Starting 11: Three Playoff Spots Look Set Edition

The college football playoff picture isn’t that complex as we enter the conference title game weekend.

As a result of Alabama and Minnesota’s losses, there are now seven teams alive for four playoff spots.

Those seven teams, in the order I’d rank their playoff chances, are as follows: 1. LSU 2. Ohio State 3. Clemson 4. Georgia 5. Utah 6. Oklahoma 7. Baylor

So let’s dive into the scenarios and break down the final regular season week of the season.

1. LSU and Ohio State are in the playoff absent truly awful results.

What do I mean by truly awful results? That Joe Burrow or Justin Fields suffer season ending injuries and both teams get blown out with their back ups playing the bulk of the game.

That is, absent devastating injuries to the two quarterbacks and subsequent huge losses, I simply don’t see any way these two teams get left out of the playoff.

Clemson is a bit more of a complicated situation.

If the Tigers were upset by Virginia and both Utah and Oklahoma/Baylor finished 12-1 then I could see a scenario where the committee rewards the Pac 12 and the Big 12 because both conferences are so much better than the ACC.

But right now Clemson is a 29 point favorite so this would require the biggest upset in conference title game history to become a reality.

Suffice it so say that LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson should all be very substantial favorites to make the college football playoff at this point in time.

So who’s the next team up?

2. Georgia controls the college football playoff’s presumptive fourth spot. 

If the Bulldogs beat LSU then they are in the playoff as the fourth team.

Right now, based on the odds, there’s about a 35% chance of Georgia pulling off this upset. I personally think that’s too low and like Georgia’s chances, given their defense and the home crowd, to find a way to keep this game close into the fourth quarter.

But this would be the simplest result, Georgia upsets LSU and notches a second team for the SEC.

What stinks for Georgia is I think the Bulldogs would be in the playoff even with a loss in the SEC title game if they’d simply beaten South Carolina. That loss could end up being way more crippling to the Bulldogs title chances than what happens in Atlanta against LSU.

If Georgia loses to LSU then the South Carolina loss will hurt even more.

Because I don’t think there’s any way at all the college football playoff committee would have viewed 12-1 Utah or 12-1 Oklahoma/Baylor as having a better resume than the SEC title game loser if both teams had entered 12-0.

So what do the playoff rankings look like if Georgia pulls off the upset? I suspect the college football playoff committee rankings would look like this: 1. Ohio State 2. Clemson 3. Georgia 4. LSU (I’d be stunned if the playoff committee set up a scenario where the two SEC teams could play each other in week one of the playoff).

If this happens then all seeding value vanishes because your number one and two teams entering this week would end up playing in the first round, probably in Atlanta. (Atlanta is just as easy to reach for Buckeye fans as it is for LSU fans. It’s 527 miles from Baton Rouge to Atlanta and 567 from Columbus to Atlanta.) And then Clemson and Georgia would travel all the way across the country to play each other in Arizona. (I suppose Ohio State, as the one seed here, could request to play in Arizona, but that doesn’t make much sense to me, I think they’d want to be in Atlanta where their fans can reach them easily. That could change, however, if Georgia was the four seed because I don’t think Ohio State would want to play Georgia in Atlanta.)

3. What if LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson all win their conference title games?

Then a potentially tough situation arises for the committee.

The first three teams are set, but do you take 12-1 Utah or 12-1 Oklahoma/Baylor as the fourth playoff team?

I polled my followers on this question and the results were fairly even.

A big title game victory — as we saw with Ohio State several years ago — can go a long way towards moving the committee’s opinion.

My first thought in analyzing this situation is you have to wait and see how both teams look in their title game wins before you can pick a team. If Utah beats Oregon then the Utes will have won every game by 18 or more save for a five point win at Washington and a seven point loss at USC.

Yes, Utah will only have one top 25 win, but Oklahoma will have two top 25 wins, both over the same Baylor team. And they’ll have one top 25 loss, against Kansas State.

Now if Oklahoma comes out and smokes Baylor, okay, that could change things.

But if they beat the same team they already beat by ten points or less is that really going to be a slingshot into the playoff and leap them over a team they rank behind now?

My inclination is that Utah would be the committee’s choice over Oklahoma (or Baylor).

But, again, it will be a tight decision.

Of course, this could end up being an easy decision if Utah were to lose. Then whoever wins the Big 12 title game would be the fourth playoff team.

4. So who gets the one seed?

As you can see, who gets the number one seed could matter a great deal here.

So if LSU, Ohio State and Clemson all win out, which team gets to avoid Clemson in the first round and play against Utah, Oklahoma, or Baylor?

I think it would have to be LSU.

Especially because LSU’s win over a top four Georgia team would be a new victory, whereas Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin would be a second win over the Badgers. (From a resume perspective Ohio State would have been helped by beating Minnesota, but the Buckeyes also could have gotten knocked out of the playoff by Minnesota, something that I don’t see as a threat with a loss to Wisconsin).

