Starting 11: Three SEC Teams in the Playoff Edition

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GAINESVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 13: Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators reacts during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Rob Foldy Getty Images North America

If the season ended today there would be three SEC teams in the playoff. Clearly, the season doesn’t end today, but if it did I think Mississippi State, Ole Miss and FSU are in there. The fourth team? It comes down to Auburn, Oregon, or Alabama.

I’d go with Auburn because the Tigers have a road loss against the number one team in the nation and the best road win of the year. Oregon probably has the second best resume, but the distinction for me would be that Oregon lost at home to Arizona.

So at the halfway point of the season my four playoff teams would be Mississippi State, Ole Miss, FSU, and Auburn.  

1. How unlikable is Jameis Winston? I was rooting for Notre Dame on Saturday night. 

In my entire life as a college football fan I have never rooted for Notre Dame to win a game before. That’s why it was so disappointing to see Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles saved by the officials. What’s got to drive Brian Kelly crazy is the pick play wasn’t even necessary. Go back and watch that touchdown pass, the Seminoles had too few players to cover the receivers on that side of the field. Someone was going to be wide open whether there was a pick play run or not. 

Having said that, I’m kind of glad FSU is still alive. It’s going to be delightful to watch them get crushed by an SEC team in the playoff. The dirty little secret of the Seminole season — aside from, you know, the massive cover-up that continues to allow Jameis Winston to play — is this — FSU hasn’t been very good this year. If they were playing in the SEC West they might well have two losses already this season. FSU has been average on both offense and defense and the Seminoles can’t consistently run the football. Notre Dame dominated both lines of scrimmage on Saturday night.   

2. Will Muschamp has lost twice while Florida has given up less than 120 yards of offense. 

How statistically improable is that outcome? In the past ten years of FBS football it has only happened 96 times. Ninety-four of those times the team holding a team to less than 120 yards has won. The only two losses? Will Muschamp’s Gators team. 

Unless Georgia Georgias the Cocktail Party — which, to be fair, has happened a ton of times over the years — Florida has no real chance of wining in two weeks. When the Gators lose I’d expect Muschamp to be fired. (Yes, I know Jeremy Foley said he wouldn’t do it before the season ended, but I don’t believe it’s fair to Muschamp to leave him dangling in the breeze when it’s clear to everyone that he’s not coming pack. At that point a 3-4 Gators team would also have three winnable games in a row — at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Eastern Kentucky. Why not go ahead and pull the band aid off before Muschamp puts together a few wins and enters the FSU game at 6-4 or 5-5? 

So who does Florida consider as a new coach. Here are the top seven names on my list in no particular order:

Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Dan Mullen, Bob Stoops, Hugh Freeze, Bobby Petrino, and, wait for it, Lane Kiffin.

Did you know that Lane Kiffin made inquiries about the Florida job when Urban Meyer abruptly quit the first time and Lane was still at Tennessee? I think Kiffin would be a poor choice for the Gators, but he’d spice up the SEC East and recruit well. Plus, it may be slim pickings for the Gators. I’m assuming Stoops, Gundy, and Briles would say no. But there’s no harm in asking all of these guys. Especially since Gundy openly flirted with the Vols over the Tennessee job. Maybe Stoops is tired of Oklahoma fans being upset when he goes 9-3 or 10-2 and wants to build something a second place a la Spurrier. All of these guys score points, which I think is a must with the new hire. In addition to not liking the results, Gator fans have been bored with Muschamp’s cultural fit.

Dan Mullen’s relationship with Jeremy Foley is said to be brusque, Hugh Freeze might say no and Bobby Petrino clearly has issues in his past. So what if all six of these guys said no? Who’s out there that is a guaranteed big-time winner? This isn’t going to be an easy hire. Remember, on either side of Urban Meyer Jeremy Foley hired Ron Zook and Will Muschamp. He’s got to hire a proven head coach and he can’t screw this one up.

Here’s a final wild card for you — would Charlie Strong leave Texas after a year for Florida if the Gators came to him hat in hand and asked him to come home? Strong’s recruiting base is in Florida and he runs a no-nonsense program that might be particularly needed in the wake of Urban Meyer’s reign of leniency.

This is going to be a fascinating hire.  

