LSU win key to 3-SEC-team Playoff field
The most impactful regular-season game of the College Football Playoff era thus far will take place this weekend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when Georgia visits LSU for the first time since 2008, because the outcome could very well determine whether the Southeastern Conference gets one, two or — gasp — three teams in the Playoff.
While the odds of the SEC taking 75 percent of the Playoff spots are low, it’s not impossible. The selection committee has wide latitude to pick the four best teams, not the four highest-ranked conference champs. With Alabama being picked last year and Ohio State the year before despite not winning their conference title, the precedent is there.
If LSU wins this game, SEC paranoia could be at an all-time level.
Consider the possibility in front of 6-1 LSU, which lost to Florida last week but has three consecutive home games that give the Tigers an opportunity to control their own destiny in the SEC West. While it’s obviously going to be a huge challenge to beat Alabama on Nov. 3, LSU is at least a touchdown better in Tiger Stadium than on the road, theoretically giving it a chance to win that game for the first time since 2011. And if LSU does, it would have a headto-head tiebreaker over Alabama and be on track to play in the SEC championship game.
When you start to play out some of these scenarios, it’s not as crazy as you might think that Georgia, LSU and Alabama could all end up in the Playoff. Here’s how it would happen.
Despite losing to LSU, Georgia would have games left against Florida and Kentucky, and if they win those they’re headed to Atlanta for a rematch with LSU. Let’s say the Bulldogs end up as SEC champs at 12-1 and clinch their Playoff bid while LSU is 11-2 against arguably the nation’s toughest schedule.
Meanwhile, things start to fall apart in the rest of the country.
Notre Dame stubs its toe once, bringing scrutiny to a schedule that looks pretty light on quality wins. Washington wins the Pac-12 title, but a second loss eliminates the Huskies from serious Playoff consideration. Then 11-1 Miami shocks unbeaten Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, and because its schedule didn’t really give it much opportunity to bank top-25 wins, the Tigers are out.
By the championship game, the Big 12 is also toast as we get a OklahomaTexas rematch. Though Texas beats Oklahoma again, can you put a team into the Playoff with losses to Maryland and, say, Oklahoma State? Probably not.
So after unbeaten Ohio State wraps up the No. 1 overall seed by beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, two spots in the Playoff are set. Then, to no one’s surprise, the committee picks 11-1 Alabama as the No. 3 seed, giving one of the most dominant teams we’ve seen a free pass for a slip-up at LSU.
That means for the final spot we’re comparing Miami, LSU and Notre Dame. The committee wouldn’t have an easy time picking one.
The path of least resistance would be to pick Notre Dame, but there’s not a lot of substance there. Though the Irish beat Michigan and Stanford, those wins depreciated in value pretty significantly. Any loss for Notre Dame, including to Southern California, is a bad one.
Meanwhile, even though LSU would have two losses to Miami’s one, it would be hard to overlook how thoroughly the Tigers beat them head-to-head 33-17 on a neutral field in Week 1. Miami’s only impressive win would be Clemson.
It might be an SEC fever dream to get three teams in, but at the halfway point of the season, there’s definitely a path.
On the other hand, the outcome of this game could make it far more likely the SEC will get two into the Playoff no matter what if Georgia wins. The Bulldogs are the heavy favorite to come out of the SEC East, and though Florida has been surprisingly good in Dan Mullen’s first year, there’s a talent gap that will be difficult for the Gators to make up.
This game, on paper, is by far Georgia’s biggest hurdle to a 12-0 regular season. If the Bulldogs pull that off and then lose to Alabama in a competitive SEC championship game, they’ll have as strong an argument to get into the Playoff as any one-loss team.
SEC haters might not want to hear it, but if Georgia wins this weekend, the odds of both Georgia and Alabama getting in the Playoff again go way, way up.
Of course, the Playoff has shown us in its short history how treacherous it can be trying to project what will happen over the final six weeks of the season. In 2014, the initial CFP committee ranking had Mississippi State No. 1, Auburn No. 3 and Ole Miss No. 4. None of them ended up in the Playoff.
Upsets happen. But if total SEC domination is something you either root for or fear, Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge could end up setting the stage for the entire Playoff.