Each year, as football season approaches this juncture, we find ourselves caught in a whirlwind of ‘what ifs.’
The anticipation of various scenarios, the permutations of events, and the potential outcomes create a unique sense of excitement.
However, with the inception of the inaugural 4-team college football playoff system this year, some rather peculiar and disconcerting playoff possibilities have emerged.
In the following analysis, we will explore the most unfavorable among them…
NO SEC TEAM IN THE FINAL FOUR
The deep-seated affection that the college football community holds for the SEC. This sentiment is undoubtedly well-deserved, given the conference’s remarkable track record, having secured seven of the last ten NCAA championships.
Furthermore, the SEC’s supremacy is clearly evident when it comes to producing NFL talent, outshining all other Power 5 conferences.
Notwithstanding the conference’s rich history and abundant talent, the SEC now finds itself in an exceptionally precarious situation.
As it currently stands, Alabama, ranking at the pinnacle as the #1 team, stands as the solitary SEC representative within striking distance of the Top 4.
The SEC’s perilous situation stems from this unique circumstance. Even though Alabama enters the SEC championship game as the overwhelming favorite against Missouri, who stands at #16 with a 10-2 record, an upset victory by the Tigers could very realistically dislodge the Tide from the Top 4.
This is not an implausible ‘what if’ scenario contingent upon a complex chain of unlikely events. Rather, it hinges on the outcome of a single game, albeit a game where Alabama holds the favor.
Ultimately, the fate of Alabama’s place in the Top 4 hinges on the manner in which they might lose to the Tigers, should such a scenario unfold.
A narrow defeat could potentially see Alabama slide from the #1 spot to #4, though this outcome remains uncertain and speculative, contingent upon the outcomes of #5 Ohio State, #6 Baylor, and #7 Arizona in their respective final games.
What makes the prospect of a modest drop less likely if Alabama were to lose is the fact that each of the teams ranked #5 through #7 is set to face opponents of notably higher rankings than Alabama’s upcoming adversary.
Specifically, Ohio State confronts #13 Wisconsin, Baylor squares off against #9 Kansas State, and Arizona battles #7 Arizona, respectively.
A convincing victory by either Ohio State or Baylor, coupled with a loss by the Tide, could result in a shift in their standings, with one rising as the other descends.
Among this group, Arizona stands out as the potential game-changer, as an upset win could potentially maintain Alabama’s relevance in the playoff race.
This scenario would see Oregon ousted from the Top 4, making way for an Arizona PAC 12 champion with a similar record and two head-to-head victories.
In the grand scheme of things, the responsibility for the SEC’s playoff prospects rests solely on Alabama’s shoulders.
In contrast, Missouri, even if crowned SEC champion, carries the weight of two unenviable losses, one to Indiana and a harrowing 34-point home defeat to Georgia. From the committee’s perspective, their path to the playoffs appears to be irrevocably closed.
As for Mississippi State, they remain in a state of inertia, and while their losses against Alabama and Ole Miss weren’t disastrous, the late-season defeat in the Egg Bowl to a struggling Rebels team, which had suffered a 30-point loss the week prior, has tainted the committee’s perception of MSU.
Without any further games on their schedule, it’s unlikely that this view will change unless multiple teams ahead of them make the shocking decision to disband their football programs.
The current state of affairs in college football is indeed startling, and the evidence before us strongly suggests that Alabama must secure victory for their own sake and for the reputation of the SEC as a whole to secure a spot in the tournament.
MULTIPLE POWER 5 CONFERENCES SHUT OUT OF THE PLAYOFF
From a mathematical perspective, it’s clear that a 4-team tournament in a landscape featuring five conferences inevitably results in the exclusion of one conference winner.
The intriguing aspect is that the selection committee’s emphasis on using conference championships as a prominent criterion in the evaluation of five conferences for four spots appears to be a perplexing puzzle.
Ultimately, the purported significance of the championship criterion may not hold water for at least one institution. One conceivable yet not far-fetched scenario is the potential exclusion of not just one but two Power 5 conferences.
