It seems crazy, right? The SEC is typically considered the gold-standard of college football. This time of year, we are usually talking about whether or not the SEC will have two teams in the playoffs. Heck, there were even times this year when we thought three was a possibility. So, how could a conference with the AP’s top-ranked team and two others in the top seven not have at least one representative in the four-team playoff? Let’s take a look at how the SEC could be left out of the College Football Playoff picture.
Georgia is the Only Hope for the SEC in the College Football Playoff
If the SEC were Princess Leia from Star Wars, Georgia would be Obi Wan Kenobi. Nobody else in the SEC has a prayer of getting into the College Football Playoff. The next two highest ranked teams, no.6 Alabama and no.7 Tennessee, both have two losses. No two loss team has ever made the CFP. There actually was a chance for a two-loss SEC team to sneak in up until fairly recently.
Last week, 9-2 LSU was ranked fifth in the CFP rankings, which suggests that if they won their regular season finale and then beat the Bulldogs in the SEC title game, the Tigers would have had a pretty good shot. However, they blew all that up when they got upset by a putrid Texas A&M team. Georgia is now the only team in this conference without a deeply flawed résumé (more on that later).
The Nightmare Scenario For Georgia
Let me preface this by saying that a lot would have to happen for Georgia to miss the College Football Playoff, and that this is more of a hypothetical than a prediction. Anyway, the first thing that obviously has to happen is that the Bulldogs would have to lose to LSU in the SEC Championship Game. If not, they are for sure in as the top seed.
Honestly, Georgia probably still gets in with a loss as long as it is close. The CFP selection committee would almost certainly give the Bulldogs the benefit of the doubt if they dropped a heartbreaker in a conference title game. However, for this exercise, let’s imagine LSU really brings it and wins this one by two scores. At this point, things could get dicey.
For this hypothetical, let’s assume that there are no surprises in some of the other conference championship games. This means that Michigan beats Purdue, TCU takes down Kansas State, and USC handles Utah. The ACC title game between Clemson and North Carolina is irrelevant since Clemson picked up a second loss in the Palmetto Bowl.
With these results, Michigan and TCU would be undefeated conference champs so they would be locked in as the top two seeds. From there, USC should be the third seed, given that they would be the only one-loss conference champion. Don’t forget, the committee does value conference titles.
At this point, there would be one spot up for grabs. Assuming that the CFP won’t put in a two- or three-loss team, even with a conference championship, that leaves two teams. The last spot would come down to Georgia and Ohio State, both one-loss teams without a conference title.
Georgia vs Ohio State: Comparing Résumés
Typically, when the committee has had to decide between an SEC team and a team from any other conference, it isn’t even a discussion. The SEC team always gets the nod. However, this one is tricky. Let’s dive into the bodies of work that these teams put up this year.
Remember, in this scenario Georgia would have gotten beat somewhat handily by LSU, so let’s assume they lost the SEC title game by about 10 points. That is still closer than Ohio State’s 22-point loss to Michigan. Regardless, Ohio State’s loss would be to the number one team in the country, while Georgia’s would be to team that was beaten by Florida State, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
Also, for all intents and purposes, we are going to consider both team’s losses to be home losses. The SEC Championship Game is technically at a “neutral site,” but the game is in freaking Atlanta. At best, these losses are about even, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee decides that Ohio State’s is more respectable.
For Georgia, that is their 14-point home win over Tennessee. At the time, that was a great win. It looked better before the Volunteers got thumped by South Carolina, but they are still a top-10 team. Ohio State’s best win was a 13-point road victory at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ only other loss was a beatdown at the hands of Michigan.
I think it is fair to say that Tennessee and Penn State are about equal quality of opponents. When you factor in the hostile environment the Buckeyes played in, you could see the committee leaning their way here.
Strength of Schedule
Before we compare the conference games, let’s check out the non-conference opponents. Georgia played four games out of conference: Oregon, Samford, Kent State, and Geogia Tech. Ohio State had three: Notre Dame, Arkansas State, and Toledo. Georgia clearly gets the nod here just based on how much better Oregon is than Notre Dame.
Looking at conference games, Georgia played one really good team in Tennessee. LSU is probably a step below this. They also played several inconsistently solid teams in South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky. The rest of their SEC opponents were pretty much just mediocre-at-best Power 5 teams. Ohio State played one great team in Michigan, and a really good one in Penn State. They didn’t really play anyone else in the Big Ten who was all that good.
When comparing strength of schedule, two things jump out: the Buckeyes had a slightly more top-heavy schedule, but the Bulldogs’ was much deeper. Overall, Ohio State played two, maybe three good teams. Georgia played somewhere between three and six good teams.
Georgia — and therefore the SEC — is almost certainly going to make the College Football Playoff. Most likely they will be undefeated and have the top seed. Even if they lose badly and nothing else goes their way, the committee will probably let them in anyway.
Nevertheless, we could at least have a situation where, for the first time in a while, the committee would have to take a long look into whether or not the SEC is deserving of a playoff spot. That could be interesting.