Since the committee seems to value top wins the most and we’d be talking about two undefeated teams so there are no losses to consider anyway, what does the top end resume look like for both teams?

LSU would have wins over Alabama, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia, that’s four teams which are likely to finish in the committee’s final top 12 or 13.

Ohio State would have wins over Penn State, Wisconsin (twice), and Michigan. That’s four wins against (three) teams that would finish in the committee’s top 20.

I suppose Ohio State could try and make a big deal over a home win over Cincinnati, but at best doesn’t a home win over Cincinnati cancel out a road win for LSU over Texas, who finished tied for third in the Big 12?

I think so.

Moving down the resume from the top end wins doesn’t change much.

Put simply, I just don’t see any way that Ohio State could be the one seed over LSU if both teams win their conference title games and finish 13-0.

Why does that one seed matter?

Because it means LSU would draw the four seed — either Utah, Oklahoma or Baylor — in Atlanta and Ohio State and Clemson would play in Arizona as the two and three seeds.

While seeding hasn’t mattered so far — indeed no number one seed has won the college football playoff in the first five years overall — I do think drawing Clemson in round one is a much tougher path than drawing the four seed.

So if you’re wondering what LSU has to play for against Georgia, the answer is pretty simple — other than the SEC title, of course — the one seed matters a great deal this year.

If LSU loses they likely have to beat Ohio State and the winner of Clemson/Georgia to win the title. Whereas if LSU wins they have to beat an inferior four seed and then the team that survives Clemson-Ohio State.

Yes, regardless of where you’re seeded, you have two tough playoff games to win, but this year the one seed has a much easier path than the two seed.

5. Okay, but what if chaos happens?!

There’s always a WHAT IF CHAOS HAPPENS guy in my email or in my mentions.

So let’s presume LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Utah all lose.

CHAOS!

First, if this happens I hope you played it on the money line parlay because you’d probably be able to retire if you put $100 on this.

But, second, the truth of the matter is this: I still don’t think this is that chaotic of a result.

LSU, Ohio State and Georgia are still all in under this scenario.

And I think the battle for fourth place would come down to Clemson vs. Baylor.

My inclination is the committee would take Clemson here because they’re clearly the better team even though Baylor might be the most deserving team.

But that isn’t a very chaotic scenario.

So I think the odds of chaos arriving are virtually nonexistent and even if it does arrive it doesn’t change much.

6. How about the pee celebration situation at the end of the Egg Bowl and the endings of both halves in the Iron Bowl?

Man, the SEC knows drama.

First of all, the Egg Bowl ending was absolute insanity. Ultimately you likely have Matt Luke losing his job at Ole Miss and Joe Moorhead keeping his job at Mississippi State as a result of a player fake peeing like a dog to celebrate a touchdown that tied the game with four seconds left.

In terms of decision making, this might be the dumbest player decision I’ve ever seen, but I definitely want to see a sports documentary on this ending twenty years from now.

Hell, I kind of want to watch it now.

As for Alabama, Nick Saban has a right to be furious about how the first half ended against Auburn.

Auburn had no business stealing three points in that situation. (And of course Auburn wound up winning by three points in this game). First, it appeared to me that the clock expired in the game. So I don’t think there needed to be any time left on the clock.

Second, if the clock hadn’t expired there’s no way Auburn would have been able to get its entire team to the line and spiked the football with one second left — even with the clock stopping for a moment to reset the chains.

The only reason Auburn could get their field goal team on the field and be set to attempt a field goal was because of the instant replay review.

In situations like these the team that has screwed up the clock situation shouldn’t benefit by the instant replay review. Auburn had no timeouts left and called the wrong play, i.e. one that took too long, given the time left on the clock.

Most importantly, even after the replay review, it should have been mathematically impossible for Auburn to get the snap off. The clock starts on the ready to play signal and Auburn didn’t snap the ball the moment the whistle was blown.

So the half should have been over right then and there.

Having said that, Gus Malzhan and Auburn outsmarted Nick Saban at the end of the game. Malzahn sent his punter on the field, but then spread him out at wide receiver and left Bo Nix under center. Alabama panicked and rushed another defensive player on. The problem? That defensive player was the 12th Alabama player on the field.

What Alabama should have done was just leave its base defense on the field here.

Because it was clear that Auburn was just setting a trap for Alabama here and had no intention of really running a play.

There was no way at all Auburn would have gone for it and risked giving Alabama the ball already essentially in field goal territory. Auburn was going to take a timeout with one second left after trying to draw a penalty on the Tide.

But instead of just remaining calm Alabama panicked and Auburn got the first down.

So Auburn benefited from a broken system to end the first half, but broke Alabama to to win the game.

By the way, Alabama put up over 500 yards of offense and scored 45 points on Auburn. They had zero business losing this football game. If Tua were healthy, I think Bama wins by two touchdowns.

How many times have you ever seen two pick sixes in a game?! Two!

And a chip shot field goal that hits the upright?

