If there's one thing we learned in year of the College Football Playoff era, it's that when picking the four teams for the playoff, the only thing that ultimately matters is your win loss record.
Sure, the committee can try and get cute, and talk about the other factors. They can tell us how important it is to schedule quality non-league games. They can talk about the value of winning your conference. They can mention ---- ok, let's stop it right there. The ultimate truth is none of it matters. If you're in a Power 5 conference, and if you win all your games, you're making the playoff. Bottom line. End of story. No need for further discussion. If you lose one, you're in pretty good shape. And anything after that, well chances are, you're straight out of luck. Regardless of every other factor.
Sound too simplistic? Don't believe me? Well, let's just look at last year as an example.
Remember Florida State? Remember how bad they were? Honestly, there really wasn't a single tangible measurement that proved they were one of the four "best" teams in college football... other than wins and losses. To go all, Liar, Liar on you, the fact that Florida State probably should have lost two or three games last season (they won five by a single possession or less) was irrelevant! The idea that they had basically two really good wins (at home against Clemson, Georgia Tech in the ACC title game) was meaningless, and so was too was the fact that Jameis Winston was often times better at throwing the ball to the other team (he had 18 interceptions) meant nothing.
At the end of the regular season, Florida State still made the playoff. And they made it for the simple fact that they finished the regular season with fewer losses than everyone else. No one, nowhere (outside of Tallahassee) could argue they were one of the four "best" teams in college football. A fact proven when they got walloped by Oregon.
It was the same with the whole "Ohio State vs. Baylor and TCU" debate too, which, in actuality, wasn't really a debate at all. Sure the committee could fall back on the idea that Ohio State won their conference championship game when all other things proved to be equal between the two teams. But if Ohio State had one more loss, or Baylor simply would have beaten West Virginia, none of it would have mattered. Baylor would have made the playoff. Not Ohio State.
So why do I bring this all up? It's because we are now approaching that magical time of year where every journalist, writer, blogger, radio host, armchair quarterback and "dude who posts on message boards multiple times a day" shares their playoff picks. They're going to give you a multitude of reasons why "this is the year Clemson goes all the way!" and why Tennessee, Arizona State or Nebraska (ok, definitely not Nebraska) is a darkhorse "you have to watch out for!" They're going to talk about 3-4 defenses (even though they neither coached, or played beyond the JV team in high school), returning quarterbacks and why "the new offensive coordinator is finally the guy that pushes things over the top."
Well, don't listen to any of them. If you want to know who will make the playoff, I'll tell you right now: The four Power 5 teams with the fewest losses.
Literally, that's the only thing that matters, and the only thing I've spent the last few weeks evaluating. In doing so, I've come to one shocking conclusion: This is the year that that hell freezes over.
This is the year the SEC gets left out of the college football playoff.
It sounds crazy, but hear me out on this.
And when you do hear me out, please understand one thing: I'm not some "biast" journalist, and I'm not some dude who goes out of his way to bash the SEC. I actually thought the conference was really, really good last year and deserving of all its accolades.
I also think it will be really good in 2015, which ultimately might be its biggest downfall. Is it possible we've finally reached a point where the SEC is too good for its own good? Where there is no dominant team, and where the whole conference becomes so cannibalistic that every team finishes with two or three losses?
I think it is. And to make matters worse for the SEC, it comes in the worst possible year. In a year where you look around the rest of the country, and realize that in just about every conference there are one or two teams better than everyone else, and ready to run away with their league title and playoff berth as well.
We can start in the Big Ten, where the reigning National Champion Ohio State resides, and where I'm going to go ahead and save everyone some time: There's no need to watch the Buckeyes this season. They're going undefeated.
Sure, they have issues to figure out. They need to decide who their quarterback is, and with Noah Brown going down on Wednesday, they might have to suit me or you up at wide receiver for their opener.
At the same time, they have the most talent in college football, and have the best motivator in the sport coaching them. Heck, if Urban Meyer could get his 2009 Florida team through the regular season unscathed (even if he almost literally killed himself doing it), why am I supposed to believe he won't do it this year, with more talent, against an easier schedule?
There's no need to overthink it, just put the Buckeyes down for a 13-0 finish and spot in the playoff right now.
