The new era is upon us, as higher-ups in college football scraped the BCS after 16 years in favor of the new four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) that begins following the 2014 season.
What does it mean for the SEC?
The rules for selection by the 13-member committee are rather simple.
"The format is very simple," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. "It's symmetrical. It's really beautiful. It's a four‑team bracket. We all love our brackets. The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached."
Well, except that there are strings attached.
One of the stated points of emphasis for selection-committee members is conference championships, which contradicts the party line of choosing the four best teams, period, with no strings attached. The four-team structure also has an implied goal of making the event a national spectacle, which is best accomplished by having teams from around the country in the field.
Simply put, it's going to be very difficult for a team from any conference—even the mighty SEC—to get a second team in the mix, especially in Year 1 of the event.
Difficult, but not impossible—and certainly better than the options around the country, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer notes.
SEC Media Days had talk of how bad it would be if they didn't get two teams in the playoff. Everybody else: We can't wait to put one in.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 23, 2014
What needs to happen for the SEC to get a second team in the field of four?
The SEC West is the roughest neighborhood in college football, and while that is a benefit for whichever team emerges as the division champ, it could serve as its downfall in the discussion to get a second team in the playoff.
With conference championships having importance, it's only common sense to assume that a team that didn't even win its division, much less its conference, would be viewed negatively by the selection committee. As a result, the SEC needs top-end balance between the SEC East and West, similar to the 2008, 2009 and 2012 seasons when the SEC Championship Game essentially served as a national semifinal.
That means at least one team—it doesn't matter which one—has to step up in the SEC East to not only become a competitive team, but a top-end, national championship-worthy team.
There are plenty of options.
South Carolina chimed in at the No. 9 spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, with Georgia at No. 12, Missouri at No. 24 and Florida second among teams outside of the poll receiving votes.
If a team from the East can transform the SEC Championship Game into a de facto national quarterfinal rather than a victory lap for the SEC West champ, it will help pad the SEC's resume to get a second team into the CFP.
Championship Week Chaos
Even if the loser of the SEC Championship Game is a viable option, that team will still need a ton of help from around the country.
Last season Auburn got help in the Big Ten Championship Game when one-loss Michigan State upset then-undefeated Ohio State to knock the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship Game and paved the way for SEC champ Auburn to waltz in.
That won't cut it.
There needs to be even bigger chaos, like in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game when five-loss Wisconsin upset two-loss Nebraska, 70-35. No, the Cornhuskers wouldn't have had a shot at a playoff spot had one existed that year, but the loss threw a wrench in the works in the BCS and entire bowl picture.
That kind of thing needs to happen in 2014 for a second SEC team to slide in.
If a Big Ten West team—which, this year, is largely viewed as the lesser of the two Big Ten divisions—gets hot for 60 minutes in the title game, it would throw the entire playoff picture up in the air. Or if the ACC Coastal champ—also viewed as the lesser of two divisions—shows up in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, Clemson or another Atlantic division power.
It'd be incredibly beneficial for the SEC's second-best team for contenders to fall in the final week of the season and finish the season on a sour note with no momentum.
A '2011 Scenario'
Whether it's teams from opposing divisions or even two teams from the same division, there will be a scenario that develops at some point during the playoff when two teams from the same conference are unquestionably the two best teams in the country.
This was the case in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season, when Alabama topped LSU, 21-0, in the Mercedes Benz Superdome after losing to the Tigers, 9-6, in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season.
The debate between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State leading into the BCS selection show wasn't whether Alabama was better than Oklahoma State; it was whether the Crimson Tide or Cowboys "deserved it more."
That debate would be rendered meaningless in this new format, because as the No. 2 and 3 seeds, they'd get to settle it on the field. Could the same situation arise in 2014?
Alabama checks in as the No. 3 team in the preseason B/R Top 25, with Auburn at the No. 4 spot. The two intra-state rivals square off in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29 on the final week of the regular season, and if they hold serve throughout the season, could find themselves in a scenario where they are unquestionably two of the top four teams in the nation.
A non-division champ likely won't sit well with the selection committee, but if there's no doubt, then there's not much the members can do about it.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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