A team from the Southeastern Conference has won the national championship 13 of the last 17 years, including four consecutive. The list includes five different schools: Alabama (6 times), Auburn, Georgia (2), Florida (2) and LSU (2).
From the BCS to the College Football Playoff, the league has been dominant. On three occasions, both teams in the title game came from the SEC.
In other words, you can’t have a playoff without at least one SEC team.
Well, college football’s final season with a four-team playoff — an expansive, 12-team playoff format takes over in 2024 — could create just the kind of chaos that would cause the unthinkable.
Right now two SEC teams are still in reasonable contention for a playoff spot — No. 1 Georgia and No. 8 Alabama. They play each other Saturday in Atlanta for the SEC championship.
If Georgia wins, it’s obviously in. The Bulldogs have won the title in each of the last two seasons and are riding a 29-game win streak.
But what if Alabama upsets them?
That would leave 12-1 Georgia and 12-1 Alabama, which would be the official SEC champion.
If the Tide beat the Dawgs, the scenario that could doom the mighty SEC is as such:
Michigan beats Iowa for the Big Ten title.
Washington beats Oregon for the Pac-12 title.
Florida State beats Louisville for the ACC title.
Texas beats Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title.
(Only Washington is considered an underdog.)
Michigan and Washington would be in, leaving two spots for four teams — 13-0 Florida State, 12-1 Texas, 12-1 Alabama and 12-1 Georgia.
Normally, FSU would be a shoo-in as an unbeaten Power Five conference champion. However, the Seminoles lost star quarterback Jordan Travis to injury two weeks ago and needed a big comeback to defeat a 5-7 Florida team on Saturday. If they barely beat Louisville, would the so-called “eye test” come in and haunt FSU?
Perhaps. It’s hard to argue that a Travis-less Florida State team is “one of the four best teams in the country,” as the playoff is charged with determining. That said, it seems unfathomable that the playoff committee would keep an undefeated ACC champion out. Doing so would go against everything we’ve seen from the committee’s work the past nine years. At some point, the games have to matter.
So count FSU in. We think.
That leaves the 12-1 Longhorns, who happen to have defeated Alabama, 34-24, in Tuscaloosa back in September. That should give UT an edge over the Crimson Tide — head-to-head should matter, after all.
And since it’s Alabama that beats Georgia in this scenario, then the Horns should have an edge over Georgia — we beat the team that beat you. Besides, UT would be a conference champion (one of the criteria considered) and the Bulldogs would not.
As for resumes, it’s not like the SEC schools have much to lean on. Georgia would own victories over two 10-win teams in Missouri and Ole Miss, plus a top-25 club in Tennessee. But that’s it.
Alabama would have beaten Georgia, Ole Miss and top-15 LSU.
Texas would have victories over Alabama and top-25 teams Oklahoma State and Kansas State. (The Horns wish it was No. 13 Oklahoma that had reached the Big 12 championship game, giving them a higher-ranked opponent and a chance to avenge a 34-30 October loss to the Sooners).
So how could the committee twist the SEC ahead of Texas? Head-to-head isn’t the only factor, but it’s not like the SEC has been dominant this season. This isn’t the usual deep, talented operation.
The SEC’s best non-conference victories are the following: Mississippi State over Arizona, Missouri over Kansas State and Kentucky over Louisville. The ACC went 6-4 against the league.
There just isn’t much there.
Georgia and Alabama may be as good as anyone in the country — until Georgia loses, it’s the favorite to win it all. But there isn’t the wiggle room of the past. And as strange, and illegitimate, as it might seem to leave the league out of the playoff, reality awaits.
In 2021, Georgia and Alabama met in the SEC title game. The Crimson Tide won, but both teams were placed in the four-team field. A little over a month later, they met for the national title, with Georgia winning the title and a measure of revenge.
That was the SEC at its best, a complete domination of college football.
Now … we might actually have a playoff without them.