Will the SEC get two teams into the College Football Playoff?

Jake Fromm and Brian Herrien
Jake Fromm and Brian Herrien

It is the question everyone is asking in major college football right now: Will the Southeastern Conference get two teams into the 2019 College Football Playoff semifinals?

By Matt Zemek

We can agree that as long as LSU beats Texas A&M this coming week and doesn’t lose by a large margin to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta, the Tigers should be good to go to the playoff. The difference between LSU getting in as a 13-0 SEC champion or as a 12-1 at-large team would be simple: LSU would go to the Fiesta Bowl in suburban Phoenix as an at-large team. It would go to Atlanta and the Peach Bowl if it finishes 13-0. Whether LSU gets in or not is a less complicated question. The Tigers just need to handle A&M, play reasonably well against Georgia, and they’ll be fine.

The true drama surrounding two SEC teams in the playoff relates to Georgia and Alabama.

SEC TrophyThe reality of the situation is simple for Georgia: Win and in. The Bulldogs will make the playoff as a 12-1 SEC champion. Beat Georgia Tech. Beat LSU. Done. No one will argue with Georgia’s inclusion if Kirby Smart’s team can get the job done. Beating LSU will obviously be the hard part. If Georgia can scale that mountain and knock off Joe Burrow, the Dawgs will probably play Clemson in the Peach Bowl. (That will be a scene in Atlanta on Dec. 28 should it happen.) If Georgia beats LSU, Alabama would simply have no way to get into the College Football Playoff.

Here is the truly fascinating and uncertain scenario relating to the SEC’s playoff prospects: If LSU beats Georgia, can 11-1 Alabama, with a win over Auburn this coming weekend in the Iron Bowl, get in?

Remember this: In 2017, Alabama made the College Football Playoff – joining SEC champion Georgia – without winning its conference or even the SEC West. At 11-1, the Crimson Tide got in over two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost to Iowa and to Oklahoma.

The key difference this year is that Alabama will likely have to get in over a one-loss Power Five conference champion: 12-1 Utah if the Utes win out in the Pac-12, and 12-1 Oklahoma or 12-1 Baylor if the Sooners or Bears win out in the Big 12.

Nick Saban
Nick Saban
Let’s first acknowledge that Alabama’s odds of getting in (with a win over Auburn and an 11-1 record) will go way, way up if Utah and Oklahoma lose. If the Utes and Sooners both lose, and LSU beats Georgia, and Ohio State wins the Big Ten title (OSU losing the Big Ten title to 12-1 Minnesota would be a headache for Bama), the fourth and final playoff spot will be a debate between 11-1 Alabama and 12-1 Baylor.

Yes, Baylor would have a conference championship. Yes, Baylor would have only one loss. However, Baylor would be terrible for television ratings in a possible College Football Playoff semifinal.

Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow
If LSU beats Georgia and Ohio State does go 13-0 by winning the Big Ten title, LSU will go to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and Ohio State would go to the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Assuming Clemson goes 13-0, the ACC champions would very likely be kept close to home as a reward, setting up an LSU-Clemson Peach Bowl which would get great TV ratings.

What about Ohio State’s opponent in Arizona, though? Alabama, or Baylor, with the added reality of Baylor’s public humiliation for its off-field problems being a national buzzkill?

Alabama could easily be sold by the playoff committee as a better team than Baylor. The eye test would certainly favor Bama’s talent plus the reality of Nick Saban having his team ready for a bowl game after a month break. Remember that Alabama smashed Clemson in the playoff semifinals in 2017 after stumbling against Auburn.

Yes, Baylor would be a conference champion, and you KNOW the howls of outrage would come from the Big 12 and other regional fan bases outside the SEC, but if it’s Bama versus Baylor, TV ratings and optics and other considerations not confined to football would give the Crimson Tide a lot of weight on the Saturday night before the playoff selection occurs.

Baylor probably won’t beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, and Bama going up against Oklahoma’s brand name probably won’t end well for the Tide. However, if Baylor can somehow beat the Sooners, and Oregon beats Utah, and LSU denies Georgia entry into the playoff, the door will certainly be open for Alabama.

Georgia can create a two-team playoff simply by beating LSU. Alabama can get in if four or five separate things happen in the coming weeks. All in all, the SEC has a very legitimate chance of getting two teams in the playoff for the second time in three seasons.

Not bad, SEC. Not bad at all.

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