Here’s what we know for sure: Georgia is the best team in college football after everyone has played nine games. The Bulldogs aren’t just 9-0, they beat Oregon 49-3 and Tennessee 27-13, and both of those teams will be ranked somewhere around the top six in the country when the new playoff rankings are announced on Tuesday.
Here’s what we also know: Clemson is out of the playoff running after getting smoked by Notre Dame and Alabama, almost certainly, is out of the playoff running after an incredibly ballsy overtime win by LSU.
Which means here’s what the most likely scenario ends up being for the playoff when it comes to the four teams that are getting in: Georgia, the Big Ten champ, and then two one loss teams. (I don’t think TCU will go undefeated, indeed the Horned Frogs have opened as nearly a touchdown underdog on the road at Texas this coming Saturday.)
So let’s dive in to the Starting 11 and officially begin the playoff argument season.
1. Georgia has a clear path to the one seed and a playoff semi-final in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs close at Mississippi State, at Kentucky and with Georgia Tech. Even if Georgia loses one of these regular season games it probably wouldn’t matter that much because a 12-1 Georgia would still be in the playoff too. But the Bulldogs will be big favorites in all three of these games. And Georgia will likely beat these three teams and then take on either LSU or Ole Miss in the SEC championship game, which we will discuss below in more detail.
Put simply, Georgia is likely to finish 13-0 and be the number one seed in the college football playoff with a virtual home game in Atlanta to advance to the title game in Los Angeles.
How did the Bulldogs get there? By being the only defense all season to shut down Tennessee and Oregon’s offenses. The Vols and Ducks have dominated on offense against everyone but Georgia. Credit to Kirby Smart for doing something no one else in college football has managed to do, shut down two of the most elite offenses in college football.
It’s why Georgia is a clear cut number one and it’s why the Bulldogs deserve to be a substantial favorite to repeat as national champs.
2. Alabama has played nine games — four of them, essentially, have come down to the final play.
The Tide won at Texas and against Texas A&M, lost on the road at Tennessee and LSU.
I know it has been trendy over the past 15 years to prematurely announce Alabama’s dynasty is over, but I think it’s fair to say Alabama has slipped from great to good over the past two seasons. In particular the Tide has become very ordinary in road games.
And I wonder how much of Alabama’s slippage is actually being covered up by Bryce Young at this point too? Young is an elite playmaker, but after nine games what’s the Tide’s best win on the season?
Probably the one point road win at Texas.
Given the standard set by the Tide during the Saban dynasty years, yikes.
What’s more, and I probably can’t explain it, but I’m curious if Alabama fans feel it too, something just feels a bit off with Nick Saban this year. I can’t put my finger on it, but he seems more fed up than usual and like a coach without the answers he generally has. If Alabama loses to Ole Miss, which is a real possibility, Saban would be 5-3 in the SEC, something that hasn’t happened in his Tide tenure since 2010. Indeed, it’s a testament to Saban’s dominance that he’s only lost multiple regular season SEC games twice since 2008.
Regardless, the only way Alabama can win the SEC West at this point is if LSU loses on the road at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. The Tide’s SEC title chances aren’t completely gone, but they’re nearly extinguished in early November, which almost never happens.
3. Clemson’s blowout loss at Notre Dame essentially ended the ACC’s playoff chances.
Yes, we could still end up with 12-1 Clemson or 12-1 North Carolina winning the ACC, but those resumes aren’t likely to stack up given where we are with other contending teams.
That’s why this morning the national title odds look like this:
Ohio State +200
North Carolina +6000
Ole Miss +8000
After Oregon there’s a pretty big drop off here when it comes to title odds.
That suggests that our final five playoff contenders for four playoff spots might well be: Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee and Oregon.
And if I had to bet right now on what the seeding would look like assuming every team won every game they’re favored in the rest of the way — which they almost assuredly won’t — I’d go with:
1. Georgia 2. Ohio State 3. Tennessee 4. Oregon with Michigan as the fifth team left out.
4. What a win for LSU.
Less than a month ago Tennessee went down to LSU and beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge by 27 points. Most people left the Tigers for dead then. But LSU got a road win at Florida, whipped Ole Miss, and then Brian Kelly made an incredibly ballsy play call to go for the overtime win against Alabama.
