The SEC conspiracy theories can come to a screeching halt (or at least pause for a brief explanation).
Thanks to Florida -- yes, those Gators -- the odds of the World’s Best Conference placing two teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff now look much dimmer.
Entering Week 10, Georgia had the best chance to win the SEC at 43 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. With Georgia as the SEC champ, it would have been difficult for the selection committee to leave out the title winner and the best team in the West, making two SEC teams in the playoff a likely scenario.
The Dawgs did a playoff face-plant Saturday in a 38-20 loss to Florida, throwing the long-term projection for a loop. Now even Florida has a chance to win the SEC East (seriously). We knew the loser of the Ole Miss-Auburn game was going to drop out of the top four, but Missouri leading the SEC East in spite of a 34-0 loss to Georgia? That would have broken the BCS computers.
Now there’s just broken hearts in Georgia.
Without the Bulldogs in the mix, the winner of the West should have a more manageable path to the title, but it won’t get any bonus points for winning the SEC title game against a watered-down East champion, which could have three losses. While the CFP selection committee is likely to have two SEC West teams ranked in the top four this Tuesday -- an appropriate snapshot for the season to date -- the rest of the month should naturally eliminate one of them. Mississippi State still has to play Alabama and Ole Miss, both on the road. Alabama still faces Mississippi State and Auburn. And Auburn still has road trips to Georgia and Alabama.
The SEC West is still the best division in the country. And now it’s the only one in the SEC worthy of representation in the playoff.
The case for No. 4
Thanks to Auburn’s 35-31 win over Ole Miss, the door has opened for another one-loss team to enter the top four of the selection committee’s rankings, and there are still 13 to choose from.
There’s only one right answer, though.
Oregon is the clear-cut choice for the No. 4 spot behind Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn. Just ask Michigan State. And UCLA. And now Stanford.
The Ducks didn’t just snap their two-game losing streak to the Cardinal, they did it in convincing fashion and reasserted themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12. Oregon broke Stanford's Football Bowl Subdivision-best streak of 31 straight games allowing fewer than 30 points. That was double the number any other school in the country had.
Oregon beat Stanford with style, sustaining drives against the Cardinal’s stingy defense. The Ducks’ defense also made its case, helping put together a complete performance when they needed it most.
The selection committee already gave Oregon a vote of confidence when it ranked the Ducks ahead of Arizona in spite of the head-to-head home loss. The group made the right call, and Oregon took another step in proving it.
Group of 5
East Carolina got a hall pass from the selection committee for its Week 2 loss to South Carolina. A loss to Temple is a wee bit harder to forgive -- not to mention overcome in the American Athletic Conference race. The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of 5 is guaranteed a spot in one of the lucrative New Year’s Six bowls, and ECU literally fumbled that opportunity in a big way.
As the Pirates dropped with their five fumbles, undefeated Marshall’s stock went up, but the Herd’s strength of schedule has already been openly called into question by the committee. Why would that change? The more likely scenario is the committee turns its focus to the top half of the American Athletic Conference, as well as the Mountain West, with a focus on Colorado State, Boise State and Nevada.
The 12-member selection committee set a precedent with its first ranking, rewarding ECU for its schedule in spite of a loss. We’ll find out Tuesday if the committee is consistent in that message.