Seldom has a day of college football been more rewarding and intriguing than the Saturday slate that just blew up the AP Top 25 rankings. But as the dust settles, there’s no mistaking that the wreckage has tilted the playoff picture in one distinct direction.
The Southeastern Conference will get two spots in the four-team College Football Playoff. Book it.
That thought no doubt sends the blood pressure soaring for SEC haters throughout the nation. But it’s time for acceptance. The SEC didn’t invent the importance of strength of schedule; it merely has perfected the art of capitalizing on it.
The SEC has never been deeper, as was proven by the remarkable outcomes in Mississippi on Saturday. Ole Miss and Mississippi State clearly have reinvented themselves as bona fide members of the game’s elite after respective wins against Alabama and Texas A&M.
Ole Miss can make the case that it has the nation’s best defense after holding Alabama to 17 points, and Dak Prescott’s five touchdowns against A&M is the biggest throwdown in the Heisman race so far.
With the two Mississippi schools remaining undefeated, it’s impossible to discuss potential playoff scenarios without the SEC West dominating the conversation.
Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss was just close enough to keep Nick Saban’s crew alive. And then there’s seemingly unstoppable Auburn, which pounded LSU for 566 total yards on Saturday while its defense yielded only seven points. The question isn’t whether the SEC West is the best division in 2014, but if it’s the best the college game has ever seen.
Yes, only one SEC West team has the chance to end the season undefeated, and that list will be narrowed this week when Auburn travels to Starkville. But a once-beaten team from the division will still stand above nearly any other team.
It’s true this season, and it was true last season, as Auburn coach Gus Malzahn reminded ESPN SportsCenter viewers during an appearance last week.
"Last year two teams from the West would have been in the Final Four," Malzahn said. "I look for the same thing. It’s the best conference, best division in college football.”
The best Big Ten nominee for the playoffs is Michigan State, which got its game back in gear by beating Nebraska. But the Spartans’ season-opening loss to Oregon looks even worse in the wake of the Ducks starting the snowball of Week 6 upsets Thursday with a loss at home to Arizona.
Florida State is clinging to the No. 1 spot with many poll voters, and the Seminoles’ Oct. 18 date with Notre Dame will eliminate another unbeaten. Baylor vs. Texas Christian this week will knock out another no-loss team.
The Pac-12’s hopes are on Arizona now after UCLA was stunned by Utah. But that conference’s profile has dipped with USC and Stanford both suffering their second losses of the season.
Will the SEC get two spots in the College Football Playoff?
So, SEC haters, what's your ammunition against the nation’s perennially best football conference?
Yes, Florida's 10-9 win over Tennessee was a boring affair, and Vanderbilt is back to being a doormat. But check out Kentucky, 4-1 under Mark Stoops with its only loss coming in triple overtime. And if Todd Gurley doesn’t win the Heisman for Georgia it probably will only be because Prescott looks determined to bring it to Mississippi State for the first time.
The cry of despair that’s most likely to be heard about having two SEC teams in the playoff is that it’s somehow unfair. Fans from elsewhere in the nation will stomp their feet, tear their hair and proclaim there’s no way two spots should go to the same conference.
OK, SEC haters, let’s pull away from college football for a second and take a closer look at that thought.
Do you like college basketball? How about the Final Four? Great event, right? Does it ever end with complaints about the wrong teams getting there?
Well, take a look at the record since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Having two teams from the same conference in the Final Four has been the rule, not the exception.
In the 30 Final Fours from 1984 on it has happened 19 times, yet no one complains.
The difference there is that the glory has been spread around. The Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Big East and Southeastern conferences all have sent a pair of teams to a Final Four two times apiece in this century alone. Yes, two times apiece, and no one whines about it.
The resistance to the same scenario playing out in college football is because of all the residual resentment from the SEC winning seven consecutive BCS championship games and darn near taking an eighth straight last January.
But chances are that those same SEC haters love players from that conference when their favorite NFL team wins on Sunday. Players with SEC roots once again dominated opening-day rosters of NFL teams.
LSU led the way with 38, followed by Southern California (37), Alabama, (36), Georgia (34), Florida (33) and Florida State (33).
That’s four of the top six spots. Yes, SEC personnel is that good.
I think what we really need is an SEC West playoff— Joe Pennington (@5NEWSJoe) October 4, 2014
So accept it, SEC haters. One loss in your conference is equal to two in the SEC. That’s just the way it is.
And if you don’t believe it you’ll have an opportunity to revisit that thought when the first College Football Playoff rolls around and the SEC has two spots.
Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.