Starting 11: Georgia Wins the SEC East Edition

Georgia effectively eliminated Florida from the SEC East, the SEC title race, and the playoff hunt yesterday in the most significant college football game from a national title perspective.

Kirby Smart got just enough from Jake Fromm to keep the Bulldog playoff hopes alive.

From a national perspective Oregon put a beat down on Clay Helton’s USC team, a loss which effectively cements Helton’s status as a Trojan lame duck and that win, combined with Utah’s comeback win at Washington, kept alive the Pac 12’s flickering playoff hopes.

We’ll discuss who USC might hire below, but all speculation will swing towards Urban Meyer and James Franklin.

Given the fact that Arkansas and Florida State might both swing open soon as well get ready for a wild November.

But we begin the Starting 11 with the fall out from Georgia’s win over Florida.

1. Now that Georgia beat Florida what does the SEC playoff picture look like as we enter LSU at Alabama week?

The SEC has a very solid chance to get two teams in the playoff.

How would that happen?

There are really two pathways to two teams in the playoff in play here:

First, Alabama or LSU will win on Saturday, making both teams a favorite to finish the regular season 12-0. But the losing team in this game will also likely finish 11-1. If the losing team is LSU in particular then a 13-0 Alabama and an 11-1 LSU would likely advance to the playoff. The SEC’s most likely route to get two teams in the playoff, I believe, is 13-0 Alabama and 11-1 LSU.

But what about 13-0 LSU and 11-1 Alabama? That’s a bit trickier because two big factors would come into play here: Is Tua healthy for the LSU game and how does that game play out? Is Alabama’s schedule strong enough to make them the top one loss team in the country?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that 11-1 LSU would be the top one loss team in the country, but I do think a battle might emerge over 11-1 Alabama compared to, say, 12-1 Oregon or 12-1 Oklahoma. I think Alabama probably gets in over Oregon because the Tide would have a win over Auburn in this scenario while Oregon wouldn’t and because Alabama’s loss, to the presumptive number one team in the country with an injured Tua, would also be the best loss among one loss contenders.

But the “safest” outcome for the SEC to get two teams into the playoff would be Alabama beating LSU and finishing 13-0 while LSU finishes 11-1 with a competitive loss to Alabama.

What’s the second path to two SEC teams in the playoff?

Georgia can win out and beat an undefeated Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game. Then it’s very likely a 12-1 Alabama or LSU would get in the playoff alongside of a 12-1 SEC champion Georgia, who would definitely get in. (Georgia’s win would probably bump out the 11-1 Alabama-LSU loser from playoff contention, although there are wilder scenarios where the SEC could end up with three playoff teams).

Regardless, with their win over Florida, Georgia’s path to the college football playoff is quite clear. Win four straight games and you’re in, lose and you’re out. (Georgia’s finishing stretch, by the way, is Missouri, at Auburn, Texas A&M, and at Georgia Tech. If you’re a fan of teams from another conference, you need to be a huge fan of Auburn because the Tigers are the most likely team to knock Georgia out of playoff contention).

2. How about the Big Ten’s playoff race?

Minnesota hosts Penn State this upcoming weekend in a game that may not matter that much in the grand scheme of things for the Nittany Lions.

Why might that be the case?

Because Penn State’s season probably boils down to what happens at Ohio State. If the Nittany Lions win against Ohio State they will win the Big Ten East even with a loss to Minnesota. (That’s unless you believe Indiana or Rutgers are going to win in Happy Valley. Maybe, possibly that Indiana game, which is the definition of a trap game falling as it does between undefeated Minnesota and undefeated Ohio State on the schedule, could trip up the Nittany Lions, but it still seems very unlikely).

Having said all of this, if Penn State wins out other than losing at Ohio State then 11-1 Penn State’s resume is solid when it comes to analyzing their playoff chances.

I just don’t think 11-1 Penn Sate is likely to make the cut barring chaos.

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes path to the playoff is pretty simple, if they beat Penn State on November 23rd to get to 11-0 it’s likely their game at Michigan won’t matter very much at all from a playoff perspective.

