Starting 11: The Playoff Picture Is Easy

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COLUMBIA, SC – OCTOBER 29: Head coach Butch Jones of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Lecka/Getty Images) Tyler Lecka

We lost three undefeated major conference teams yesterday — Nebraska, West Virginia and Baylor. All three of these teams substantially cleared up the playoff picture because none of them is in contention for the playoff any longer. (Okay, okay, Nebraska would still go at 12-1 if the Cornhuskers ran the table, but that isn’t very likely.) 

So let’s dive into the Starting 11. 

1. The playoff picture isn’t very complicated.  

Right now your four playoff teams would be Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, and Washington in that order. 

There wouldn’t even be any suspense on the game match-ups because #1 seed Alabama would be playing #4 seed Washington in Atlanta and Clemson and Michigan, who would be the #2 and #3 seeds, would be playing outside of Phoenix.

Sure, there are complexities that can happen, but the simple fact of the matter is that all of these teams, which are presently undefeated, could probably lose one regular season game and still make the playoff at 12-1 if they bounced back to win their conference titles.

So it’s not just that these four teams are in the driver’s seat right now, it’s that they also have a decent margin for error. 

2. Okay, it’s college football, nothing ever goes completely to plan, give me the biggest complexities that could happen. 

The biggest complexity here is Washington. What would happen if Washington State beats Washington on the final week of the regular season to win the Pac 12 North? (Given that Washington State is presently undefeated, it seems likely the Apple Cup will decide the Pac 12 North.)

If Washington finishes 11-1 without winning its division or its conference title, do the Huskies really deserve a playoff bid? Keep in mind that Washington would have one top 25 win — assuming Utah stays in the top 25 — and an incredibly weak out-of-conference slate — Idaho, Portland State and Rutgers.

That’s not an at large playoff resume.   

Given the fact that the Pac 12 champ would have at least two losses and no major quality wins either, I think it’s likely the Pac 12 champ doesn’t get a playoff bid if it’s any team other than Washington. 

Then you’d have to toss Washington into the at-large pile with the other one loss teams — potentially Louisville and Texas A&M. Of those three teams, I believe Washington would have the worst resume and Texas A&M would have the best. So if you’re an Aggie fan, you need to take care of business and root like hell for Washington State to upset Washington in the final week of the season. That’s the easiest way I can foresee an at-large bid coming open.  

Want some additional complexities: What would happen if the Tide lost to LSU or Auburn, and either of those teams went on to run the table and finish 11-2 with an SEC title?

I think an 11-2 LSU or an 11-2 Auburn would get in the playoff over an 11-1 Alabama team. But if Washington lost its division then an 11-1 Alabama would probably have the best resume of any one-loss, at large team in the country. So the Tide could still get in the playoff at 11-1.  

Similarly, what would happen if 11-2 Wisconsin beat 12-1 Michigan in the Big Ten title game? I think there’s zero doubt that 11-2 Wisconsin would go to the playoff over 12-1 Michigan. And, honestly, 12-1 Michigan’s resume wouldn’t stack up that well either.  

Essentially, the SEC and the Big Ten have two playoff bids locked up at this point. It’s nearly impossible to construct a hypothetical where either conference doesn’t get a team. Clemson looks very strong in the ACC. The Pac 12’s hold on a playoff spot is the most tenuous.   

3. Right now there are three one loss teams hanging on the periphery hoping for at-large playoff bids. 

The one-loss team in the mix with the easiest route to the playoff is Ohio State. If the Buckeyes get their offense in order and finish 12-1, they’ll go to the playoff over Michigan. In essence, Ohio State’s loss to Penn State didn’t really harm them at all. So Ohio State is in, by far, the best shape of the one-loss contenders. 

Texas A&M and Louisville are in more difficult positions. Both teams need to finish 11-1 and then they probably need for Washington to lose to Washington State and not win the Pac 12 North. 

