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Should You Take the SEC or the Field to Win the 2014 College Football Playoff?

Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin catches the game-winning touchdown pass during the second half of the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game against Auburn Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 14, 2014

Different verse, same as the first?

The SEC dominated the BCS, winning nine of 16 titles from 1998 to 2013, including seven of the last eight. But it's a new day in college football, one that includes the four-team College Football Playoff.

Will the SEC's dominance continue?

Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron
Former Alabama QB AJ McCarronDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

Las Vegas seems to think so.

Of the 10 teams with the best odds to win the national championships, according to VegasInsider.com, five of them are members of the SEC. But the road to college football glory takes a turn this year with the playoff.

Two more teams in the meaningful postseason means more opportunities for SEC teams to get in, but also more opportunities to stumble and fall. If presented the choice, would you take the SEC or the field if you had to choose one to win the inaugural College Football Playoff national title?

The choice is simple—take the field.

Unless there are really no other options, it's unlikely that the SEC—or a team from any conference—will get multiple teams into the four-team playoff. Sure, the selection committee can wax poetic about taking the four best teams regardless of resume, as CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock did last month at SEC Media Days.

"The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached," he said.

CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock
CFP Executive Director Bill HancockButch Dill/Associated Press

As I wrote last month, it also has a stated goal of emphasizing conference champions and an implied goal of making this a national spectacle. Those goals will take precedent over merit, which is a major problem.

Besides, even if it does land a second team in the four-team playoff, that team likely wouldn't be attractive.

"For the SEC to get a second team in the playoffs, that team would either be off an SEC Championship Game loss, or be a team that didn’t even finish first in their division," said R.J. Bell, founder of Pregame.com. "I don’t want to bet on that."

Alabama and LSU played in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season.
Alabama and LSU played in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On top of that, you have top-tier programs from around the country—including defending national champion Florida State—with much easier paths to the playoff that would almost certainly get in the way of a second SEC team and perhaps even an undefeated SEC champion.

"Not only do you get the defending national champions (who power rate better this year than last) but you get the likes of Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, UCLA and a host of other power conference teams with much more forgivable schedules," said Todd Fuhrman, Vegas insider for Fox Sports 1 and OutKickTheCoverage.com.

Yes, the most talented players in the country typically gravitate toward SEC programs; and yes, more likely than not, an SEC team will be one of the favorites to win the national title. But many of the so-called favorites this year outside the conference are teams built as SEC clones.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston (left) and head coach Jimbo Fisher (right)
Florida State QB Jameis Winston (left) and head coach Jimbo Fisher (right)Harry How/Getty Images

Take Florida State, for example.

The Seminoles won the title last year with a head coach who has an SEC pedigree in Jimbo Fisher. Fisher spent 13 years as an SEC assistant at Auburn (1993-1998) and LSU (2000-2006), and has built his program as a virtual mirror image of the one Nick Saban had at LSU and has at Alabama. That program is fresh off a national title, has returning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback and a roster littered with 4- and 5-star talent.

"Right now, most oddsmakers believe Florida State would be favored over any other team in the nation," said David Purdum, a journalist who has covered the sports betting and gaming industry for six years. "So if the Seminoles were to reach the championship game, they’d likely be the favorite. Grabbing them at even money, per your hypothetical, in addition to the other top-tier contenders makes the most sense to me."

Toss in an Ohio State program that's entering its third year under former Florida head coach Urban Meyer—a man who knows a thing or two about building championship programs—an Oklahoma program that is fresh off a two-touchdown victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a locked-and-loaded Pac-12, and the field should have the edge on the SEC heading into the season.

Of course, though, that's why they play the games. 

 

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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