Now LSU goes to Arkansas — where, look out, LSU has only opened -3.5 in Fayetteville — and then closes at Texas A&M in the SEC. Win both of those games, as well as beating UAB, and Brian Kelly’s Tigers will be 10-2 and headed to Atlanta to play Georgia with an outside shot at the playoff.
What a turnaround.
Things have flipped so quickly with LSU that Bayou Bengal fans are asking what happens if they go 11-2 and pulled off the upset of Georgia in the SEC title game, could they make the playoff?
It’s a longshot, but it’s possible.
In fact, there’s a couple of crazy scenarios where the SEC could still get three teams alongside of the Big Ten champ.
Let me toss out those scenarios. Let’s say two loss champs emerge from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12. That’s not crazy when you look at the games remaining, right?
Then what if Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss all win out? You’ve got 13-0 Georgia, 11-1 Tennessee and 11-1 Ole Miss. (Remember LSU would win the SEC over Ole Miss if the Tigers finish 10-2 via the tiebreak.) Alternatively, you could have LSU upset Georgia in the SEC title game and end up with 12-1 Georgia, 11-1 Tennessee, and 11-2 LSU in the playoff alongside an undefeated Big Ten champ.
Again, both of these are unlikely scenarios, but they aren’t impossible.
As for 11-2 LSU, I don’t see how 11-2 LSU would get in the playoff in front of 11-1 Tennessee given the Vols beat LSU in Baton Rouge by 27, which at this point is the best road win any team has in college football so far this season. So I think LSU would have to be the third SEC team or Tennessee would have to lose and finish with more than one loss.
But, man, what a season turnaround for LSU.
Brian Kelly deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his team’s sticking together.
5. Georgia beat Tennessee, but the Vols national title odds didn’t really change that much.
How is this possible? Because Tennessee will be favored to finish 11-1. Now, trust me, I’ve seen a ton of Tennessee football choke jobs over the years so the Vols could certainly manage to lose to Missouri, at South Carolina or at Vanderbilt.
But if Tennessee gets to 11-1 the Vols have a very high probability of making the playoff.
I’ll explain in a moment, but first, let me take a moment here and discuss the game against Georgia. Hendon Hooker palyed his worst game of the season and so did Tennessee’s offensive line. Georgia deserves a lot of credit for that, but even still Hooker missed two wide open touchdown throws, those are throws he’s connected on all year. How much different does this game look if Hooker just hits those two throws?
But even with the loss, if Tennessee can finish 11-1 the Vols have a very high probability chance of making the playoff.
Because then Tennessee’s only loss, on the road at number one Georgia, will be better than anyone else’s lone loss and Tennessee will have two top ten caliber wins at LSU by 27 points and Alabama. Those two wins will be better than any other one loss team’s wins will be. Which means I think the Vols are going to be at the top of the one loss team list. Again, if Tennessee manages to get to 11-1.
For instance, let’s say Oregon finishes 12-1 and wins the Pac 12. Are you really telling me the Ducks, with a 46 point neutral stadium loss against Georgia, are getting in over Tennessee with a 13 point road loss? I just don’t see it. I can see Oregon getting in as the four seed if Tennessee got the three seed, but I don’t see Oregon above Tennessee.
And I don’t see the Michigan or Ohio State loser, even if they finish 11-1, getting in over Tennessee either. Who would be 11-1 Michigan or Ohio State’s top wins? Both teams will have beaten Penn State, otherwise neither team will have a top 25 win. Now I can see scenarios where both the SEC and the Big Ten get two teams, you think the TV networks might love Georgia vs. Michigan and Ohio State vs. Tennessee, for instance, as the playoff games, but I can’t see the 11-1 Big Ten runner up getting in over the 11-1 SEC runner up.