Just unbelievable.

But Auburn, yet again, found a way to win a game they had no business winning.

And the result is Alabama will probably get smoked in a bowl game they have no interest in playing in.

7. Which open SEC job is the best?

Nearly sixty thousand of you have voted in this poll on whether Ole Miss, Arkansas or Mizzoursi is the best job and I think it’s a good debate.

If I were ranking the jobs in the SEC I’d rank them thusly:

1. Florida

2. Georgia

3. Alabama

4. LSU

5. Texas A&M

6. Tennessee

7. Auburn

8. South Carolina

9. Mizzou

10. Ole Miss

11. Arkansas

12. Mississippi State

13. Kentucky

14. Vanderbilt

The top seven jobs, in my opinion, are all top twenty jobs in the country and there’s not a ton that distinguishes them which is why you can certainly argue with me about where a program should rank.

But I have Mizzou, Arkansas and Ole Miss nearly equal here in the 9, 10 and 11 spots.

The reason I’d put Mizzou above Ole Miss and Arkansas is because the SEC East, at the moment, is weaker than the top of the SEC West.

It’s easier for me to see how Mizzou can get past Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina than it is for Ole Miss or Arkansas to get past Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Texas A&M.

I mean there’s a reason Ole Miss has never been in an SEC title game.

Plus, I think South Carolina is a much weaker four in the SEC East than whichever school you want to put in the fourth spot for the SEC West.

But I can’t wait for plane tracking season to get rolling in earnest.

8. What in the world is going on at USC?

Yesterday a report came out that USC was firing Clay Helton and immediately spread like wildfire.

I was skeptical of the news because it wasn’t being broken — or immediately confirmed — by one of the usual suspects. Later it was shot down, but the wacky thing about this report is USC didn’t say they were keeping Helton, just that they hadn’t made a decision yet.

So that sounds like USC hasn’t gotten a definite yes or no from Urban Meyer or James Franklin yet.

9. How about the second year coaches at big programs?

It’s often year two when a coach demonstrates whether or not he’s going to be a success at his job.

There were six coaches hired at top tier jobs two years ago: Dan Mullen at Florida, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, Willie Taggart at FSU, Scott Frost at Nebraska, Chip Kelly at UCLA, and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.

It’s clear that Dan Mullen has done the best job so far of these six coaches, he’s won ten games both years at Florida.

So let’s give Mullen the crown here through two years.

It’s also clear that Willie Taggart did the worst job, getting fired in under two years at Florida State, so let’s put him in the bottom spot.

So what about the other four, who has done the second best job? Well, you can toss out Frost and Kelly because both guys are 0-2 on getting their teams bowl eligible.

That leaves Fisher and Jimbo.

It’s actually a fairly tight race, given expectations, between Jimbo at A&M and Pruitt at Tennessee for the second best job.

I’d give the edge to Jimbo because he won nine games in year one and had a brutal schedule this year, but Pruitt went 5-3 in the SEC this year, winning six of seven games down the stretch, and will (likely) have his Vols in either the Outback or the Gator Bowl.

That’s why pending bowl results Vol fans may be more optimistic about Pruitt’s year two than Aggie fans are about Jimbo’s year two.

Regardless I think our year two coaching standings would look like this:

1. Dan Mullen

2. Jimbo Fisher

3. Jeremy Pruitt

4. Scott Frost

5. Chip Kelly

6. Willie Taggart

(And if, by the way, you want to expand this list to include Arkansas hiring Chad Morris and Mississippi State hiring Joe Moorhead, I think you’d put Chad Morris after Taggart, in last place, and probably put Joe Moorhead after Pruitt, but above Frost).

It’s interesting to compare that to what most people would have expected when these guys were hired.

I’d say the consensus national expectation would have ranked these hires thusly:

1. Chip Kelly at UCLA

2. Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M

3. Scott Frost at Nebraska

4. Dan Mullen at Florida

5. Willie Taggart at FSU

6. Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee

It’s still early, but this will be fascinating to watch play out as we enter year three of all these (remaining) guys at their jobs.

10. Outkick’s national top ten

1. LSU

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Georgia

5. Utah

6. Oklahoma

7. Baylor

8. Alabama

9. Florida

10. Auburn

(And I actually think Alabama, Florida, and Auburn would all beat Utah, Oklahoma, and Baylor, by the way, even though I have them ranked lower based on the losses they have).

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

These are our final SEC power rankings of the year. The only teams ranked above teams that beat them are Georgia over South Carolina — which I think everyone would agree was an anomaly — Alabama over Auburn — I think the Tide were better overall even though they lost at Auburn — and Mizzou over Vanderbilt. (I still have no idea how Mizzou lost this game since Vandy got pretty much crushed by everyone else all year in the SEC).

1. LSU

2. Georgia

3. Alabama

4. Florida

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Tennessee

8. Mississippi State

9. Kentucky

10. Mizzou

11. Ole Miss

12. South Carolina

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas

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