3. Bama’s destruction of Texas A&M illuminated a stark divide between the Tide at home and the Tide on the road.

In road/neutral games Bama’s won by 10, lost by six, and won by a single point. In home games Bama’s won by 41, 40, 21, and 59. Partly that might be attributed to the competition being better in the road/neutral games, but that’s really only the case with Ole Miss. Are Arkansas, Florida, and Texas A&M really much different teams? I think the bigger story is that for whatever reason Alabama’s offense hasn’t played well on the road. Perhaps it’s Blake Sims not being as comfortable quarterbacking in unfamiliar surroundings, maybe it’s just reflective of the difficulty of winning on the road in college football. Bama plays at Tennessee and at LSU before finishing with three straight home games, including Mississippi State and Auburn. I think the Tide will be challenged in at least one of these road games. I’m not saying they’ll lose, but Blake Sims has been living on the edge with his quarterback play. He’s thrown at least six passes that could have been picked in the last few weeks. What if he throws three or four interceptions on the road at Tennessee or LSU? Particularly, LSU. You know Les Miles would love to ruin Nick Saban’s season. And don’t forget that Miles did just that in 2010.  

In the wake of Bama’s trouncing of A&M I took some flack for writing that Bama’s dynasty was over. While the A&M game was near perfection for the Tide, I stand by the fact that Bama isn’t as good as Bama has been in the past. Until the Tide demonstrate they can dominate on the road at Tennessee and LSU, I have my doubts that Alabama is capable of running the table. 

4. West Virginia beat Baylor and rioted.

While the win over Baylor surprised a ton of people, the riot didn’t surprise anyone.

The Big 12 is now a mess. Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and West Virginia all have one or fewer losses. Remember, the playoff selection committee would determine the Big 12 champion in the wake of a three way tie.

Given that Auburn beat Kansas State, it’s difficult to see how the Big 12 gets  ateam in the playoff.  

5. Oregon smoked Washington and remains the only real playoff contender from the Pac 12.

I know there are several one loss teams left in the messy Pac 12, but Oregon’s close to wrapping up the Pac 12 North. As for the Pac 12 South, there are three teams with one loss — Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah. The most intriguing of these teams might be Utah, which aside from a late collapse against Washington State would be undefeated. Considering that these three teams in the Pac 12 South already have one loss each and still have to all play each other, it’s hard to believe that Oregon would face a one-loss team in the Pac 12 title game. 

That means it’s either Oregon in the playoff or bust for the Pac 12. 

6. Michigan State continues to offer prime evidence of why playing a tough out of conference opponent is stupid in a playoff era. 

If you go undefeated in a big five conference, you’re pretty much assured of making the playoff. The only way you wouldn’t make the playoff would be if there were four other undefeated teams with better resumes than you. Based on historical precedent that’s highly unlikely.  

This year I believe the only undefeated team in the playoff is going to be Florida State. 

Imagine if Michigan State had played a MAC school instead of traveling to Oregon. So long as the Spartans went undefeated in the Big Ten they would be in the playoff. That’s despite the fact that the Big Ten isn’t a very strong conference.

I keep writing this because many believe that big five schools needs to schedule tough out of conference games to make the playoff. I don’t buy it. I think the opposite is actually true. If you go undefeated in a big five conference there is a huge percentage chance that you’re in the playoff regardless of what your out of conference schedule looks like.

Remember, there are four spots now. We aren’t just talking about two teams. The odds of there being five undefeated major conference champs are miniscule.  

7. Georgia rolled without Todd Gurley, handing Arkansas the Razorbacks 16th straight conference loss.

Georgia’s a legitimate threat to run the table now. The young Bulldog defense is improving rapidly and Hutson Mason has played very well on the road his past two games. Buckle up for a playoff game between Auburn and Georgia on November 15th. Whichever team wins this game will still be alive for the SEC and national title, whichever team loses will be eliminated. (Auburn could be eliminated already, which would make them a really tough spoiler). 

Remember when the BCS gurus argued that a playoff would make college football less exciting? Yeah, they were totally wrong. As in every other sport, the playoffs make things better. We need to go ahead and expand to eight teams sooner rather than later.  

Let’s talk about Arkansas for a moment, the Razorbacks have lost 16 straight SEC games and will probably lose to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. That leaves LSU and at Missouri as the only possible games the Razorbacks can win in conference this fall. 