The other way these two teams could get a bid is if Clemson lost one regular season game and then lost the ACC title game too, but that seems highly unlikely at this point given that Clemson closes with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, at Wake Forest and South Carolina. 

In the ACC title game Clemson would be likely to play Virginia Tech or North Carolina, neither of whom would be deserving, I don’t believe, of a playoff bid even if they ran the table to finish 11-2 and upset 12-0 Clemson in the title game.

I think 12-1 Clemson is in the playoff.  

4. Conference title games are likely to be worthless this year. 

The Big Ten will probably feature a rematch, either Michigan or Ohio State playing Wisconsin again. 

The SEC will likely feature Alabama against Florida, Tennessee, or, unbelievably, Kentucky. Unless Florida runs the table to finish 11-1, this “title” game will be competely unnecessary.  

The ACC will feature Clemson against either North Carolina or Virginia Tech. 

The Pac 12 will probably feature Washington against a much worse Pac 12 South team. 

So we’ll know the best team in every conference before the title game is played. Which means all of these title games are worthless.

I’m going to keep beating this drum, do away with conference title games and expand the playoff to eight teams. Take the regular season champ of all five conferences and three at large teams. 

Play the first round of the playoff the second week in December on the campus of the higher seeded team. 

The schools would all make more money this way and the playoff games would be much better than the unnecessary conference title games. 

Conference title games are, most years, totally worthless. We already know who the best team is, that’s why we play the regular season. 

5. The Big 12 is officially eliminated from playoff contention after West Virginia and Baylor lost. 

Now the biggest question from the Big 12 is this — will Charlie Strong keep his job?

4-4 Texas finishes at Texas Tech, West Virginia, at Kansas and with TCU on the final weekend of the season. 

What does Charlie Strong need to do to keep his job? If he goes 4-0 I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s back next year. If he goes 3-1, he’s probably back. But what if he finishes 6-6? Is that good enough?

It says a ton about the Big 12 that this is the most interesting story left in the conference.  

6. What happens if there is a three way tie at 7-1 in the SEC West?

This could only happen one way: if Texas A&M wins out and Alabama wins out except for losing to Auburn at the end of the year. 

In the even that happened we’d have a three way SEC West tie at 7-1. 

Here are the SEC’s tiebreak rules for a three way tie.

2. Three-Team Tie (or more): If three teams (or more) are tied for a division title, the following procedure will be used in the following order: (Note: If one of the procedures results in one team being eliminated and two remaining, the two-team tiebreaker procedure as stated in No. 1 above will be used):

A. Combined head to head record among the tied teams;

B. Record of the tied teams within the division;

C. Head to head competition against the team within the division with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non divisional) and proceeding through the division (multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last and a tie for first place will be broken before a tie for fourth place);

D. Overall Conference record against non divisional teams;

E. Combined record against all common non divisional teams;

F. Record against the common non divisional team with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non divisional) and proceeding through other common non divisional teams based on their order of finish within their division; and

G. Best cumulative Conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents (Note: If two teams’ non-divisional opponents have the same cumulative record, then the two-team tiebreaker procedures apply. If four teams are tied, and three teams’ non-divisional opponents have the same cumulative record, the three-team tiebreaker procedures will be used beginning with 2.A.);

Okay, so A, B, C, D, E and F would all be out the window, I believe.

Which means you’d get to the records of the SEC East teams to break this tie.

Right now Alabama played Tennessee and Kentucky, which have a 6-5 combined SEC record.

Texas A&M played Tennessee and South Carolina, which have a 4-7 combined SEC record.

And Auburn will play Vanderbilt and Georgia, which have a 3-7 combined SEC record.

Significantly, both A&M and Alabama have already beaten two east teams, while Auburn hasn’t played its opponents yet, meaning that the absolute best SEC record Auburn’s SEC East opponents could finish with is 7-9. 

