As we inch closer and closer (oh, thank goodness!) to the college football season, we're taking a look at how teams could -- or couldn't -- get into the College Football Playoff.
What are the key games with playoff implications in 2016?
For our purposes, we're looking into the SEC which, let's face it, has a playoff qualifier going on just about every week of the season. But we had to pick 10 games involving SEC teams that will have an impact on this year's playoff.
This wasn't easy, but it was worth a shot:
1. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (in Orlando, Florida), Sept. 5: Both of these teams have the talent to be playoff contenders, and this affects playoff races in two major conferences. While neither team would technically be out of the playoff with a loss, a win will go a very long way in cementing their candidacy. And starting 0-1 means you're playing catch-up all year long. The winner of this game would make a major statement in front of the college football world to start the 2016 season.
2. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5: This game always has major SEC implications, so that means it has playoff implications as well. Win the West, and chances are you're going to have a great shot at the playoff. The winner of this will likely be right at the top of the SEC and inching closer to a playoff spot with less than a month of regular-season football remaining. Naturally, this is a must-win for both.
3. Alabama at Ole Miss, Sept. 17: Losing to Ole Miss the past two seasons hasn't cost the Crimson Tide a playoff spot, while beating the Tide hasn't guaranteed the Rebels one, either. But if either team loses in the opening weekend, this turns into a must-win for playoff purposes. It's also pretty big in the SEC race. These might be the two best teams in the SEC, so the playoff committee will be carefully watching this game.
4. Alabama at Tennessee, Oct. 15: These are the two favorites to meet in Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but this early meeting will still have a big impact on how that race turns out. Chances are, both these teams will be at or near the top of their respective divisions by the time they meet, so the majority of the nation will tune in. This could be Round 1 of two for this matchup as well.
5. Florida at Tennessee, Sept. 24: The Volunteers have lost to Florida 11 straight times, and the general consensus is that aren't winning the East if they don't beat the Gators. In all likelihood, Tennessee isn't going to the playoff if it doesn't win the East. If Florida wants a shot at the playoff, it'll have to win this game on the road.
6. Ole Miss at LSU, Oct. 22: A bitter rivalry late in the season with two teams that could win the SEC. I think they'll have something to say about the playoff. Again, you have two of the SEC's most talented teams facing off in a game that could get national attention before the season's homestretch.
7. LSU at Florida, Oct. 8: Both of these teams are pretty intriguing because of quarterback questions. Do the Gators really have a playoff chance this season? Could they derail LSU's in the Swamp? This has the potential to be a very big game in 2016.
8. Alabama vs. USC (in Arlington, Texas) Sept. 3: The Crimson Tide should be a heavy favorite in this game, but a win for the Trojans would give them a major playoff bump. A loss would hurt Alabama more than USC, but when you have two of the top teams in their respective conferences squaring off E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E will be watching.
9. Tennessee at Georgia, Oct. 1: The Vols will have already played Florida, while Georgia will have played North Carolina and Ole Miss on the road. There's a better chance that Tennessee will have an unblemished record. When you consider that Texas A&M and Alabama are also on Tennessee's schedule, the Vols must win this one to stay in the East and playoff races.
10. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 26: We aren't sure if the Gators are a playoff team, but we know the Seminoles have the DNA to be one. After last year's debacle in the Swamp, you know Florida is motivated to ruin the Seminoles' playoff chances at the end of the regular season. If FSU splits the Clemson and Ole Miss games and enters this game with just one loss, the Noles could have a shot at the playoff, especially if they are headed to the ACC title game.