Starting 11: What if SEC and Big Ten Both Got Two Playoff Teams?

Wow, what a weekend.

Four top ten teams went down — Clemson, Washington State, Auburn and Washington and the college football playoff picture got turned upside down.

I’ll explain all the significance of these losses below, but for now my playoff top four would look like this if I were only picking the best teams:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Ohio State

4. Penn State

I’d have TCU at 5 and Oklahoma at 6 right now.

If I were only picking the most deserving teams it would look like this:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. TCU

4. Penn State

To me this is always the most challenging question for the playoff committee, do you take the best or more deserving four teams? Sometimes that overlaps, but often it doesn’t when you get to the bottom part of the playoff list.

We’ll get to this analysis momentarily, but first, remember that the Starting 11 is brought to you by Krystal.

All season long, the Starting 11 and the SEC power rankings are sponsored by Krystal. Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each all day, every day. And all wings – BBQ, Buffalo, Boneless or traditional – are only 49 cents each on Saturdays and Sundays during football season.
Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for two free Krystals and a Coke. Enjoy!
1. The SEC and the Big Ten both have decent chances to get two teams each in the playoff now. 
That’s because there’s a pretty decent chance that Alabama and Georgia both enter the SEC title game at 12-0. The only real obstacle for both teams is Auburn, which didn’t look like much of an obstacle against LSU. Assuming both Alabama and Georgia can win on the road at Jordan-Hare then your 13-0 SEC champ is in and so is, probably, your 12-1 loser.
Yep, even if that loser is Georgia. The Bulldogs would have gone 8-1 in the SEC and beaten Notre Dame and Georgia Tech out of conference, both on the road. That’s two top 25 teams — and potentially an 11-1 Notre Dame team — plus a dominant SEC run.
I think everyone would agree that 12-1 Alabama with a close loss to Georgia would also be in the playoff.
Meanwhile the Big Ten is looking like it’s going to end up with 12-1 Ohio State winning the conference and 11-1 Penn State left on the sideline. If that happens I think there’s a good chance that Penn State could get in too. (Wisconsin might be 12-1 and lose in the Big Ten title game, but Wisconsin isn’t as good as Penn State.)
So the SEC is in really good shape for two teams in the playoff and the Big Ten is in decent shape for two in the playoff.
How so? Because I think the Pac 12, the ACC and the Big 12 are all in danger of producing a two loss conference champ, which would leave each of these conferences on the sideline. Let’s unpack each of these conferences in order now.
2. Washington’s loss to Arizona State was astoundingly surprising and also potentially crippling to the Pac 12’s playoff chances if the Huskies lose again. 
Because now only three Pac 12 teams can run the table to finish 12-1 and make the playoff — USC, Washington and Washington State. I think it’s likely that USC loses this weekend at Notre Dame. If that happens then the Pac 12 South is eliminated from playoff contention and it would leave only Washington and Washington State with a real chance to make the playoff. The problem is both those teams play in the Apple Cup so really the Pac 12 is likely to be down to only one playoff contender by this time next week, the winner of the Pac 12 North.
Washington still has a very good chance to go 12-1, but look at the Husky resume compared to other playoff contenders. The Huskies may only play one or two top 25 teams all year. Would you take 12-1 Washington over 12-1 Georgia? I wouldn’t. Would you take 12-1 Washington over 11-1 Penn State? That’s a tough one. I don’t think I would either.
