed to be in the four-team playoff. But it is not a lock.
While the rest of the Power 5 teams are locked in conference games or a few challenging non-conference games, many SEC championship contenders are playing cupcakes in November. Alabama plays Western Carolina, Auburn plays Samford, Ole Miss plays Presbyterian, Mississippi State plays UT Martin and Georgia plays Charleston Southern.
Barry Alvarez, a College Football Playoff Committe member, spoke of a team's "intent" in regards to its non-conference game scheduling. The committee will be looking at a team's scheduling intent when factoring in its strenth of schedule.
It is difficult to predict how competitive a team will be five years down the road—many non-conference schedules are made that far in adavnce. It is not that difficult to analyze the intent of a school which schedules a non-conference game with an FCS team or a team that is a new member of the FBS. A playoff contender that played an eight-game conference schedule as well as an FCS team nestled in November could (and probably will) get dinged by the committee.
There are at least three scenarios that could leave the SEC's champion out of the party in January.
Scenario No. 1
Missouri wins out and beats the West champion in the SEC conference championship. The unranked Tigers would move up in the rankings over the next four weeks but moving up at least 22 spots is not a realistic expectation. Its loss to the Indiana Hoosiers is a biggee. Remember when No. 2 Oklahoma State got left out of the 2012 BCS Championship game after losing to Iowa State? This scenario—a 11-2 SEC team getting left out—is the SEC's greatest fear.
Scenario No. 2
Alabama loses to LSU, which would drop the Crimson Tide out of the top four spots. Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl, which would drop Auburn out of the top four spots. Mississippi State loses to two of these teams: UT Martin, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State would have two conference losses. So would LSU if it won out. Even if the West champion won the SEC conference championship, it would probably not stay in the top four spots. There are 10 one-loss teams that would move ahead of them… if they win out.
Scenario No. 3
Missouri loses to one of these teams to give it a 6-2 conference record: Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas. Georgia wins out and also has a 6-2 conference record. Georgia wins the SEC East via tiebreaker rules (it beat Missouri) and wins the SEC conference championship.
Would the committee send an 11-2 SEC East team that lost to unranked South Carolina and Florida to the College Football Playoff? Not if there are four 12-1 teams ahead of it. Florida State will probably end up 13-0. Oregon and Michigan State are locks if they win out with 12-1 records. Kansas State and TCU do not play in a conference championship game but they do play a nine-game league schedule so that counteracts their one negative. The winner of that game should stay in the hunt.
Notre Dame plays Arizona State and if the Irish win out, they have a very strong case as to why they should be in the playoff—their one loss was to No. 1 Florida State. A two-loss SEC East champion does not look like a top four team and thus, would not move into the College Football Playoff.
These scenarios are all contingent on the one-loss Power 5 teams winning out, of course. With rivalry games coming up, nothing should ever be taken for granted. But there are some interesting hypothetical outcomes that could keep an SEC team out of the College Football Playoff.