It’s hard to fathom Missouri making the College Football Playoff’s inaugural semifinals after checking in at No. 16 in Tuesday’s rankings.
The Tigers, 10-2, who are ranked 14th by The Associated Press and 13th in the USA Today coaches’ poll, checked in behind three three-loss teams — Mississippi, Georgia and UCLA — in the Playoff committee’s estimation.
Missouri is the lowest-ranked team, based on the committee’s poll, with a chance to win a power-five conference championship.
That leaves quite a few hurdles for the Tigers to clear even if they make it over perhaps the biggest one — beating No. 1 Alabama, 11-1, in the SEC Championship Game at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which would give the program its first conference crown in 45 years.
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No. 5 Ohio State and No. 13 Wisconsin, who meet in the Big Ten championship game, are both ranked ahead of Missouri.
No. 2 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona, who will clash Friday in the Pac-12 title game, also are ranked ahead of the Tigers.
No. 4 Florida State, the undefeated reigning national champion, plays No. 11 Georgia Tech for the ACC crown.
The Big 12, which no longer has a conference championship game, is more muddled, but the winner when No. 9 Kansas State faces No. 6 Baylor in Waco, Texas, is guaranteed at least a share of the title.
No. 3 TCU only needs to beat an Iowa State team that’s winless in conference play to earn a share of the Big 12 crown.
Of course, Missouri, which lost home games to Indiana (which was 1-7 during Big Ten play) and to Georgia (a 34-0 shutout), still wants to be considered for the inaugural College Football Playoff if it can stifle the Crimson Tide.
After all, the SEC champion reached the BCS national championship game in each of the last eight seasons before the new playoff format was instituted for the 2014 season.
“I think so,” Tigers sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said when asked if Mizzou belonged in the playoff if it beats Alabama. “You’re going to say the SEC champion is not one of the final four teams when the last however many years they’ve played for a national championship? But at the same time, I’m not worried about that. Whatever comes after this game comes. Right now, we’re focused on beating Alabama and get better this week.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had a similar message. He wasn’t up for drum-beating during Monday’s weekly news conference.
“Those things take care of themselves,” Pinkel said. “I don’t make predictions. We’re just doing what we do. This is the next game, and we’re focused on wanting to play well. Whatever happens, happens.”
With a win against the Tide, the Tigers would have an excellent chance to leapfrog five idle teams that are no longer in their conference’s title mix — No. 8 Michigan State, No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 12 Mississippi, No. 14 Georgia and No. 15 UCLA — but that still likely wouldn’t be enough.
A playoff that doesn’t include any of its teams is a nightmare scenario for the SEC.
“We have an outstanding league,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We have a lot of good teams. The fact that we play each other, end up beating each other, probably hurts a little bit relative to the quality, especially of our division. … (But) I would think that somebody in our league qualifies to be one of the better four teams in the country based on the quality of the league, the good teams that we all have to play.”
If Missouri wins, that may not be the case.