It’s only the second week of November, but South Carolina fans find themselves in a conundrum that’s been avoided the past few seasons. After finishing three-consecutive seasons in the top-10, the Gamecocks will have to defeat either Florida or Clemson on the road just to be bowl eligible. However, as always, the SEC as a whole is still very much alive in the postseason discussion.
So, as fans of the SEC, which teams are we supposed to root for on the national level?
With few exceptions, Gamecock fans should always root for their league. It is the premier conference, and fans should hope it stays that way. While the ultimate goal is a national title, many SEC fans also want two representatives in the four-team bracket. With the SEC West as strong as it is this year though, it can be admittedly difficult to figure out which teams to cheer for each week.
At this point in the season, there are usually only a handful of teams with a legitimate chance to win the national title.
This year is different though.
The magical playoff system has arrived to rid the college football world of controversy. Except it hasn’t, and it won’t. Instead of using a combination of computers, media and coaches as in the past, the new system relies on a selection committee of 13 people ranging from current athletics directors to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The rankings are purely based on the eye test, meaning the members simply watch the games and then put out a weekly top-25 each Tuesday. So far the SEC West has had three teams show up at least once in the rankings and, in all likelihood, Alabama will move into the top-four when the weekly poll is released Tuesday night. Mississippi State has topped the polls every week, and will continue to do so as long as it keeps winning. Auburn and Ole Miss were initially in the top-four, but each dropped out following losses — Auburn gave Ole Miss its second loss two weeks ago, then the Tigers picked up their second loss Saturday against Texas A&M. In the cutthroat SEC, every game is a struggle. A team’s playoff chances can be easily erased any given week.
If the winner of the SEC comes out of the West, that team will be just-about guaranteed a spot in the playoff, if not the No. 1 seed. Beyond that, it becomes murky.
The selection committee has shown that it puts a lot of weight on strength of schedule, which favors SEC teams. It has to be expected that any one-loss SEC West team would get in as well. That bodes well for both Mississippi State and Alabama — both of whom should be in the top-four.
One problem: the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide face off this weekend. With so many top-tier teams, some will be knocked out of contention with a loss or two within the conference. Consider Arkansas, who may not even be bowl eligible despite only losing to top-25 SEC teams. The winner of this weekend’s matchup will be in the driver’s seat. If either of those teams wins out, they will be in the playoff. However, both teams end the season against their respective rivals. Auburn and Ole Miss each have two losses. In the scenario that Alabama beats Mississippi State this weekend, and both teams lose the last week of the season, there will be a four-way tie atop the West, with each team at 10-2 (6-2 in conference).
If that were to happen, it would enter a lengthy list of tiebreakers that are so complicated most analysts don’t even want to think about them. The playoff selection committee would then have to work out which of the losers to take, if any. All of these scenarios could come into play, depending on how crazy the next three weeks get.
Best-Case Scenario: Alabama beats Mississippi State, and then both teams win out. Both teams would be 11-1 and undoubtedly in the playoff. This could lead to a semifinal rematch, depending on the cruelty of the selection committee.
Worst-Case Scenario: Mississippi State beats Alabama, both teams lose again. With four teams at 10-2, the SEC champion may have to be determined by rock, paper, scissors or drawing straws. Furthermore, if by some natural disaster or miraculous fluke play, a team from the East beats the SEC West champion in Atlanta, the playoff may explode. Still, it’s a possibility that most SEC fans don’t want to think about. I don’t see a two-loss Georgia or Missouri team making the final four. It’s highly unlikely, but if we see an upset in the SEC championship, the SEC could be watching the final three games from the couch.
How to be a proper SEC fan: The SEC usually finds a way to work things out. Pull for the Tide this weekend, take a week off while the teams play FCS cupcakes, then root hard for the favorites in the finales. We’re SEC fans, let’s strive for perfection here.