The College Football Playoffs and the SEC: Why Ole Miss deserves a spot if it wins out
The first College Football Playoff Committee rankings were released Tuesday, and the Ole Miss Rebels are No. 18. (Click here for the complete CFP Rankings.)
Following the ranking of two Southeastern Conference teams—LSU and Alabama—at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, there was much discussion about the strength of the league and which team, if any, will ultimately be its representative in the playoffs.
A vast majority of analysts believe Alabama will be the SEC team in the playoffs, while many still think LSU will be standing at the end. What about the Rebels’ chances? Well, there are actually “experts” who have gone on the record to say if Ole Miss wins out and wins the SEC title game, the Rebels—and the conference—will be left out of the playoffs entirely.
One thing we do know for sure: as soon as the first playoff rankings were announced Tuesday, there was outrage from those outside the SEC for the league to have two teams in the top 4.
Year-in and year-out, SEC fans hear others malign the conference and insist it is no longer the top league in college football. Strength of schedules don’t seem to matter to these naysayers, nor do the win-loss records of the top teams in the SEC. However, to those who suggest the SEC be excluded from this year’s college football playoffs, we offer a few statistics.
SEC West: 21-3 against non-conference opponents
Every team in the SEC Western Division has an overall record of at least .500 or above. The top five teams in the West (LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State) all have winning records. The two lowest teams in the SEC West (Arkansas and Auburn) each have overall records of 4-4.
Mississippi State and Texas A&M are both 6-2 overall, while Ole Miss is 7-2, Alabama is 7-1, and LSU is 7-0.
With the exception of Ole Miss’ loss to No. 16, undefeated Memphis, the only SEC Western losses to non-conference opponents come from Arkansas (a 16-12 loss to No. 20 Toledo, and a 35-24 loss to Texas Tech). Arkansas’s other two losses are to Alabama and A&M, divisional foes.
Auburn’s four total losses are to: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State—also all divisional foes. Alabama has only lost to Ole Miss, and Mississippi State has only lost to divisional opponents, A&M and LSU. The point is–the teams in the SEC West are basically just losing to other SEC teams.
The West is 21-3 vs. non-Southeastern Conference teams. 21-3. This means the SEC West wins 87.5% of the games it plays vs. teams from other conferences.
SEC East: 15-3 against non-conference opponents
In the SEC East, admittedly a weaker division than its western counterpart, Florida and Georgia are the only two teams who have winning records—Florida at 7-1 and Georgia at 5-3. Only Florida can be recognized as a legitimate threat to win the SEC.
Even so, the Eastern Division is still 15-3 against non-conference opponents for an 83.3 percentage against outsiders.
Strength of schedule: SEC winner deserves a spot in the CFP
Cumulatively, the Southeastern Conference is 36-6 vs. non-conference opponents this season for an 85.7 percentage. Those who chide the SEC teams for their non-conference opponents seem to conveniently forget the strength of schedules of the respective SEC teams.
Currently, the SEC has nine teams in the top 21 of the nation’s toughest schedules: Tennessee (1), Alabama (3), Florida (6), Ole Miss (7), A&M (13), LSU (17), Arkansas (18), Georgia (19), and Auburn (21).
(Oh, and by the way…Ole Miss plays six of those teams this season.)
If one looks at the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI), one sees the SEC is quite well-represented in the outlet’s measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. In the most recent FPI, we find eight teams in the top 21:
Alabama (6), LSU (8), Ole Miss (10), Tennessee (11), Florida (12), Mississippi State (16), A&M (17), and Georgia (21).
SEC leads FPI by conference
Looking at the FPI by conference, the SEC leads all conferences with seven of the top 20 teams:
SEC – 7 teams
Big 12 – 4 teams
Big Ten – 3 team
Pac 12 – 3 team
ACC – 2 team
FBS Independents – 1 team
Ole Miss and the College Football Playoffs
The Ole Miss Rebels are taking it one game at a time, thankfully, and not engaging in all the speculation surrounding who will—or won’t—be in the College Football Playoffs.
But make no mistake: IF the Rebels do manage to win out and take the SEC West Title, and then go on to defeat what will likely be a top-10 Florida Gators team representing the East in the championship game, Ole Miss absolutely deserves a spot in the playoffs.
If that occurs, it would mean the Rebels will have defeated Alabama, LSU and Florida. Any team who takes the championship of a league that is winning 85.7% of its games against non-conference opponents deserves to represent that conference—especially if they’ve swept the toughest division in all of college football in the process.