So Alabama would win the SEC West if the season ended today and it seems highly unlikely that Auburn can win the division in a three-way tie. This means the Tigers don’t just need to beat Alabama at the end of the season, they need Texas A&M to lose too to avoid a three way tie.

Given that Alabama and A&M have a common opponent, Tennessee, and that it’s impossible for South Carolina to end up with a better record than Kentucky, Alabama would win all three way ties.  

7. Jimbo Fisher went off on the officiating for a late call on a Dalvin Cook fifty yard gain.


8. Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina was inexcusable.

I could write a ton of words on this game, but the biggest takeaway is that it’s simply inexcusable for a team favored by two touchdowns, coming off a bye week, playing against a quarterback who should be a senior in high school to lose this game.

Tennessee has trailed at some point in all eight games this season and has started like complete crap every week. Put simply, that’s on coaching. Change two plays this season and Tennessee is 3-5 and Butch Jones is probably getting fired.

Instead, he’s going to still probably go 9-3 — the Vols are much more talented than Mizzou, Kentucky and Vandy and all of those games will be at home. (Yes, Vandy counts as a home game.) But with tons of players leaving, what real reason for optimism is there as Jones will enter year five? He’s going to have to fire his offensive coordinator and go get someone with an actual offensive system that works. 

And after four seasons, at best, Jones’s SEC record will look like this:





Put simply, Butch Jones is an 8-4 coach.

And what in the world was he doing at the end of the game? The Vols had the ball with a first down with 18 seconds left at the South Carolina 45 yard line and ran a three yard out to their tight end. Mercifully that pass was incomplete because otherwise the game clock may have run out. But how in the world is that the first play option? Why are you running any pass routes that are under ten yards in length? Then Tennessee gained five yards on a QB scramble and attempted a 58 yard field goal. 

A 58 yarder!

Why not just throw the ball into the end zone on a hail mary? The percentage chances of that succeeding, given Jauan Jennings catches everything, is better than a kicker drilling a 58 yarder. What’s more, with a hail mary you win the game as opposed to going to overtime.  

At least Josh Dobbs will be gone soon.

This is the funniest Tweet that anyone sent about Dobbs, who has to be the dumbest smart quarterback in the history of the SEC.

The Vols won’t do it, but if I were AD, I’d fire Butch Jones at the end of this year and pay Bobby Petrino $8 million a year to take over at Tennessee.  

You want to know the final kick in the teeth? Will Muschamp is 5-0 against Tennessee in his head coaching career. 

Will Muschamp!

9. Georgia’s a total mess.

I mean, a really, really steaming pile of crap right now.

With games left at Kentucky, and at home against Auburn, Louisiana Lafayette and Georgia, it’s possible the Bulldogs go 5-7 and don’t even make a bowl game.

And you want to talk about pressure, can you imagine what’s going to happen if Kirby Smart’s boys go to Kentucky and lose this weekend? Good Lord, look out.   

10. You know what’s the craziest opinion I have right now? I still think Tennessee wins the east at 5-3.

That’s because I believe Florida will lose at Arkansas and at LSU and Tennessee will beat Mizzou, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Gator fans are furious at the idea, but the line at Arkansas should be around a pick’em. And the Gators are going to be a touchdown underdog at LSU.

Which means my opinion is actually pretty realistic. 

But is it really going to be make Butch’s life easier to win the east at 5-3 and then get destroyed by Alabama in Atlanta?

By the way, why is the SEC East such a mess? The coaches are garbage. Butch Jones, Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp, Derek Mason, Barry Odom and Mark Stoops? My God, this is the saddest sack of shit coaches I have ever seen in my life. Could any of these guys get a 4 or 5 on an AP test in any subject?

It’s just pathetic.  

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

1. Alabama

2. Texas A&M

3. Auburn

4. LSU

5. Florida

6. Tennessee

7. Arkansas

8. Ole Miss

9. Georgia

10. Kentucky

11. Vanderbilt

12. South Carolina

13. Mississippi State

14. Mizzou

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.