The Big Ten and SEC scenarios, by the way, point to the absurdity of divisions. Georgia and Tennessee are likely to be the two best teams in the SEC this year and Michigan and Ohio State are likely to be the two best in the Big Ten. Yet the title games will feature lesser teams entirely because of divisions. It’s just so dumb.
Honestly, I’d be fine with doing away with conference title games completely as part of an expanded playoff. They won’t do it because the money is too good, but just award co-championships if necessary and let’s start the playoff. Once we go to 12 playoff teams there is going to be a great deal of discussion about teams benefiting by not having to play the title games, just wait.
Playing in a conference title game could well become a detriment for a team trying to stay healthy after a lengthy and physical season.
Now, again, all these one loss team debates rely on a ton of games still to be played, and we know how college football upsets can loom, but you can see the rough contours of what the debate is likely to end up being: Georgia, the Big Ten champ, and two one loss teams are highly likely to be your playoff four.
So sharpen your pencils and start researching your debate arguments.
It’s unfortunate, honestly, the 12 team college football playoff isn’t here already. Because if it were there are likely to be a ton of teams with decent arguments to advance to the playoff this year.
You can see a situation where Georgia and the Ohio State/Michigan winner are the only undefeated teams and then you have one loss Tennessee, Ole Miss, Michigan/Ohio State, Pac 12 champ, TCU, and Clemson or UNC, all finish with one loss.
6. TCU is the Big 12’s only playoff contender.
And it’s unlikely TCU is going to finish the season undefeated.
If the Horned Frogs go 13-0, they’re in the playoff.
If TCU finishes 12-1 then they will get tossed into the argument hopper with all the one loss teams. And I just don’t see TCU getting in over a one loss SEC, Big Ten or Pac 12 team.
7. The Pac 12 is lurking if USC, Oregon, or UCLA manage to get to 12-1 and win the Pac 12 title.
We’ll have a playoff elimination game in LA in two weeks when USC takes on UCLA. The one loss team that emerges from that game will be favored to advance to the Pac 12 title game.
Meanwhile Oregon closes with Washington, Utah, and at Oregon State. None of those are guaranteed wins, indeed it wouldn’t be shocking at all if the Ducks lost one of these games, but the best result for the Pac 12 would be one loss Oregon takes on one loss USC or UCLA because then you’d be assured of a 12-1 champ.
But we all know how the Pac 12 always seems to cannibalize itself.
Which is why I’d bet on a two loss team ending up the Pac 12 champ.
8. What in the world does Texas A&M do?
I don’t think you can fire Jimbo Fisher based on the cost, but the Aggies are an utter mess right now. Their only SEC win came after Arkansas’s oink off the goal post — I’m sorry Razorback fans — and they now have lost five SEC games in a row.
How bad is it for A&M, I may bet on Auburn against them this weekend and Auburn just fired its coach.
5-7 seems like the most likely end result and that game to finish the season against LSU could get ugly in Kyle Field given the way the Bayou Bengals are playing right now.
So what do you do?
I think you’re stuck hoping Jimbo turns things around given the nearly hundred million buyout, but the Aggies are in a tough spot, one no one would have foreseen coming off the 2020 season when A&M narrowly missed the playoff.
9. How about Hugh Freeze’s Liberty team?!
Liberty just went on the road as a two touchdown underdog and beat the Razorbacks to run the Flames record to 8-1 on the year. Liberty’s only loss was by one point at Wake Forest and the Flames have beaten BYU and Arkansas so far this year.
Look, you can have issues with Hugh Freeze’s past, but the guy can flat out coach.
He’s 34-12 now at Liberty and has spent four seasons as head coach there.
I understand Auburn’s pursuit of Lane Kiffin. But if Kiffin says no, I’d go hire Freeze.
10. My OutKick National Top Ten
2. Ohio State
10. Ole Miss
11. SEC power rankings 1-14
I’ll acknowledge that after the top five teams here it’s really a mess in the six to 11 range. But this is my best guess on those teams this week.
4. Ole Miss
7. Mississippi State
8. South Carolina
12. Texas A&M
I’ll see you guys in the Grove this weekend for Alabama at Ole Miss.