Monday, October 6, 2014

SEC On Target to Swipe 2 Playoff Bids

The SEC haters will not like to hear this, but in the inaugural College Football Playoff, there just might be two SEC teams in the four-team field.

A slew of upsets last weekend shook up the playoff outlook, but it did little damage to the SEC's chances. Instead of traditional powers like Alabama and LSU, you now have the ascendant Mississippi schools at the top of the polls. There is a chance that, at the end of the season, more will be riding on the line at the Egg Bowl than the Iron Bowl.

The Big Ten, without a single undefeated team after the first weekend of October, already is on the outside looking in as far as the playoff is concerned. It is now joined on the sidelines by the Pac-12, which does a better job than any other conference to self-immolate. After Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and USC all lost in dramatic fashion last week, there's not a single Pac-12 team in the Top 10 of the standings, either.

Of course, the season is only about a third of the way done and we're still three weeks away from the selection committee's first rankings. But make no mistake, the prospects of the SEC (more specifically, the SEC West) landing two playoff teams are becoming very real.


The Playoff Teams

1. Auburn
If the playoff were to start today, the Tigers would be the undisputed top seed, even if they're not No. 1 in the polls. But the playoff does not start today, and the Tigers still have to deal with the toughest schedule in college football this season (or in quite some time) so it's certain that Gus Malzhan isn't spending one second thinking about any of this stuff. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

2. Ole Miss
Remember in 2007 when South Florida and Boston College each spent time at No. 2 in the BCS standings? While it's just as shocking to see the Rebels in this spot, they're far more legitimate than those two pretenders, which both finished the season outside of the Top 10. The way things are playing out, the second-place SEC West team is in a prime spot to swipe a playoff berth, provided the division winner takes the SEC title. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

3. Florida State
The Seminoles will make the playoffs if they run the table, but, in spite of their top ranking in the polls currently, they probably won't be the top seed unless there are no other Power 5 unbeatens. FSU simply will not be challenged much this season, with most of its toughest games already out of the way. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

6. Baylor
The Bears have played absolutely nobody, as evidenced by its low SoS ranking. But their season starts now, beginning with the upcoming showdown against TCU. With the Big 12 playing a true round-robin and without a conference title game, Baylor likely will have to win every game to offset the weakness of its nonconference schedule. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

First Four Out

4. Mississippi State
With wins over LSU and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have the bona fides to make a case for the playoff spot. There's work ahead as they haven't even gone through half of the test that is the SEC West. The good news is that they don't play any of their divisional foes in back-to-back weeks after this weekend. The bad news is that Auburn is coming up this weekend. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

5. Alabama
As predicted, Alabama loses but doesn't fall very far. But the Tide now have the work cut out for them, as another loss could end their quest for a spot in the playoff field. The reason for that is 'Bama's toughest remaining games will come in November, at which time a second loss will prove fatal. (Projected bowl: Orange Bowl)

7 Oklahoma
The Sooners still have a decent chance of playing their way back into the playoff field, but there is now no margin for error. OU will need to win all of its remaining games and hope TCU is beaten twice along the way for it to claim the Big 12 title. Humanely destroying the Longhorns in Dallas is a must. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

8. Notre Dame
The Irish have set themselves up pretty nicely for a playoff run, but they face a must-win game in two weeks at Florida State. A victory over the defending champs will put Notre Dame in the playoff field provided that it wins the rest of its games. And a one-loss (or maybe even two-loss) Irish team should be good enough to snatch a New Year's Six bowl bid. (Projected bowl: Peach Bowl)

Other Fun Facts

* The Pac-12 suddenly finds itself outside of the playoff field and there isn't a sure way to play itself back in. Arizona is now the conference's only unbeaten team and as much as that's a feel-good story, Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats are unlikely to win their division, let alone the conference. Without a dominant team emerging—and being the only Power 5 to play nine conference games plus a title game—the Pac-12's national championship drought (since 2004) likely will continue.

* The Big Ten has an even longer national title drought, dating back to 2002, and at the moment it has maybe one team with an outside chance of crashing the playoff party. Michigan State will need lots of breaks to go its way, namely having other conferences produce two-loss champions, to have any shot of returning to the top of the rankings. Otherwise, it'll be a Big Ten-Pac-12 rendezvous in the Fiesta Bowl as a mere consolation prize.

* The Group of 5 bid likely has been whittled down to these six contenders, and in this order: 1. East Carolina (American), 2. Memphis (American), Colorado State (Mountain West), 4. Air Force (Mountain West), 5. Marshall (Conference USA), 6. Northern Illinois (MAC). Marshall is the only unbeaten team; Memphis has two losses while the others have one each. Strength of schedule will play a major role in the committee's decision to award this bid.

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