Why not?

Because 12-1 Ohio State, if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten title, is in the playoff no matter what happens against Michigan.

It’s a bit of a unique scheduling quirk this year that Ohio State plays Penn State and Michigan in the final two weeks of the season, but unlike in most years the Penn State game figures to matter much more to the Buckeyes than the Michigan game does.

3. Can anyone beat Clemson down the stretch run of its season in the ACC?

Probably not.

The Tigers finish with at N.C. State, Wake Forest, and at South Carolina.

Then it appears Virginia has the inside track right now in the ACC Coastal to advance to the ACC title game and play Clemson.

But due to the weakness of the ACC, I don’t believe Clemson, unless it finishes 13-0, will get in the playoff.

(It’s also worth noting, even if it seems a bit farfetched, that if Wake Forest upsets Clemson in a couple of weeks that Clemson still might fail to win its own division.)

4. Does the Pac 12 have a shot to slingshot a team into the playoff if 11-1 Oregon plays 11-1 Utah in the Pac 12 title game?

Maybe.

This was the best result the Pac 12 could have gotten, Oregon beating USC and Utah beating Washington.

Now Oregon and Utah both desperately need each other to keep winning.

So what do both teams have left on the year? Oregon plays Arizona, at Arizona State, and Oregon State to finish out the regular season while Utah plays UCLA, at Arizona, and Colorado.

Assuming both teams win out the Pac 12 would have a 12-1 champ and it would finish its season with a battle of two top ten teams.

Here’s the problem for Oregon, however, how would 12-1 Oregon be able to argue it has a better resume than 11-1 Alabama or 11-1 LSU when both of those teams would have beaten Auburn, something Oregon couldn’t manage?

That’s why Oregon — and Utah too — need for Auburn to beat Georgia and Alabama down the stretch to strengthen their playoff resumes. They also need for 13-0 LSU to win the SEC title.

If that happened then LSU would be the SEC’s lone representative in the college football playoff and the Pac 12 would have a much better shot of advancing a team to the playoff as well.

5. Do Oklahoma or Baylor have playoff chances?

If Baylor goes 13-0 it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t be in the playoff, but it’s also almost impossible to believe Baylor will go 13-0.

Right now Oklahoma’s biggest problem is, what’s that impressive on their resume?

Oklahoma finishes with Iowa State, at Baylor, TCU, and at Oklahoma State.

Only one of those teams is presently in the top 25 — Baylor.

The problem is Oklahoma has to beat Baylor in order to solidify a spot in the Big 12 title game. And then they’d have to beat Baylor again there. But beating Baylor twice in three weeks chops down the value of that win pretty substantially. (And that’s assuming Baylor wins out otherwise, which I think is unlikely.)

Other than Baylor Oklahoma’s second best win would be who? Texas? Oklahoma State? Iowa State?

The best case scenario for Oklahoma would probably be for Kansas State to play its way into the Big 12 title game and then give Oklahoma a chance to beat them to vanquish that loss, but it doesn’t appear very likely that Kansas State will make the Big 12 title game.

So I think the Big 12’s playoff chances are not very good.

6. Okay, rank the potential one loss teams then. 

Let’s presume that three playoff spots are going to the SEC champ, the Big Ten champ and 13-0 Clemson.

That would leave one spot for the final playoff team. And unless Baylor goes 13-0 that final playoff spot would be taken by a one loss team.

So which one loss teams would have the best resume to get the final playoff spot?

Here’s my best guess at the one loss rankings:

1. 12-1 LSU losing to 12-1 Georgia in the SEC title game.

2. 12-1 Alabama losing to 12-1 Georgia in the SEC title game

3. 12-1 Ohio State or 12-1 Penn State losing to a Big Ten West team. (It’s possible the losing Big Ten title game could get the bid over the Big Ten title winning team here too. How so? If, for instance, a two loss Big Ten West team won the title over a one loss Penn State or Ohio State. In fact, I think this would be likely.)

4. 11-1 LSU losing to 13-0 SEC champ Alabama.