My point is this, Washington’s loss to Arizona State is potentially crippling to the Pac 12, particularly if USC loses this coming weekend to Notre Dame or any other team between now and the Pac 12 title game.
3. The Big 12 is also in wobbly playoff shape. 
TCU remains undefeated, but the Horned Frogs still have to play at Oklahoma and are likely to play Oklahoma or Oklahoma State in a Big 12 title game rematch.
If TCU goes 13-0 they are in with ease.
But the best case scenario for the Big 12 is probably that Oklahoma runs the table and TCU loses in Norman. Then 12-1 Oklahoma plays 12-1 TCU in a rematch and the winner of that title game is in to the playoff for sure.
But what happens if TCU loses at Oklahoma — which seems likely — and also loses at Texas Tech or Iowa State? Then bounces back to beat Oklahoma or Oklahoma State in the title game?
Then the Big 12 is out of the playoff too.
Plus, knowing the Big 12 it seems likely that having a conference title game is going to somehow end up costing them a playoff team because they started the conference title game with the idea that it guaranteed them a playoff spot.
Nothing would be more Big 12 than losing a playoff spot because of a title game upset.
4. The ACC is now a bit of a mess when it comes to the playoff too. 
Clemson used its mulligan against Syracuse.
If the Tigers run the table then they will be in the playoff at 12-1. But suddenly that game against N.C. State looms large. Let’s say Clemson loses at N.C. State. Then Clemson would, potentially, lose the ACC Atlantic to N.C. State and not even make the ACC title game.
Let’s also say Miami wins out, but loses to Notre Dame. And let’s say that Notre Dame also beats N.C. State.
Then N.C. State beats Miami in the ACC title game.
Boom, no playoff team for the ACC either.
5. So how about Notre Dame?
I feel like no one is paying attention to the Fighting Irish. Yet Notre Dame is 5-1, having won every game by 20 or more points except for the loss by a single point to Georgia.
Right now the Irish have three straight home games coming up — USC, N.C. State and then Wake Forest. I think the Irish win all three.
That would put Notre Dame at 8-1 headed to Miami to play the 8-0 Hurricanes. Suddenly Catholics vs. Convicts would have renewed relevance.
Win that game and Notre Dame finishes with Navy and at Stanford.
It’s definitely plausible to see the Irish at 11-1. And 11-1 Notre Dame, with the lone loss by a single point against Georgia, would be squarely in the playoff picture.
6. Texas A&M got a massive road win over Florida.
Remember how I’ve been telling you for a couple of weeks that Kevin Sumlin actually might end up in decent shape? Well, he got a massive win on the road at Florida, putting his Aggie team at 5-2 on the season and leaving him with five winnable games left on the schedule: Mississippi State, Auburn and New Mexico come to College Station and then the Aggies finish with games at LSU and at Ole Miss.
A&M could win all five of these games, but 4-1 guarantees Sumlin his job next season. That would leave the Aggies 9-3, 6-2 in conference. And I think Sumlin would have a pretty good shot of coming back, given how young this team is, if he goes 8-4, 5-3 in conference.
Put simply, there are still five games left in the season, but for the moment Kevin Sumlin has coached himself off the hot seat.
7. Butch Jones will be fired next week after getting blown out by Alabama. 
Anything else and Tennessee is sending a clear message that it doesn’t care about winning.
You can watch my reaction to the loss here.