Several routes could lead to this outcome, but the most plausible involves an extension of the discussion regarding Alabama we previously touched upon.
In the event of an Alabama loss and simultaneous convincing victories for both TCU and Baylor, there exists a substantial likelihood that the Big 12 conference could secure two positions.
The committee’s favor towards TCU is evident, underscored by their ascent of two spots to the 3rd rank in the most recent rankings.
It’s reasonable to assume that TCU’s position won’t significantly improve, given their upcoming matchup with a middling Iowa State team.
However, barring any unforeseen mishaps against the Cyclones, TCU’s chances of plummeting by two spots with a victory seem remote.
It’s entirely logical to expect that the committee would prioritize the head-to-head criterion in the event of TCU maintaining their performance and Baylor securing a convincing triumph over Kansas State.
In this scenario, Baylor would likely take the #3 spot, while TCU would settle at #4. Considering TCU’s standing with the committee, unless they stumble against ISU, their Top 4 status is secure.
Assuming Baylor secures the crucial win against the Wildcats, the committee is likely to perceive TCU and Baylor as near equals, both boasting identical records and separated only by the outcome of their head-to-head clash.
This opens the door for both of them to potentially make the playoffs.
In the event that the Big 12 secures two of the four spots, coupled with the SEC losing its place due to an Alabama defeat, it sets the stage for a three-conference battle royale involving the Big Ten (B1G), PAC 12, and ACC for the final two playoff spots.
What’s unfortunate is that another Power 5 champion will find themselves on the outside, gazing longingly at the playoff window.
The most probable outcome among these scenarios is for Oregon and Florida State to emerge victorious as favorites, securing their current Top 4 positions. This would mean a disappointing turn of events for the Big Ten and the SEC.
Once again, this isn’t a wild pipe dream. All that needs to transpire is an Alabama loss, accompanied by the favored teams from the PAC 12, Big 12, and ACC claiming victory.
In the event that such a scenario unfolds, the call for an 8-team tournament couldn’t be more compelling…
FSU REMAINS UNBEATEN, FALLS OUT OF THE TOP 4
It does sound quite unconventional, and one might be tempted to label it as absurd. It’s not a situation that many would advocate for, yet it’s one we can’t dismiss entirely, given the committee’s behavior regarding the Florida State Seminoles over the past few weeks.
If the committee remains consistent with their voting patterns, and if the Seminoles maintain their consistent winning record, this scenario might indeed unfold. As a former player, I can understand how frustrating the “game control” criterion can be.
Players are taught from an early age that winning is the ultimate goal, not winning in a specific manner to appease a voter’s preference.
In the last four weeks, Florida State has slid two spots, from #2 to #4, all while securing victories. However, they haven’t always achieved wins in a flashy manner.
They have faced deficits in some of these games and have not always won in a spectacular fashion, which has led to their descent in the rankings.
We’ve seen enough of the Seminoles to know that they might not deliver a stunning performance in terms of style points against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game.
They might even find themselves trailing at some point, which could be considered a drawback. But one thing is clear; they are unlikely to lose.
The committee has exhibited a willingness to penalize and drop Florida State for not demonstrating “game control.” There is no explicit indication from the committee that they would deviate from this approach, even in a championship game.
Regrettably, for the committee to remain consistent throughout this process, they would have to lower Florida State’s ranking if they fail to secure an impressive victory against Georgia Tech. This would only change if other teams in the Top 4 also falter.
If Florida State manages to win a closely contested game against the Yellow Jackets and either Ohio State or Baylor secures convincing victories, there’s no prior evidence suggesting that the committee wouldn’t adhere to their established methodology and relegate the Seminoles once more.
It would indeed be disheartening if events unfold this way, but it would also be a breach of trust if the committee disregards the “game control” criterion now, after relying on it extensively in the past month.
This Saturday promises to deliver remarkable football drama, and any ensuing chaos shouldn’t take us by surprise. None of these scenarios can be described as particularly equitable or “right,” but none of them are beyond the realm of possibility.
So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a wild ride, because college football chaos is on the horizon…