This week, only Mississippi State and Florida State maintain their flawless records in the playoff selection committee’s rankings, securing their positions at the peak.
Yet, beyond this certainty, the landscape of college football rankings becomes uncertain.
Looking ahead, the notable distinction lies in Florida State’s path, with no formidable opponent until the ACC championship game.
On the other hand, Mississippi State faces the challenges of clashing with Alabama and concluding the season against Ole Miss in the “Egg Bowl.”
In my view, Mississippi State is poised to lose one of these pivotal matches, introducing a wildcard element into the SEC’s unfolding narrative.
Now, let’s delve into some entertaining SEC scenarios. Recent losses by Georgia and Ole Miss have brought a measure of clarity to the college football playoff picture within the SEC.
With two losses and situated in the less competitive SEC East division, Georgia no longer appears to be a viable playoff contender. Similarly, Ole Miss, following a heartbreaking defeat to Auburn, now faces steep odds.
While Ole Miss may indeed boast exceptional prowess, the relentless gauntlet of their past and forthcoming schedule proves too formidable to sustain their playoff aspirations.
Additionally, the significant setback of losing wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to injury only deepens their challenges.
In the SEC, three teams—Mississippi State, Auburn, and Alabama—stand with a legitimate chance at making it to the playoff.
Mississippi State holds the reins to their destiny; a clean sweep from here on would guarantee them a playoff spot.
However, the waters grow murky when considering a scenario where Mississippi State clinches the SEC West Division but falters in the SEC championship game.
In such a case, it would be a challenge for the committee to justify dropping Mississippi State out of the top four, especially after their undefeated run against one of the most challenging schedules in college football this year.
This also assumes the committee would favor the SEC champion over the one that bested Mississippi State.
In my opinion, Mississippi State would merit a place in such a situation… but I’m inclined to believe it’s an unlikely outcome.
I anticipate that Mississippi State will stumble in one of their final two matchups against Alabama or Ole Miss.
Both teams boast superior individual talent overall. Mississippi State’s pass defense has shown vulnerability, struggling to contain the speed of SEC wide receivers consistently.
I anticipate significant difficulties in covering Alabama’s Amari Cooper in the upcoming weeks.
As of late, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has faced challenges in downfield passing.
While he was never hailed as one of the most prolific throwers, he was valued for his unique blend of size and speed, enabling him to move the ball and secure victories efficiently.
This approach has served them well thus far, but against the defenses of Alabama and Ole Miss, the margins for hitting open wide receivers will be much narrower.
Accuracy and timing will be paramount, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dak encounters difficulties.
This brings us to the other one-loss SEC team, the third-ranked Auburn.
Should Mississippi State stumble against both Alabama and Ole Miss, Auburn would likely feature in the SEC championship game.
A victory there would secure their spot in the playoff, provided they triumph in their remaining games.
If, however, Auburn were to falter in the “Iron Bowl” against Alabama at the end of the season (or in any prior game, for that matter), it would likely be the Tide advancing to the SEC championship game, potentially clinching an SEC spot in the final four rankings.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough, the committee would face additional pressure if the following SEC scenarios unfolded: [Continue with the specific scenarios].
Mississippi State loses to Alabama, and Alabama wins out
If this scenario unfolds, Alabama would secure a playoff spot as the representative of the SEC, while 11-1 Mississippi State’s destiny would be in the hands of the committee.
It’s reasonable to expect that Mississippi State would remain a strong contender for a spot within the top four and a chance to make the playoff.
Mississippi State wins out but so does Auburn
If Auburn completes their schedule with just one loss and misses the SEC championship due to being in the same division as undefeated Mississippi State, they would end the season as a strong contender.
Currently ranked at #3, I think in this situation, both Mississippi State and Auburn would likely secure spots in the playoff representing the SEC.
MSU loses to either Alabama or Ole Miss, and then the SEC West representative loses in the championship game
This is where the SEC faces a challenging scenario. If Mississippi State, at 11-1, doesn’t participate in the SEC Championship Game, and a two-loss team from the SEC East emerges as the winner, the question arises: should the East representative go to the playoff?
Given that the SEC East is considerably less competitive than the West, I would find it much harder to justify sending the SEC champion from this scenario over a one-loss Mississippi State team, especially considering their consistent performance throughout the season.
In my view, Mississippi State’s body of work would hold more weight than a late loss in the SEC West Division.
There’s a possibility that the committee might choose to send both teams to the playoff, or perhaps neither, depending on how the final weeks of the SEC unfold.
One huge unknown is how the committee will view Auburn or Mississippi State as 1-loss teams who AREN’T conference champions compared to, say, a 1-loss Pac 12 champ in Oregon or a one-loss Big 10 champ in Michigan State.
Each of these teams gains an extra opportunity to shine, and 12-1 undeniably carries more weight than 11-1.
I selected Oregon, currently at #4, and Mississippi State, currently at #8, because they are the highest-ranked options in their respective conferences.
The Big 12 employs a unique method to determine its champion, relying on a “round robin” schedule instead of a championship game.
This leads to a puzzling situation, especially with Baylor and TCU holding one loss.
TCU, ranked at #6, stands ahead of Baylor, ranked at #12, even though Baylor emerged victorious in their head-to-head matchup.
It raises the question: does head-to-head play hold no sway in rankings?
Consider this: if Baylor triumphs in all their remaining games, they become the Big 12 Champion, yet TCU is ranked higher. It’s a perplexing situation.
Additionally, one-loss Kansas State is resurging at #7, and their faceoff against TCU this weekend will be a decisive moment for playoff consideration.
Notre Dame seems to face an uphill battle. They must secure dominant victories and perhaps rely on external help to make a compelling case for the playoff.
Their recent close game against the Navy may not sit well with the committee.
It’s plausible that TCU’s surge past Baylor was influenced by their remarkable 82-point performance against Texas Tech a couple of weeks ago.
Notre Dame, in turn, will need to defeat ASU, Louisville, and USC similarly, and even then, their playoff hopes might hinge on some outside assistance.
In the coming weeks, we’ll likely find answers to many of the questions raised above.
Personally, I believe the committee might be struggling to rank these one-loss teams, and they could be positioning them near their upcoming opponents.
A prime example is the significant leap made by #9 Arizona State, who surged five spots after a home victory over lower-ranked Utah at #17.
The rationale behind this substantial jump is not immediately apparent.
As previously mentioned, this weekend, the showdown between #6 TCU and #7 Kansas State is poised to clarify the situation.
Similarly, the match between #8 Michigan State and #14 Ohio State showcases the Big 10’s best shot at making it to the playoff.
In my view, Ohio State might pull off an upset, potentially dashing Michigan State’s playoff hopes.
Unfortunately, this could mean that the Big 10 misses out on a playoff spot, as Ohio State would need to make a monumental climb of ten sites by the end of the season.
One potential solution to this complexity is expanding the playoff to eight teams.
This way, each Power 5 conference champion would have a chance, with three additional spots available for other deserving teams.
The multitude of possibilities is what makes college football both captivating and perplexing.
Numerous teams harbor legitimate aspirations, but the outcome remains uncertain.
I’ll continue this column series throughout the rest of the season as we strive to make sense of it all.
Enjoy the games!