There is a College Football Playoff controversy looming. Make that the mother of all CFP controversies as we enter Week 12.
If you're a high school prospect, you haven't lived through a postseason without an SEC school playing for a national championship. Since 2006, when the league's modern dominance of the sport began with Florida upsetting Ohio State, that has been the case -- 17 straight years of SEC teams competing in some form for a national championship in the BCS or CFP. The SEC has won 13 of the 17 in that span.
In the last year of the four-team playoff, that streak could come to an end -- spectacularly. A few of you out there have picked up on how the SEC could miss out on the CFP.
"It could happen," said Jerry Palm, CBS Sports' veteran bowls expert.
Begin by referring back to Sept. 9. That night, Texas not only upset Alabama, the Longhorns dominated the Crimson Tide, 34-24. It was worse than that. Texas held the ball for the last 7:14 of the game -- 12 plays shoving it right into Bama's face.
Gone was a 21-game home winning streak and a 57-game streak against nonconference opponents in the regular season that went back to 2007. It was not only the most significant victory of the season, it might beone of the biggest of the CFP era.
Are we just supposed to forget that?
We may be about to find out. While Texas heads to Iowa State and Alabama has a scrimmage with Chattanooga, we inch closer to that Armageddon scenario involving both teams. All it would take is undefeated seasons by Washington, Florida State and the Big Ten champion (Ohio State or Michigan). Those three would be assured playoff berths because an undefeated Power Five champion has never been excluded.
That creates this field of one-loss teams from which to choose:
- The Ohio State-Michigan loser at 11-1.
- Alabama and Georgia at 12-1 (assuming the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game).
- Texas at 12-1 as Big 12 champion.
The Ohio State-Michigan loser is out because it didn't even reach the league title game. You can scratch Georgia in that scenario, too, because it didn't win its conference.
That leaves Texas and Alabama as the only remaining one-loss conference champions available to fill that No. 4 spot. That's where it gets sticky and possibly historic.
Who ya got? First, familiarize yourself with the CFP Selection Committee's protocol. It says, "when the margins indicate that teams are comparable," these considerations apply:
- Strength of schedule, head‐to‐head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie‐breakers between teams that look similar.
In that scenario, if the committee follows its own rules, the SEC would be out of the championship postseason for the first time since before the advent of the iPhone.
- Championships won: Even.
- Schedule strength: The pair are similar at the moment. Alabama is No. 13. Texas is at No. 17, per the NCAA.
- Head-to-head competition: Texas. Before that result, Bama hadn't lost by double digits at home since 2004.
Unless you believe Alabama's strength of schedule is clearly better than that of Texas -- and that gap may widen once the conference championships conclude -- the delineator must be head-to-head.
This isn't Texas vs. Cincinnati or Alabama vs. TCU. We're talking about Alabama vs. Texas -- two of the bluest blue bloods, two programs used to getting their way, two programs filled with entitlement, hubris and … what, exactly, to break this ultimate CFP "tie?"
The answer lies with that super-secret committee room, which continues to be the least-transparent way to determine a champion in professional or college sports. AP voters are allowed to release their AP Top 25 votes each week. FBS coaches release their final ballots in the Coaches Poll. Even the Division I Men's Basketball Committee throws us a nugget with a top 16 list in February.
The CFP long ago decided it didn't have to show its math.
In that sense, it has been lucky to get this far without a major debate at the end of a season. There was the Baylor-TCU issue in Year 1; in 2014, the pair tied for the Big 12 title at 11-1. (There was no championship game at that time.) Baylor won the regular-season meeting over TCU in a major shootout, 61-58. Both were left out on Selection Sunday.
Particularly galling was TCU dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 after winning its final game by 49 points. Ohio State went from No. 5 to No. 4 after shutting out Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes stiff-armed any doubts by winning the first CFP.
This is different -- way different. Never would a head-to-head result have been more impactful in the CFP era. The resulting fallout would turn up the heat on the process a year before the 12-team playoff would have accommodated both teams.
It would also focus attention on that Sept. 9 game. As stated, Alabama simply does not lose much at home. Advantage Texas for a historic breakthrough.
If you want to talk about the Tide having a superior schedule strength down the stretch, well, maybe. To date, the Longhorns have beaten three ranked teams, same as Bama.
