Friday marks the one-month-out mark for the college playoff committee and its historic first-time bracket. So, recognizing that there are a ton of important games left and upsets that are bound to happen to blow up the following, indulge me in a scenario that might be unsettling for the SEC.
The SEC, and in particular its West Division, is the undisputed kingpin of the college landscape in 2014. That’s not in question. But the league got a little murkier last week with the reduction of its number of one-loss-or-better teams from five to three, as Ole Miss and Georgia went down. In Ole Miss’ case, the Rebels were playing Auburn, so somebody was going to drop into the two-loss category.
So let’s visit a doomsday scenario for the SEC:
— Florida State (No. 2) stays undefeated, which isn’t so hard to imagine. Vulnerable as the Seminoles look, they seem to find a way.
— Kansas State, No. 7 this week, runs through TCU, West Virginia and Baylor, all on the road.
— Oregon, No. 4 this week, keeps winning and stays at one loss.
— Notre Dame (10th) wins out.
— Michigan State, No. 8, wins out.
— Now to the SEC: There are three one-loss-and-better teams in Mississippi State (8-0), Alabama (7-1) and Auburn (7-1). Let’s say Mississippi State loses at Alabama. Then Alabama or Auburn takes a second loss in the Iron Bowl, which is inevitable. Ole Miss has enough left in the tank to win the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State. And Georgia, which was playing awfully well until it got upended by Florida last week, upsets the SEC West winner. Now you’ve got everybody in the SEC with two losses or more.
It’s near-impossible to imagine a bracket without an SEC team, but I can certainly see a field with only one. I see K-State as an absolute lock if it wins out, because it’s going to pick up heavyweight wins on the road. Florida State, as an undefeated defending champ and already No. 2, is also untouchable. Less daunting, but certainly with prospectively glittering credentials, is Oregon — again, since at No. 4, it’s already penciled into the bracket.
In this scenario, I’d guess you’d see Kansas State, Florida State, Oregon and a two-loss SEC team. But that would no doubt augur all sorts of controversy — if you’re like me, you love that — with Michigan State and Notre Dame as the jilted one-loss teams. State would be on the outside looking in even though it was in control of the game at Oregon until late in the third quarter, and Notre Dame although it would have had only a late loss to Florida State on a controversial offensive pass-interference call.
One thing to keep in mind: My guess is that there’s going to be a lot of conservatism on the committee, from guys like Barry Alvarez, Tom Osborne and Tyrone Willingham and others. They’re going to punt on fourth-and-one on their own 45, not go for it, and they’re not going to make the unconventional move. To me, the controversial move would be leapfrogging a two-loss team over what looks like a pretty deserving one-loss team. (Willingham, by the way, is a Michigan State grad; wonder if he recuses himself in that part of the discussion?)
If it came to something like this, we might see a test of the theory that when teams in a league like the Pac-12 slice each other up, it’s sometimes considered a sign of weakness at the top. But when it happens in the SEC, it’s viewed as a reflection of how monstrous the league is.
We can only hope to find out.