Back before the games began to count and players were itching to stick a shoulder into someone other than a teammate, general consensus was the Southeastern Conference East would be a dead heat between South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and the race to win the division would probably be decided on the weekends of September 13 (Georgia at South Carolina), November 1 (Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville) and November 15 (South Carolina at Florida). South Carolina beat Georgia in September and Florida beat Georgia on November 1. If all had gone according to plan, then this weekend’s matchup at The Swamp between South Carolina and Florida would be for all the SEC East marbles.
Well, that plan goes in the same file as the day I married my ex-wife: seemed like a good idea at the moment.
The way it stands now, Georgia is likely to make it to Atlanta to play the champ of the SEC West for the league title even though the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina and to the Gators. You might want to file that one under fact stranger than fiction.
Georgia, after all, is a pretty good football team. Pretty good. Not great. Not anything close to great. All the Bulldogs have to do is beat Auburn in Athens this weekend and then wait for Missouri to lose one of its remaining games with Tennessee, Texas A&M and Arkansas. If Missouri were to run through that three-game gauntlet unbeaten the Tigers would be the unexpected SEC East champs for the second straight year but most functioning brains calculate that at least one of these next three games will be a loss, which would result in Georgia winning the East should the Bulldogs knock off Auburn.
After a stretch of three losses to Alabama, LSU and Missouri, Florida is showing proof of life with dominating wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt. Watching the Gators the last two weeks, everyone is wondering why it took Will Muschamp so long to turn the team over to Treon Harris. With Jeff Driskel at quarterback, the Gators were a ship with a couple of torpedoes in the bow. With Harris at quarterback, the Gators are the ones firing the torpedoes.
From a mathematical standpoint, Florida is still in the thick of the SEC East race but the Gators can’t make it to Atlanta for the first time since 2009 without a whole lot of help. Auburn has to beat Georgia to give the Bulldogs a third loss and Missouri, which has only one SEC loss to date, has to lose to Tennessee and either the Aggies or Arkansas. That’s a lot of ifs, but stranger things have happened. Remember 2007, the year Georgia rushed the field after a first quarter touchdown against Florida? That was one of those ANC seasons for which Georgia fans are all too familiar. ANC = Almost National Championship. Georgia got to go to the Sugar Bowl that year even though the Bulldogs didn’t even make it to Atlanta. Tennessee represented the East, those same Vols the Gators hosed, 59-20, in Gainesville. The Vols beat Georgia that year and so did South Carolina.
So, don’t count the Gators out. At least not yet. If Georgia wins this weekend forget Atlanta, not that you’re actually counting on going anyway.
And that brings us to South Carolina, perhaps the most disappointing team in college football this season. Sporting News picked the Gamecocks to win the SEC East and contend for the national championship. Everybody else had the Gamecocks in the top ten to start the season. Steve Spurrier was ever so confident that he could get to 11 wins for the fourth straight season.
South Carolina is 4-5 and can’t get to a bowl without a win over Florida Saturday or one over Clemson Thanksgiving weekend. The Gamecocks won’t be favored in either of those two games but this is why they play games on the field. In both those games Spurrier has incentive to win. Florida is his alma mater, the place he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 and the national championship in 1996. Clemson is the school Spurrier has beaten five straight years, a school record and a real source of pride in the Palmetto State.
While the Gators hold out slim hopes to win a championship, there is the possibility to finish the season strong and get a decent bowl game. South Carolina’s championship hopes eroded with three straight SEC losses in which opponents came back to win from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter but finishing the season with three straight wins including Florida and Clemson would give South Carolina’s faithful hope that next year might be the year the Gamecocks finally make it to Atlanta and win a championship.
The stakes aren’t nearly as high for South Carolina-Florida as we thought they would be back in August, but don’t think for one second this game lacks significance.
Mississippi State remained at the top of the College Football Playoff Standings through the third week, but there was plenty of movement below the 9-0 Bulldogs. Oregon moved up to #2 and Florida State dropped to #3. TCU, #6 last week, moved up to #4 while Alabama remained #5 despite an overtime win over LSU in Baton Rouge. Last week’s #9, Arizona State, moved up to #6 and last week’s #12, Baylor, moved up to #7. Ohio State jumped from #14 to #8. Dropping out of the top ten were Kansas State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Auburn dropped from #3 to #9 and Ole Miss up to #10 from #11.
(1) Mississippi State (9-0); (2) Oregon (9-1); (3) Florida State (9-0); (4) TCU (8-1); (5) Alabama (8-1); (6) Arizona State (8-1); (7) Baylor (8-1); (8) Ohio State (8-1); (9) Auburn (7-2); (10) Ole Miss (8-2); (11) UCLA (8-2); (12) Michigan State (7-2); (13) Kansas State (7-2); (14) Arizona (7-2); (15) Georgia (7-2); (16) Nebraska (8-1); (17) LSU (7-3); (18) Notre Dame (7-2); (19) Clemson (7-2); (20 Wisconsin (7-2); (21) Duke (8-1); (22) Georgia Tech (8-2); (23) Utah (6-3); (24) Texas A&M (7-3); (25) Minnesota (7-2).
1. Mississippi State (9-0): The Bulldogs have the most impressive three-week run of any team in the country with the wins over LSU, Texas A&M and LSU, all ranked within the top eight in the AP poll at the time. They can have a spectacular finish if they can knock off Alabama and Ole Miss. If the Bulldogs run the table it’s a no-brainer that they’re in the playoff. They will still be in the playoff even with one loss if Alabama loses one of its remaining three games.
Quality wins (3): LSU (ranked #8 at the time); Texas A&M (ranked #6 at the time); Auburn (ranked #2 at the time)
Remaining schedule:Nov. 15: @ Alabama
Nov. 22: Vanderbilt
Nov. 29: @ Ole Miss
2. Oregon (9-1): The Ducks get sexy points. Because they average 46 points a game and feature the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota, they probably get a few points more than they really deserve. Their out of conference schedule featured D1AA South Dakota and weak Wyoming, plus their best non-conference win over Michigan State doesn’t look nearly as impressive after the way Ohio State ripped and shredded the Spartans last weekend.
Quality wins (3): Michigan State (ranked #7 at the time); UCLA (ranked #18 at the time); Utah (ranked #17 at the time)
Remaining games:Nov. 22: Colorado
Nov. 29: @ Oregon State
Dec. 6: Pac-12 Championship Game
3. Florida State (9-0): If the Seminoles run the table, they’re in. If they lose one of their three remaining games, they probably drop like a rock in the standings because the ACC is so weak. The Seminoles get a plus for non-conference games with Oklahoma State (win), Notre Dame (win) and Florida but there is also a game with D1AA Citadel that doesn’t help matters. FSU isn’t nearly as good as last year, but the Seminoles are the 2013 national champs so they’ll be ranked high if they run the table even if they probably would struggle to beat any of the other seven teams in the top eight.
Quality wins (3): Clemson (ranked #22 at the time); Notre Dame (ranked #5 at the time); Louisville (ranked #25 at the time)
Remaining games:Nov. 15: at Miami
Nov. 22: Boston College
Nov. 29: Florida
4. TCU (8-1): The Horned Frogs have one of the most impressive offenses in the country (average 47.2 per game) and they have wins over four teams that were ranked at the time plus a win over Minnesota (currently #25 in the playoff poll). The loss is to Baylor which means if Baylor runs the rest of its table, the Bears would win the Big 12 title and that might eliminate TCU from final four contention. The rest of the schedule has almost guaranteed wins over Kansas and Iowa State, but the game at Texas Thanksgiving Day could be a potential upset since the Longhorns have the best defense in the Big 12 and suddenly the offense is clicking.
Quality loss (1): Baylor (ranked #5 at the time)
Remaining schedule:Nov. 15: @ Kansas
Nov. 27: @ Texas
Dec. 6: Iowa State
5. Alabama (8-1): If Alabama knocks off Mississippi State this weekend and Auburn on Thanksgiving weekend, the Crimson Tide will make the playoff. Take that to the bank. But lose one of those games and forget the playoffs if Mississippi State wins two of its three remaining games.
Quality wins (2): Texas A&M (ranked #21 at the time); LSU (ranked #16 at the time)
Quality loss (1): Ole Miss (ranked #11 at the time)
Remaining games:Nov. 15: Mississippi State
Nov. 22: Western Carolina
Nov. 29: Auburn
6. Arizona State (8-1): The win over Notre Dame moved the Sun Devils into contention. To stay in contention they have to go 3-0 down the stretch and beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game so each week is a playoff elimination game. The Sun Devils should have little trouble knocking off Oregon State and Washington State. The Thanksgiving showdown with Arizona could decide the Pac-12 South.
Quality loss (1): UCLA (ranked #11 at the time)
Remaining games:Nov. 15: @ Oregon State
Nov. 22: Washington State
Nov. 28: @ Arizona
7. Baylor (8-1): The Bears own a miracle comeback win over TCU and if they win their remaining three games they will be the Big 12 champs. So why aren’t they ranked higher than TCU? Look at an out of conference schedule that includes SMU (worst team in Division I); D1AA Northwestern State and Buffalo (fired its coach six games into the season). The Bears could earn a bit more respect by running the table. That Dec. 6 game with #13 Kansas State looms very large but it’s in Waco and the Bears play lights out at home.
Quality wins (2): TCU (ranked #9 at the time); Oklahoma (ranked #15 at the time)
Bad loss: West Virginia (unranked at the time)
Remaining games (3):
Nov. 22: Oklahoma State
Nov. 29: Texas Tech
Dec. 6: Kansas State
8. Ohio State: There might not be a team in the country playing as well as Ohio State, which totally destroyed Michigan State last week, but that loss to a bad Virginia Tech team in week three and the relative weakness of the Big Ten will haunt the Buckeyes. They have to win the next three games and score a big win in the Big Ten Championship Game but even then they will need some help to move up.
Quality wins over teams ranked in the AP top 25 (1): Michigan State (ranked #8 at the time)
Bad losses (1): Virginia TechNov. 15: @ #25 Minnesota
Nov. 22: Indiana
Nov. 29: Michigan
For the moment, everything seems so simple for the playoff committee. If Mississippi State and FSU run the table, they’re in. If Oregon finishes 11-1 in the Pac-12 and then wins the league championship game, the Ducks are also in. TCU and Baylor can both finish with one loss, which means one of them would be in.
But consider this scenario: Alabama beats Mississippi State and Auburn and Mississippi State knocks off Ole Miss. Alabama would win the SEC West – and probably the SEC Championship Game – but there would be two one-loss SEC teams.
Florida State loses to Miami but wins the ACC Championship Game.
Arizona State runs the regular season and then knocks off Oregon to emerge as a one-loss Pac-12 champ.
TCU and Baylor both finish with one loss in the Big 12.
Ohio State gets three blowout wins to end the regular season and faces one-loss Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game with the conference champ emerging with one loss.
That’s seven one-loss teams for four slots in the playoff. Which four get in? Which three are left out?
That is what is called a nightmare.
How painful is it for you to look across at the South Carolina sideline to see Darth Visor coaching the Gamecocks?
I started listening to Al Kooper back in 1968 because of two albums – “Child Is the Father to the Man” which he did during the time he was the lead singer and creative genius behind the original Blood, Sweat and Tears” and “Super Session” a marvelous blues album that he did with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. He is the guy who discovered Leonard Skynyrd. He produced and performed on their first three albums including the singles “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Today’s music is “Somethin’ Going On” which Kooper originally performed with Blood, Sweat and Tears.