3 SEC teams in the College Football Playoff? Here’s how that could happen


Josh Heupel

Josh Heupel
Photo: Getty Images

I heard your collective sighs when reading the headline and kicker to this story. Great, the most dominant conference in the country only hoards a bigger portion of the most exclusive quartet in college football. How could that be good for the sport? Calm down, Tommy. (what I’m choosing to call the people who groaned without reading a word). The College Football Playoff’s expansion is on its way in a few years and that problem will be solved. For now, it’s not the Southeastern Conference’s strongest squads’ faults that the rest of America can’t keep up.

The SEC has four strong options to make the CFP, by far the most for any league in America. If Ole Miss, Tennessee, Georgia, or one-loss Alabama win out, they’re in, no questions about it. The Crimson Tide and Rebels still have to play and a loss for Alabama would knock it out of title contention. The de-facto SEC East championship game between the Bulldogs and Vols will be Nov. 5 in Athens. A one-loss UGA or UT team, with their only defeat coming the first Saturday in November, would look awfully tempting to the committee. That’s exactly what happened to Alabama in the 2018 playoff. After being left out of the SEC title game, it earned the No. 4 seed, beat No. 1 overall Clemson, and won the natty over Georgia in Tua Tagovailoa’s star-making moment. I don’t think Ole Miss would be given the same second chance at a championship in the same vein Texas A&M didn’t get one in 2020.

Let’s narrow the options of invaders to this nightmare for some, pipe dream for others. Let’s throw each Group of Five hopeful off the boat first. Cincinnati was nice last year, but nothing close exists in 2022. The Big 12 has three options left, with none looking too promising. TCU is the league’s lone undefeated team left, with Kansas State and Oklahoma State as its pair of one-loss teams. The Wildcats played the Horned Frogs and Cowboys over the next two weeks. By the time November rolls around the Big 12 will have a maximum of two teams with CFP dreams alive. Too many good, but not great, teams exist in the Big 12, and TCU will get knocked from its perch eventually. The league isn’t getting into the CFP this season. Sorry to point out what should be obvious.

The Pac-12 is the next closest to be wholesale shoved out of the CFP picture, but its options look better than the Big 12, also with three teams still in contention — Big Ten-bound UCLA and USC, alongside Oregon, whose only loss was getting demolished by Georgia. The Bruins still have to go through the Trojans and Ducks as the Pac-12’s remaining undefeated team, and then win the conference championship game. It’s an unlikely trio of victories and will shoot down their chances of making it to the CFP. Despite losing to Utah, USC is the conference’s best chance to make it into the playoff, but running the table is necessary. Oregon’s opening-week defeat will be a tough pill to swallow for the committee, unless it runs the table and looks dominant, which I think has minuscule odds.

A foreshadowed 75 percent SEC CFP’s biggest roadblock is Clemson, as the Big Ten will get at least one team and there’s no changing that. Ohio State and Michigan as a pair are too good for both to be denied. Whoever wins that matchup in Columbus later this year will destroy the Big Ten West winner and head into the playoff. I’m not going out on a ledge in making that prediction at all. But, anyway, back to the ACC, which hasn’t had a non-Clemson team in the CFP since its inaugural competition if you discount the changes that made a Notre Dame appearance count under the conference’s banner two years ago. Yeah, Syracuse looks strong now, and Wake Forest and North Carolina do have paths to the promised land, but it won’t happen. Can anyone really envision a scenario where one of those three makes it? They’d all get demolished by one of the SEC’s best. Clemson’s silver-platter schedule compared to its national-title-hopeful contemporaries will lead to a spot in the CFP if it wins out. The Tigers are better than they were a year ago. Even as a one-loss conference champion, they’d make it in over a third SEC team.

The three-team SEC scenario has to be both Georgia and Tennessee, as well as either Alabama or Ole Miss. There’s no way two teams from the SEC West and one of the Volunteers or Bulldogs can be plugged in. A one-loss Rebels team that doesn’t get in the SEC Championship game would make the New Year’s Six, but wouldn’t have enough quality wins to make the playoff. If either Tennessee or Georgia trip up before or after their clash, this scenario goes out the window. It’s due to the strength of Josh Heupel’s team that this scenario isn’t laughed out of any discussion immediately.

Is this scenario likely? No. The diverse selection committee wouldn’t put three teams from the same conference together unless they had no other move. A lot of dominos have to fall the SEC’s way for it to occur, but a lot of unlikely scenarios, such as Oklahoma already having three losses, have already fallen Greg Sankey’s league’s way. Two teams from the same conference getting into the playoff has happened in three of the last five editions, including each of the last two years. A slippery slope exists giving the SEC a trio. Now back to your collective groaning until we get an expanded playoff. 



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