As chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, Jeff Long zeroes in on action throughout the nation. But his primary focus on Friday was on Arkansas, where he serves as the athletic director.
“I have games on VCR, a lot of them,” Long said.
Undoubtedly the weekend study plan will include Arizona’s victory over Arizona State that put the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He and other committee members will pour over other games as they prepare for their weekly meeting and unveiling of the Top 25 ranking on Tuesday, which, as the final hint before the announcement of the four-team bracket later that week, will draw a captive audience.
The team that Long and the committee may spend the most time evaluating this week is one he witnessed Friday.
Suddenly, Mizzou is part of the playoff conversation by virtue of their 21-14 victory over the Razorbacks that clinched the SEC Eastern Division championship for the second straight year.
Next week in Atlanta, the Tigers will face Alabama or Mississippi State. Either way, Missouri will be an underdog, familiar ground for a team that has stunned everybody but itself in a 10-2 season.
Why not be surprised? Losing to an Indiana squad that needs to beat Purdue to avoid a winless Big Ten record, and getting hammered by Georgia 34-0, not only pushed the Tigers into a corner to salvage its season, but it also allowed the rest of college football to dismiss them as a national player.
Missouri responded with six straight victories and jumped past Georgia in the division race when the Dawgs flat-lined against Florida.
Now, the Tigers are a complication for the committee, or can be winning the SEC championship.
If Missouri wins its first conference crown since the 1969 Big Eight, the Tigers will stand 11-2, sizzle like a firecracker, hoist the trophy of the top-rated league and, unbelievably, possibility cost the SEC a spot in the playoff.
What happens if the SEC championship finishes with two losses, and the champions of the four other conferences own better records?
Florida State of the ACC takes a perfect record into the Florida game. Oregon of the Pac-12, the Big Ten’s Ohio State and Baylor and TCU of the Big 12 each have one loss and could all finish that way.
All along the idea has been the SEC, as the game’s kingpin conference, would be in good shape with its champion owning a similar record to other champions. The bracket has room for four spots and there are five power conferences. The SEC champ, if it looked like the others, wouldn’t be omitted.
But if the SEC champion has the worst record among five power conference winners, the playoff committee could be faced with the prospect of an SEC-less bracket, and the freak-out reaction from its fans would bust the meter.
Here’s another wrinkle: Alabama and Mississippi State win Saturday and Missouri beats the Tide, leaving the Bulldogs with an 11-1 record but without an SEC title game appearance.
Could the committee select Mississippi State, currently fourth in the rankings, over SEC champion Missouri, even if the Tigers would have just defeated the Bama team that had beaten Mississippi State?
If so, Mizzou would seem to have a major gripe. That is, until they’re reminded of the Indiana and Georgia losses. No other contender for a bracket spot would have multiple unsightly blemishes.
Two more victories by Alabama or Mississippi State pushes the committee’s attention elsewhere, but not considering a confetti shower for the Tigers in the Georgia Dome next week is a risky proposition.
Yes, the SEC East is inferior to the West. The Tigers avoided meeting the Alabama and Mississippi schools during the regular season. They lost to Indiana of all teams. But Mizzou has perhaps its most complete defense of the Gary Pinkel era, clutch players and a belief they’ll beat every opponent.
Complicate playoff matters? Mizzou clearly has the ability.