I think the Vols need to fire Butch on Sunday of next week and then go straight for Chip Kelly and bring him to Knoxville before any other major program pulls the trigger and makes a move on Kelly.
You can elevate defensive coordinator Bob Shoop or Brady Hoke to be the interim coach for the final five games of the season and go ahead and announce Chip as the head coach by the first week in November. Then Chip Kelly gets to work on recruiting and putting his staff together while Tennessee finishes off the season.
8. SEC hot seat rankings after Tennessee, whose coach is already a dead man walking: Arkansas, Missouri, Auburn, Florida
Given the revelation that Arkansas might only owe Bret Bielema $5.9 million instead of $15.4 million — the contract seems drafted in an odd way with conflicting provisions — it seems likely Bielema is on his last leg at Arkansas.
But it would be just like Bielema to beat Auburn this weekend and throw the entire SEC West into a messy clusterfuck of angry fan bases. Lacking that, I think Bielema gets fired sometime in early November.
I’m on record as saying it’s too soon to do anything to Barry Odom at Missouri. The entire program was a mess when he took over, but the team is 1-5 right now so I understand the fan anger. I do think Missouri should beat Idaho and Connecticut the next two weeks which would set up interesting games in Columbia against Florida and Tennessee and then road games at Vanderbilt and at Arkansas.
Honestly, there’s no reason Missouri shouldn’t be competitive in all four of its final SEC games. Hell, I think Missouri can certainly split those four, which would get Odom to 5-7 in year two and guarantee him a year three.
How about Auburn? Just when you think Gus Malzahn is off the hot seat and everything is rolling, his offense falls apart after going up 20-0 and runs either halfback dives into the center of the line of scrimmage or forty yard bombs for the rest of the game. Does Auburn not have an intermediate passing game at all?
Now the Tigers have at Arkansas, at Texas A&M and Georgia coming up. Man, Malzahn could certainly go 1-2 in these games. If that happened he’d be sitting at 7-4 with Alabama coming to town. Is there any way he keeps his job at 7-5?
I think 8-4 with a competitive loss to Alabama is the bare minimum for the Gus Bus to stay mobile on the plains.
Just when you think Gus Malzahn is safe, the wheels really did come off at LSU. (And by the way, how about Ed Orgeoron following up a home loss to Troy by beating Florida and Auburn back-to-back. Who in the world saw that coming?)
Finally, don’t overlook the mess that Jim McElwain finds himself in right now. The Gators could easily be 1-5 on the season right now if Tennessee and Kentucky had decent coaches. And at 3-3 with zero offense how bad could it get for McElwain?
Right now the Gators could lose every game left on the schedule.
I’m not even kidding about this, when you can’t score points how can you feel comfortable you’re going to win against anyone? The Gators finish with Georgia, at Missouri, at South Carolina, UAB, and Florida State. This has the potential to be the worst Florida-Florida State game of any of our lives.
Best case scenario I think the Gators go 3-2 down the stretch. That gets McElwain to 6-5 in year three.
Worst case they could go 1-4 or 0-5.
The problem here is the trajectory of the program. What reason do you have to expect Florida to get much better in 2018? And if Kirby Smart goes 12-0, Tennessee hires Chip Kelly, and South Carolina posts a solid second year under Will Muschamp it’s hard not to think the Gators are falling behind their SEC East foes.
Related: is it time to reconsider Muschamp’s tenure at Florida as well? McElwain won for two years with the defensive players Muschamp recruited and Will’s now 5-2 in year two at South Carolina, having won four games as an underdog this season — N.C. State, at Missouri, South Carolina, and at Tennessee. Jim McElwain was brought in to fix the offense, but all he really did was win with Muschamp’s defensive players for two years. Amazing stat: Jim McElwain is 5-11 at Florida when his opponent scores 14 or more points.
9. Nebraska has to fire Mike Riley too, right? And is Jim Mora on his last legs at UCLA?
If you’re Tennessee and you want Chip Kelly then you need to fire Butch as soon as the Alabama game is over and immediately make your play for Chip.
Because otherwise there are going to be other big programs trying to elbow their way to the front of the line as well.
Riley has to be done at Nebraska and Mora is likely done at UCLA too.
You have to think everyone’s first call will be to Chip Kelly.
10. Here’s my Heisman top three:
1. Saquon Barkley
2. Baker Mayfield
3. Bryce Love
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
The SEC power rankings are sponsored by Krystal. Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each all day, every day. And all wings – BBQ, Buffalo, Boneless or traditional – are only 49 cents each on Saturdays and Sundays during football season.
Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for two free Krystals and a Coke. Enjoy!
1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Texas A&M
4. Auburn
5. Mississippi State
6. LSU
7. Florida
8. Kentucky
9. South Carolina
10. Ole Miss
11. Tennessee
12. Vandy
13. Arkansas
14. Missouri
(By the way, I know LSU just beat Auburn and is ranked below them, but Auburn’s resume is better than LSU’s as a whole right now.)
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