Has any SEC coach not at Vanderbilt ever started off with 16 straight conference losses? That’s awful for Bret Bielema, but how about offensive coordinator Jim Chaney? He came over to Arkansas from Tennessee, where he was Derek Dooley’s offensive coordinator. This means Chaney is 2-26 in his last 28 SEC games. 2-26!

8. Kansas State and West Virginia added impressive Big 12 wins while simultaneously bolstering Alabama and Auburn’s resumes. 

I’ve been focusing on road top 25 wins because they’re so rare. After eight weeks of football only four teams have road wins over current top 25 teams. Auburn at Kansas State, Kansas State at Oklahoma, Arizona at Oregon and USC at Arizona. That’s it.

When it comes to college basketball we focus a ton on where games are played because the committee recognizes that winning on the road is incredibly difficult to do.

I hope the new playoff committee is going to take into account where games are played in college football too. Right now that’s why I’d have Auburn in the playoff over Oregon, because the Tigers loss at Mississippi State is a “better” loss than Oregon’s at home against Arizona. What’s more, Auburn’s road win at Kansas State is better than Oregon’s home win over Michigan State.  

9. What in the world was CBS thinking when they took Mississippi State at Kentucky as the top game this coming week? 

I mean, that’s totally ludicrous. You’ve got two small states that don’t rate well in Mississippi and Kentucky and you have two programs that no one is familiar with at all. Plus, Kentucky is coming off a total pasting at the hands of LSU and is a two-touchdown home underdog. 

Ole Miss at LSU is an infinitely better game. The ESPN executives probably couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw this CBS draft pick. Vegas has Ole Miss as a field goal better than LSU. Given the game is being played at night, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if LSU pulled off the upset. In fact, if I’m an Ole Miss fan I’m pissed that CBS blew the game selection here because it hurts my team. It’s much easier to win at Death Valley in the daylight. 

As if that wasn’t enough, CBS has to take the Cocktail Party on 11/1. (This is because everyone who has ever been to the Cocktail Party knows that if this game is played at night it would end in a riot). That means ESPN gets the blockbuster Auburn at Ole Miss game. 

Want another disastrous scheduling move for CBS? They took Arkansas at Missouri for the Friday after Thanksgiving. Their other option was to take Mississippi State at Ole Miss.

Since the Iron Bowl is set for the Saturday game on CBS, this means that ESPN gets the Egg Bowl on Saturday. So instead of having the Egg Bowl on Friday and the Iron Bowl on Saturday — what a duo that would be — CBS gets Arkansas at Missouri and ESPN gets the Egg Bowl.


10. Tennessee is getting worse as the season goes along.

Tennessee played its best game of the season at Georgia. Since that time the Vols have found a way to lose to an awful Florida team and the offense has regressed to the point it’s hard to see them scoring double digits. Honest question, if Tennessee has all pro style offensive talent, why do they insist on trying to run a spread option offense?

The Vols will lose to Alabama this weekend and fall to 3-5. Then they close with these four games — at South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and at Vanderbilt. Other than Vandy, who is so bad on offense many top high school teams would challenge them, the Vols will face really tough match-ups in the remaining three games. If Tennessee doesn’t at least split in these final four, then the Vols are looking at 4-8, the worst season in the history of the program. Tennessee has to win three of four to qualify for a bowl game. That doesn’t look very likely right now. What’s more, wouldn’t it be the Vols luck for Vanderbilt to play its best game of the season by far and keep it close on the final week of the season? 

You want a stat that will blow your mind — in 16 years Phil Fulmer lost 34 SEC games. In the less than six years since Fulmer was fired, the Vols have lost 32 SEC games. Given that the Bama loss is highly probable and the Vols will be lucky to split these remaining four games, it’s likely that Tennessee will have lost more SEC games in the six years since Phil Fulmer was fired than they lost in his 16 years as head coach.   

11. SEC power ratings 1-14. As always we judge entirely by what we’ve seen on the field, nothing else. 

1. Mississippi State

2. Ole Miss

3. Auburn

4. Alabama

5. Georgia

6. LSU

7. Mizzou

8. Texas A&M

9. Florida

10. Kentucky

11. South Carolina

12. Arkansas

13. Tennessee

14. Vanderbilt

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.