5. 11-1 Alabama, with an injured Tua, losing a close game to 13-0 SEC champ LSU.

6. 12-1 Pac 12 champ Oregon.

7. 11-1 Ohio State with the only loss being to 13-0 Penn State.

8. 11-1 Penn State with the only loss being to 13-0 Ohio State.

9. 12-1 Big 11 champ Oklahoma

10. 12-1 Big 12 champ Baylor

11. 12-1 Pac 12 champ Utah

To me, these are pretty much all the scenarios I can imagine for how the playoffs might play out if a one loss team is in the mix.

And I understand that many of you will argue about where the respective one loss teams would rank, but I think this is a pretty good analysis of all the playoff permutations if one loss non-title teams get in the mix.

7. Chip Kelly at UCLA, Scott Frost at Nebraska, Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee and Willie Taggart at Florida State are all 4-5 in year two at their respective programs. 

I asked you guys an interesting poll question last night: which of these four guys do you feel most confident in at this point in their tenures?

Here were your votes:

What’s wild here is how much things have changed for Chip Kelly and Jeremy Pruitt.

In September both men looked like complete disasters at their schools. But Chip Kelly is now 4-2 and could, shockingly, still win the Pac 12 South this year. Meanwhile Jeremy Pruitt has won three of his past four games — all by double digits — and played Alabama decently in his past four games.

Pruitt finishes with at Kentucky, at Missouri, and Vanderbilt.

Win two of those three games and his team makes a bowl game and improves on last year’s 5-7 season. Win just one of them and he equals last year’s season.

Given the fact that Tennessee began the season 1-4 that’s a pretty impressive turnaround.

Regardless, it seems unlikely the Vols are going to be a complete disaster this year.

Chip Kelly’s UCLA team finishes at Utah, at USC, and vs. Cal.

Meaning UCLA makes a bowl, probably, if they can beat USC. (Cal seems like a near definite win at this point).

Would anyone have believed this was possible? (Even wilder, if UCLA wins out they would win the Pac 12 South).

Willie Taggart’s Florida State Seminole team now has to beat either Boston College or Florida to get bowl eligible, which seems unlikely.

Meanwhile Scott Frost has to beat Maryland and then either Wisconsin or Iowa to get bowl eligible.

It’s pretty wild that you can argue, as most of you did, that Pruitt’s Tennessee program is in the best shape of all of these teams. Who would have believed this after the Georgia State loss?

8. Who gets fired first: Chad Morris at Arkansas, Clay Helton at USC, or Willie Taggart at FSU?

I think all three of these coaches are getting fired, but it has to be Chad Morris first, right?

Arkansas, which was destroyed by Mississippi State, is an unmitigated disaster right now. Morris is likely to begin his Razorback coaching tenure 0-16 in the SEC and if you combine the final year of Bret Bielema with Morris’s first two years that means the Razorbacks are staring at 1-23 in their past 24 SEC games.

I feel bad for Razorback fans, this is just brutal.

So who should Arkansas go after?

Washington State head coach Mike Leach would be my top target.

I think he’d be a great fit in Fayetteville.

Who should FSU hire?

Am I crazy for thinking Lane Kiffin could make some sense there? Or if you want to be less risky, could you pry Dave Clawson away from Wake Forest?

Finally, I think USC’s list has to have two names at the very top of it: Urban Meyer and James Franklin.

But USC’s coaching search never gets its top target. So who would make the most sense here? How about a no nonsense coach like Kyle Whittingham? He’s been great at Utah for nearly two decades. I think he’d do really well with the Trojans if Urban and Franklin both said no.

9. My Heisman Top Four:

1. Joe Burrow

2. Tua

3. Justin Fields

4. Jalen Hurts

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten:

1. LSU

2. Ohio State

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. Clemson

6. Georgia

7. Oregon

8. Oklahoma

9. Florida

10. Auburn

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Tennessee

8. South Carolina

9. Kentucky

10. Missouri

11. Mississippi State

12. Ole Miss

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas

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