Can the SEC miss the College Football Playoff?

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By DAVID ROBERTS
College Contributor Network

Before the 2014 college football season began, it was not uncommon to hear talks of two Southeastern Conference teams accompanying one another to the newly implemented College Football Playoff.

It was almost expected from the best conference in college football, the same conference that sent two teams to the national championship game at the end of the 2011 season.

But now, not only is it unlikely that two SEC teams will make the trip to the inaugural final four, there is a very real possibility that there won't be any.

Picture this: Mississippi State beats Alabama this weekend, eliminating the Crimson Tide from the four-team playoff. (This is something most of us want to see more than a bareknuckle fight between Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin.) The Bulldogs would still have to play Ole Miss for their final regular season game, but with a win against Vanderbilt next week they would secure a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

This is where it gets tricky. Someone has to win the SEC East. And by "win," I mean "not lose." Right now, it's looking like Georgia will be that team. But suppose Georgia puts up a fight against Mississippi State. Heck, suppose Georgia wins the Bulldog Bowl and claims the SEC title. Then what? You can't very well let a team that just lost the championship game into the playoff even though both their strength of schedule and record is better than the team they lost to. That would be absurd.

Does a two-loss Georgia team become one of the four teams? Certainly there are four other teams that deserve a spot just as much as the Bulldogs, if not more. How about Marshall? They're still undefeated, and look like a lock to run the table and win the C-USA outright. Isn't that why we wanted the playoff? For the underdog? If we don't let an undefeated Marshall team in, then how could we justify this system being an upgrade from the BCS?

And what do we make of the Big Ten? Apparently they're still playing football up there, and Ohio State has put together a pretty nifty run after a home loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes and Nebraska each have one loss and could represent the conference in the final four. However, the SEC should root for Minnesota, which will finish the season against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. If the Golden Gophers could pull it out against Ohio State and Nebraska, the Big Ten would be sitting at home watching the College Football Playoff.

The ACC is essentially as good as clinched with the Seminoles riding their ridiculous win streak that everyone is sick of, frankly. If Jimbo Fisher can coax Jameis Winston into spending a couple Friday and Saturday nights in his dorm, Florida State will coast into the playoff.

So, that leaves the Pac-12, which still has a couple of one-loss teams, both with attainable playoff hopes. Arizona State dismantled a Notre Dame team last weekend that we were fooled into believing to be contenders. And Oregon is still Oregon. Yes, they still have to play Oregon State, but with the Beavers sitting at 4-5, there isn't much thrill to be found in the annual Civil War (the winner of which wins the most absurd trophy in sports. Yes, that is a platypus.)

On top of that, we can't forget the Big 12. Like the Pac-12, there are two one-loss teams at the top of the conference: Baylor and TCU. Now, Baylor owns the tiebreaker over the Horned Frogs after a 61-58 win back in October. But Baylor must play a ranked team-No. 13 Kansas State-before the season is over. TCU draws Kansas, Texas and Iowa State to finish out the season.

So, what do we have? If the season ended today, we would have one-loss teams from the Pac-12, Big Ten and the Big 12. And we would have an undefeated Florida State team, whose place in the playoff cannot be disputed. On the outside looking in, we would have an undefeated Marshall team with only the company of an SEC team that vehemently believes they deserve a spot.

No matter what happens, it's clear that at least one team will be left out of the picture, thus exposing the weakness of the four-team playoff. It's just a matter of who misses the big dance. As outlined in the College Football Playoff Committee's bylines, strength of schedule and quality of opponents will be determining factors in deciding who gets an invitation. Though their records may be a tad shabbier than other conference winners, the conference as a whole is the toughest, most proven conference out there.

And that may be the one thing that ends up saving the SEC from total bedlam.


David Roberts is a fourth-year English major at the University of South Carolina. He was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, but relocated to the land below the Mason-Dixon line in grade school, citing earthquakes and Raiders fans as minor nuisances. David is a die-hard Cubs fan and still breaks down when thinking about the 2003 NLCS. Follow him on Twitter: @davidjayroberts
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