Get ready for the SEC to dominate the playoff discussion ... more than ever.
With only one real week in the books, we're already barreling toward another season of multiple SEC teams in the playoff, with the Allstate Playoff Predictor pegging that likelihood at a staggering 70%.
The SEC has, in FPI's estimation, three of the four best teams in college football -- including the best team, after Alabama quietly moved ahead of Clemson in the rating system after Clemson had a just-a-little-bit-shaky performance from Trevor Lawrence against Georgia Tech. But the real story is after the top tier, where LSU jumped up to No. 3 and is closely followed by Georgia at No. 4. There's a 2.5-point gap between them and everyone else below, too.
Multiple good teams in a conference does not always equate to multiple playoff teams. Just ask the Big Ten about that.
But the SEC is set up nicely to put two teams in again. Some simple scenarios with each team's chance to reach the playoff:
• SEC champion Alabama (99%) beats 11-1 LSU (88%)
• SEC champion LSU (98%) beats 11-1 Alabama (88%)
• Georgia (81%) beats Alabama (74%) in the SEC championship game
• Alabama (99%) beats Georgia in the SEC championship game (37%)
• Georgia (79%) beats LSU (59%) in the SEC championship game
• LSU (96%) beats Georgia in the SEC championship game (36%)
You get the idea. There are a plethora of options for the SEC, though some require help from elsewhere. And we didn't even mention long-shot-but-not-impossible teams like Auburn or Florida.
But are you wondering what I'm wondering? I hesitate to even write it but ... here we go:
What about three SEC teams?
According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor: Yes, it could happen. Actually, I'm underselling it.
The most likely playoff combination right now, as we sit here in early September, is actually: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and LSU (in some order). With a 5% chance.
We'll say that with a slight caveat: The Allstate Playoff Predictor probably doesn't capture the full political ramifications -- nor the sizzling phone lines at sports talk radio stations -- of a three-SEC-team playoff. After all, it was built on the committee's past behavior and there never has been a situation when there was serious consideration at the time of selection for three teams from a single conference.
But we're just saying: It's possible. Or, it's certainly possible given the criteria the committee has used previously.
Here's how it could happen: Alabama goes 11-1 but drops a game to LSU, which loses to Georgia in the SEC championship game. In that scenario Alabama would be at 84%, Georgia at 75% (we guaranteed only a conference championship, no other wins) and then LSU down at 57%, presumably dependent on how things shake out in the other conferences. There are other permutations of course: LSU and Alabama could flip spots. And Alabama could beat an otherwise undefeated Georgia in the SEC championship game.
In every instance, the SEC would need help from elsewhere. A few two-or-more loss champions. No Notre Dame, etc.
But just keep it in the back of your mind: it's not completely impossible.
No. 1 Clemson's toughest test
Saturday's game against No. 12 Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) is the Tigers' most difficult of the season, according to FPI. That's relative, though. Because even though Clemson slid down to the No. 2 spot in the metric's rankings, it still has an 88% chance to win.
But what would happen if Dabo Swinney lost to Jimbo Fisher this weekend? The Tigers would drop instantly to a 53% chance to reach the playoff, per the Allstate Playoff Predictor. However, if they were to win the remainder of their games and win the ACC title game, their chances would jump up to 85%. In other words: though a loss to the Aggies would hurt, Clemson probably would still control its destiny. Probably.
A virtual must-win for No. 9 Texas vs. No. 6 LSU
The Longhorns would surely be playoff contenders if they were to win every non-LSU game this season. The problem is that isn't going to happen. Or, it has only a 1% chance of happening, according to FPI. So if Texas really wants to reach the playoff -- that should be a requirement for being "back" right? -- it's going to need a win against LSU on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC).