Playoff Projections Percolating For Bulldogs

Playoffs? Playoffs!? Dog-gone right, we're talking about playoffs.

This is the Tuesday topic de jour as the second edition of College Football Playoff rankings is due for evening announcement. Barring the unimaginable the two top spots will stay with the only remaining undefeated teams from the major conferences.

And, most expectations are the order will also be unchanged, with Mississippi State in first place and Florida State second. Both survived genuine challenges last week; the Seminoles storming back from a three-touchdown deficit to beat two-loss Louisville on the road, and the Bulldogs recovering from a slow start themselves and 10-0 hole to get past Arkansas at home.

The scores and sites and such might influence some of the CFP’s dozen committee members to adjust their opinions. Or, maybe not. Soon after 6:30ct everyone else will know…and immediately begin thrashing out the implications for the final rankings on December 7 when four finalists make the Playoff cut and are seeded-and-sited.

It is all great fun of course, especially so for a Mississippi State program unaccustomed to such status. Yet it was Bulldog Coach Dan Mullen who made the most accurate comment on these weekly updates, before the first-ever announcement was made in fact.

“The playoff system I think in the SEC kind-of started eight weeks ago,” Mullen said.

Nine weeks now into the process, Mullen’s team is certainly contending for the final foursome. At 8-0, 5-0 SEC the Bulldogs lead the league overall and, of more immediate meaning, the insanely competitive Western Division. No, ‘insanely’ is not over-stating this situation, because with four weekends left the stretch-run complexities could drive a mainframe computer crazy.

At least Mississippi State can wind-down a bit this week. Mullen says the right things but if the #1-ranked (polls and CFP alike) Bulldogs are seriously pressed by Tennessee-Martin this weekend (3:00 Scott Field) that will be insane indeed. This contest was contracted as Homecoming for obvious November benefits, mostly to stay unbeaten with modest efforts and hopefully no damages done to any Bulldog body. It’s ideal timing, too.

Because it will be difficult keeping the Homecoming crowd paying fourth quarter attention. They will want to get to a nearby screen for Alabama’s showdown with Louisiana State (7:00ct), which for all intents and purposes is the ‘second round’ of a November full of SEC playoff games. Last week it was Auburn’s improbable finish at Ole Miss, which should keep the Tigers at least third in the next CFB release.

The two-loss Rebels aren’t exactly eliminated to be sure, but don’t control their fate any more. At the same time they have to be torn on events in Baton Rouge, since like State they need Alabama to take a second league loss. At the same time, Ole Miss handed the Crimson Tide their lone so-far loss. As the first CFB release showed, the committee rightly gave great weight to that single score. Rebel attitudes are complicated more by the fact they lost at LSU while Mississippi State won there.

And on and on the speculative factors can go, at least until somebody exits Tiger Stadium with a win (or loss) to potentially clarify things. Or not since the unexpected still happens. A Georgia team apparently fast-tracking to the East Division title and potential Playoff berth turned in the most spectacular face-plant of SEC season so far with a neutral-field loss to Florida. Suddenly a one-league loss Missouri has the inside lane to Atlanta, though their hopes of a CFP assignment are far fainter after that inexplicable stumble at home against now-hapless Indiana.

What the other Dogs really did was complicate scenarios for getting two SEC teams in the four-squad Playoffs. Especially if chaos reigns in November and the West winner arrives in the Georgia Dome with two Division losses, and represents the West due to tiebreaks. The SEC Office provides a half-page script for breaking such deadlocks by the way.

To be sure most objective observers believe nothing will require tossing a coin, or coins, to set the December 6 matchup. The simplest outcome obviously will be an unbeaten Bulldog bunch, though far from easy since road games remain at Alabama and Ole Miss around a home finale with Vanderbilt. Only State has complete control of fate today.

#3 Auburn’s comeback path probably isn’t made any easier by Georgia’s stunning setback, since the angry Bulldogs host their ancient rival this year. Then there’s their finale at Alabama with a huge 2013 score to be settled. For that matter the Tigers can’t take a visit this weekend by sputtering Texas A&M for granted (re: Georgia-Florida). This can’t be called a ‘playoff’ game by Mullen’s measure but an Auburn loss would absolutely make for an elimination game.

In Mississippi State’s case, the Bulldogs have had over three weeks getting used to seeing their team-name listed #1 in the national polls; and one week by the CFP people. Not only ought they be over it, but they need be. Because their last two games have not been the same sort of sharp performances that sent State to the top spot.

Kentucky pushed them all afternoon with the game only settled on a returned kickoff. Then for the first time all fall the Bulldogs fell behind by double-digits and still trailed at halftime, to an Arkansas team that could yet wreak some West havoc with remaining home games against LSU and Ole Miss. Those scores will mean much more in setting SEC bowl assignments than have real Playoff implications, by the way. Meanwhile Mullen is working on re-focusing his team after less-than-crisp showings.

But then again, those two victories also pointed up a new strength in the program. Not so long ago even a good State squad could and maybe would have lost at least one of those tests. This 2014 team didn’t, they overcame both an all-out effort to upset #1 and their own inconsistencies to continue winning.

And, continue on the Playoff path. Or we should write it as take that playoff path, the one Mullen says began in August and concludes in Atlanta which has been his objective since arriving in Starkville. It has been a few Dog-generations since the previous SEC Championship Game trip in 1998, and if tickets were a hot commodity then the reported 16,000 allotment would be sizzling with this year’s build-up.

Then should State survive this playoff, then they can really talk about the Playoff.

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