There are two teams the in SEC West that currently control their own destiny. But for all the early hype that has been placed on the November 7 matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers, that game will only feather one of them, LSU.
The other SEC team in complete command of its own path is the No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels, and if the Rebels were to win out the rest of the season on the way to an SEC Championship, it could mean the 2015 College Football playoff will be without a representative from the SEC.
Ole Miss looked like a top team in the country after upsetting Alabama inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in the third game of the season. Many were calling for the Rebels to unseat the Ohio State Buckeyes as the No.1 team in the country, and quarterback Chad Kelly was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate.
Since then, Ole Miss hasn’t looked anything like the team that defeated the Crimson Tide. Two weeks after that victory, the Rebels took their first loss of the season in a 38-10 pummeling at the hands of the Florida Gators. The loss to the Gators may have demoralized the Rebels, but not their College Football Playoff hopes. However, another blowout loss to the Memphis Tigers took care of those.
Bug, because the Rebels second loss came out of conference, Ole Miss remains a 1-loss team in SEC play. And with LSU the SEC’s lone undefeated squad still left on the schedule, Hugh Freeze’s team can still get to Atlanta without the help of any other SEC team.
Some, including myself, have viewed the Alabama-LSU matchup as a potential play-in game for the final four, with the winner almost guaranteed a spot. Ole Miss is the team with the best chance of getting in the way of those plans.
Even if Ole Miss runs the table the rest of the way and is crowned conference champion in Atlanta, it’s highly unlikely that a two-loss champion of any conference would find its way into the College Football Playoff. If any conference was going to get a multi-loss team in, it would probably be the SEC. Still, the Big 12 and Big 10 each have multiple undefeated teams remaining, and the ACC still has an unblemished Clemson sitting near the top of the rankings. Outside of that sit highly-rated one-loss teams in Stanford and Notre Dame. Some other year, a two-loss team might be able to sneak into the playoff, but there’s just too much congestion at the top for it to happen this season.
Likewise, a one-loss non-champion from the SEC would be at an equal disadvantage. On paper, an Alabama team that finishes 11-1 with the nation’s toughest schedule should be a no-brainer for the final four. But without a conference title to go along with that impressive record, the selection committee will likely view Alabama differently and favor a one-loss team that does win its conference when picking the playoff bracket. Whether or not that’s a fair way to evaluate team’s resumés is a completely different and much more complex discussion.
But regardless, the fact remains that Ole Miss has the chance to be the ultimate villain in the SEC this season. Rather than be toppled by teams from other conferences, the SEC’s national title hopes for 2015 could be brought down by one of its own.