All rise, the court of college football is now in session. Today’s case: Can three teams from one conference make the College Football Playoff?
In the Southeastern Conference, that might just be the case.
And, before you even ask, no, Missouri is not one of them.
LSU, Alabama and Georgia all have a legitimate case to make the CFP, though it would cause a great deal of controversy if all three schools did, in fact, make it. But the Missourian likes to get wild, so here’s an exploration of what will be referred to as the “It Just Means More” scenario, where all three make the playoff.
No. 1 LSU has the easiest case to make it. The Bayou Bengals are undefeated and have an incredible résumé. Their strength-of-record is the best in the country, having defeated three teams in the AP Top 10. The biggest was undoubtedly this past Saturday, when Coach Ed Orgeron’s men marched into Tuscaloosa and knocked off No. 3 Alabama.
There isn’t much to debate here. As of now, LSU is a clear-cut choice. Barring a late-season disaster, the Tigers will be in the playoff. The team’s final three regular season games are against 4-6 Ole Miss, 2-8 Arkansas — which just fired coach Chad Morris — and 6-3 Texas A&M in Baton Rouge. None of these teams should trouble LSU, which just needs two wins to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game. Even if the Tigers finish 12-1, they should make the final four.
Now onto Alabama. The Tide lost a thriller to LSU, and that could be the death blow to their streak of five straight playoff appearances. The final score on Saturday was 46-41, a tense affair until the end, so it’s not like this was a blowout. But it was Alabama’s first opportunity at a marquee victory having played only one ranked team — then-No. 24 Texas A&M — all season before LSU. Bama’s next chance will be in the final week of the season, when it takes on No. 11 Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Still, even without a signature win, Alabama still has a solid résumé, highlighted by the third-best Football Power Index rating in the country.
Look at the roster, you won’t find a team with more talent.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy are both potential No. 1 picks in the NFL Draft. Running back Najee Harris is a star and DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III are all NFL-caliber receivers. On defense, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and cornerback Trevon Diggs are also potential first rounders. This team is loaded and it would be a shame to see these players miss out on the biggest stage in college football.
The narrow loss to LSU could also help Alabama’s chances. The Crimson Tide only lost by five, and were only outgained 559 yards to 541. A rematch of these teams could easily go the other way. This is eerily similar to the 2011 season when Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season but won a rematch in the BCS National Championship Game.
To have any shot at making the playoff, Alabama will need to win each of its final three games. Since LSU now owns the tiebreaker between the teams, the Crimson Tide do not control their own destiny in the SEC West. Assuming Alabama takes care of Mississippi State and Western Carolina (why exactly are these teams playing?), a decisive win over Auburn could very well push Alabama back into the CFP, in which it has played every year of its existence.
The team with the toughest road to the playoff is Georgia. Currently ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll, the Bulldogs are certainly on the outside looking in.
Like Alabama, Georgia is loaded with first round talent. The Bulldogs rank No. 5 in the country in total defense, and their quarterback-running back tandem of Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift is as good as anyone’s.
Georgia has one loss, but it came at home to South Carolina, a team that might not qualify for a bowl game. Its biggest win came over then-No. 6 Florida, which put the Dawgs right back into playoff contention. But next for Georgia is a trip to Auburn, a brutal late-season matchup for a team trying to lock up its third straight SEC East title.
A win over Auburn would be massive and it might be enough to get them through the threshold. But even if Georgia wins its division as expected, it will likely have to face LSU in the conference title game. A win over both Tigers would assure the Bulldogs a spot in the playoff. But a win over just one might still be enough.
The biggest obstacle in the way of this SEC-dominated playoff is the strong non-SEC teams across the college football spectrum. No. 2 Ohio State has been obliterating everyone and has the second-best strength-of-record. No. 3 Clemson is undefeated and is second in FPI. If the defending champs win out, it would be hard to deny them a spot. Pac-12 teams Oregon and Utah are both 8-1 and if one wins the conference championship, it would also be hard to deny them entry. Finally, Minnesota is undefeated, and if it can somehow win the Big Ten championship, the Gophers have a real chance despite their abysmal strength of schedule.
Essentially, it’s crowded at the top and the SEC needs help to achieve world domination. Whatever the final four is, though, it will take serious justification to keep LSU, Alabama or Georgia out of the playoff.
Try proving one of them isn’t deserving beyond a reasonable doubt.