SEC Championship: Could the mighty SEC possibly miss the College Football Playoff for the first time?


ATLANTA (AP) — The Southeastern Conference is the only league to claim a spot — sometimes two spots — in every College Football Playoff.

And the SEC hasn’t just participated.

It has dominated.

But some are wondering if the conference that has captured six of nine national titles under the current four-team format might get shut out of the postseason if No. 8 Alabama knocks off No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game Saturday.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Thursday “it would be a disrespect to the SEC” to be left out of the playoff — no matter who wins the conference title.

He wasted no time making a case that his team would certainly be playoff worthy with a victory in Atlanta over the two-time defending national champions.

“I think that the SEC is one of the best conferences in the country. I think Georgia is one of the best teams in the country. I think they’re one of the best four teams in the country,” Saban said. “I think if we beat them, we’d be one of the best four teams in the country.”

If the Bulldogs win — they are a 5 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — there is no doubt about their spot in the playoff.

Things get a bit murkier if the Tide snaps Georgia’s 29-game winning streak.

No. 2 Michigan (12-0) is sure to make the playoff with a victory over No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten title game Saturday. The Wolverines are a hefty 21 1/2-point favorite.

The Pac-12 appears assured of a playoff team in its swan song of a season with No. 3 Washington (12-0) facing No. 5 Oregon (11-1) for the league championship Friday night. The winner gets a shot at the national title.

No. 4 Florida State (12-0) is the fourth team coming off a perfect regular season, which sets up the Seminoles for a playoff spot if they can get past No. 15 Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday.

Which brings us to the SEC.

There does seem a possible path for an Alabama victory to keep the powerhouse league from getting anyone in the playoff.

Let’s say the Tide beats Georgia. The selection committee would not only have to decide if Saban’s team makes the playoff over the Bulldogs, but whether they should leapfrog a Texas team that handily won at Alabama early in the season.

The No. 7 Longhorns (11-1) are facing No. 19 Oklahoma State for the Big 12 championship on Saturday. Should Texas win — and Alabama beat Georgia — the Horns would certainly have a pretty good case for a playoff spot.

Not surprisingly, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey believes his league deserves special consideration because of its overwhelming success in the nine playoffs held so far.

Not only have his schools captured a half-dozen national titles, they were the runner-up four times — including a pair of all-SEC matchups.

“Obviously, Georgia has distinguished itself the last two years as the national champion, is undefeated to this point,” Sankey said, “We have a one-loss Alabama team that has continued to improve, has won some significant games, has won games by significant scores and has won some close games.”

Working against the SEC is a 7-9 record against other Power Five schools.

“Not a secret that we didn’t have the non-conference success across the board that we’ve become accustomed to, yet I think the level of football here is still the highest that could be played,” Sankey said.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart stayed out of the playoff debate.

“I don’t really want to get into it,” he said. “I want to focus on what we have to do to win this game.”

The only time an SEC team failed to make the national championship game in the playoff era was the very first one at the end of the 2014 season. Alabama lost to eventual champ Ohio State in the semifinals.

Going back even farther to the old BCS format, the SEC has hoarded 13 of the last 17 national championships.

“I’ll also point candidly to the realities when the SEC teams have entered the College Football Playoff format, our success is unparalleled,” Sankey said. “It’s envied by everyone else.”

If Georgia wins, there is no drama.

But, should the Bulldogs lose, things could get very interesting on Sunday.


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