(Quick side note, please, for the love of God, would everyone spare me the "Virginia Tech can pull the upset in Week 1" e-mails and tweets? I swear, if I have to hear one more person tell me the Hokies will pull an upset, I am going to run into oncoming traffic. I seriously am.
The way I see Virginia Tech entering this season is that they're basically the hip, trendy, indy rock band that everyone wants to say "they knew about" before everyone else, just so they can shove it in your face six months from now and say "I told you so!"
Which is cute, it really is.
But am I supposed to believe that even without Joey Bosa and those three suspended wide receivers, an Ohio State team which just beat Alabama and Oregon in back-to-back games is somehow going to lose to a team which hasn't had a relevant college football moment in six years? A team who's more known for this meme than any win they've actually picked up over the last few years?
Again, just stop.
Ohio State has four legitimate Heisman candidates, and outside of maybe Kendall Fuller, there isn't a single player on Virginia Tech that would even start for Ohio State this coming season. The Buckeyes are winning this game this game by two touchdowns, and it might not even be that close.
Rant over. Moving on.
Besides Ohio State, you know who else is going to finish undefeated: Whoever wins TCU-Baylor. And frankly, I think whoever loses that game is going to finish the regular season with one loss.
How am I so sure?
Well, have you seen the rest of the Big XII?
Kansas State and West Virginia are both in complete rebuild mode, and both have new quarterbacks.
On paper, Oklahoma should be better, but the problem is that... well, they're Oklahoma. Trusting them to win a big game is like trusting MySpace stock to bounce back. Sure, it could happen. But actually relying on it to actually happen feels like another story altogether. It also feels like wishful thinking that should have stopped sometime in like 2006.
And as for Texas, well, I like Charlie Strong. I really do. But looking at their roster is like the opening scene of the movie Major League. Can't you seriously picture Strong looking at his depth chart right now like 'Who's this guy? Didn't I throw him off the team last year? This guy's... dead!?' Look, I think Strong eventually turns Texas around. It just ain't this year.
Which means that both TCU and Baylor should cruise through conference play. One will make the playoff. Frankly, depending on how things play out, I think they both could.
It's pretty much the same in the ACC. Clemson, Florida State and Louisville will fight things out at the top... and one (most likely Florida State) will finish with a good enough record to make the playoff. That's not to say that their champion will be as "good" as whoever comes out of the SEC. But again, all that matters is wins and losses.
That already gets us to four really good candidates for the college football playoff (not including Notre Dame, which might be five) and brings us to the Pac-12.
Like the SEC, most assume that the Pac-12 might be too good for its own good, and might have too many good teams, who all beat up on each other, with everyone finishing with two or three losses.
The thing is though, when you break down the schedules you realize something else entirely: The best teams have some of the easiest path's to a potential playoff berth.
Take Oregon for example. They don't play UCLA or Arizona at all, and get USC (which is overrated anyway) at home. Their toughest road game is at Arizona State, but even that comes on a Thursday night off a bye week. Meaning that if they can get by Michigan State in Week 2, there's a really good chance they put themselves in a good position to make the playoff. Even if they lose to Michigan State, they could still run the table, win the league, and get in.
And finally, that brings us back to the SEC.
Again, I love the SEC, and think that in a vacuum there are six or seven really good teams in this league, teams are that are Top 20 caliber, and that with the right breaks, or in other conferences could make the college football playoff.
The thing is, they aren't in the right conference, and aren't going to get those breaks.
That also raises the question: Who exactly is going to survive the SEC gauntlet and get into the playoff?
We're now a week away from the start of the season and Alabama still doesn't have a quarterback (and please don't tell me it's Jacob Coker. If he was competent enough to win the job, he would have done it by now), and neither does Georgia or LSU. Ole Miss has plenty of top-tier talent but no depth, and Arkansas has four true road games against teams that start in the Top 25. Auburn has the experience but a brutal schedule, and A&M has a more manageable schedule but has much less experience. Tennessee (my pick to win the East) is "good" but a year from being "great."
Which also leads to the question: Who's going to come out of all this unscathed? Who is going to finish with fewer losses than the teams mentioned above? And when every SEC team does finish with two or three losses, will the committee have the guts to move them into the playoff above a one-loss or undefeated champ from another Power 5 conference champion?
The answer seems unlikely, and it also makes me wonder: Is this the year the SEC misses the college football playoff?
I think so.
Hell will officially freeze over come the first weekend of December.