"The schedule has set up perfectly for Alabama," Palm pointed out. "Every competent team they played this year they had to play them at Alabama. And they lost one of them."
The point: There is a storm brewing on the CFP horizon, perhaps the biggest of the nine-year system. The possibility cannot be ignored. Both schools have their own networks to make their cases. Both have voices inside the committee room. (Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart would have to be recused.)
Both schools have, gulp, lawyers.
If the BCS era (since 1998) has taught us anything, it's that if you lose, you have no right to argue. One-loss teams in the CFP running at the end of the season are as numerous as (alleged) Jim Harbaugh NCAA violations. The situation at hand is potentially the biggest kerfuffle in CFP history.
A monumental result almost three months previous would make it so.
"It's not a one-game season," Palm said of Sept. 9.
Yes, but it's a game that has to be considered. It is the one outcome that would result in the ultimate game of CFP musical chairs. When the music stops playing, one blue blood would be left out.
One huge question if it comes to that: Who's going to tell the SEC?
Week 12 storylines
Every week seems to have a label: Opening Week. Judgement Week. Separation Week. Rivalry Week. Most of the contrived hype is fairly … weak. Might as well jump into the (betting) pool. What about this being Upset Week? It just has that feel. Something has to give. Nothing would feel better next week than digesting a couple of shockers along with a lot of turkey and dressing going into the last week of the regular season. Behold, then, these possibilities.
No. 1 Georgia at No. 18 Tennessee: Remember when this was Georgia's toughest regular-season test? Remember when Tennessee could score? A Bulldogs win ties the SEC record for most consecutive victories (28). After the Volunteers' debacle at Missouri, that also likely matches the number of points Georgia will have at halftime.
No. 7 Texas at Iowa State: Having to go to Ames, Iowa, in November is a big reason why Texas is going to the SEC next year. This could be the biggest trap game of the season in Texas' last conference visit to Iowa State. This also might be Matt Campbell's best coaching job with the Cyclones. Iowa State (6-4, 5-2 Big 12) has won three of the last four meetings against Texas at Jack Trice Stadium. Weather could be a factor. Running back Jonathan Brooks is out for Texas. Take the Cyclones to officially knock the Big 12 out of the playoff race and to stay in the Big 12 race themselves.
No. 5 Washington at No. 11 Oregon State: Beavers coach Jonathan Smith needs to seriously consider the UCLA job if it comes open ... or the Michigan State job which is currently open. Oregon State is nearing the end of an era as a Power Five program. It gets tougher from here on out to be relevant. In one of the biggest wins in school history, the Beavers knock off the Huskies with a tough running game.
No. 22 Utah at No. 17 Arizona: A backup quarterback who has busted out (Noah Fifita). A defense that is allowing 134 yards less per game. That's Arizona at the moment. Coach Jedd Fisch is killing it. From his 2022 recruiting class, Fisch has developed this season's leader in rushing, receiving, interceptions, tackles for loss and pass breakups. Arizona faces its fifth ranked opponent in the last seven games. There is still a way the Wildcats can reach the Pac-12 Championship Game.
No. 6 Oregon at Arizona State: Anyone else notice one of the central figures in Arizona State's NCAA investigation (former assistant Antonio Pierce) is also the Las Vegas Raiders' interim coach? Pierce was Herm Edwards' recruiting coordinator when alleged recruiting violations during COVID-19. Under Kenny Dillingham, ASU is playing free and easy and well enough to derail the Ducks.
Michigan vs. Everybody: Take Everybody to cover. Michigan blinked when it dropped its legal challenge to the Big Ten's three-game suspension of Jim Harbaugh amid an NCAA investigation into sign stealing. While the Big Ten dropped its investigation as part of the agreement, the net result was commissioner Tony Petitti retaining credibility, leverage and power within the conference. He stood firm, and in the end, his suspension stood, too.
Meanwhile, what does it say about Big Ten football that Michigan (at Maryland) will be without its coach for half the season? Harbaugh will have been suspended for a total of six games. Regardless, the last team to allow less than 10 points per game over a season was Alabama in 2011 (8.2). This season, there are two: Michigan (7.5) and Ohio State (9.9). See you next week.
Week 12 walk off: The Big 12 might have scooped itself this week figure out a tiebreaker in the middle of the season. Or maybe obfuscating was the point.. At the same time, four teams are tied for second place, the league is trying to