SEC football teams’ playoff dilemma: How many losses are too many?

Imagine an SEC team playing eight ranked opponents in the upcoming 2024 college football season.

That might very well be the reality for Florida, with a murderer’s row possibly never seen before starting Nov. 2 with the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” vs. Georgia (preseason No. 1 in ESPN’s last SP+ rankings), then at Texas (preseason No. 4), home against LSU (preseason No. 10), home against Ole Miss (preseason No. 8), culminating at Florida State on Nov. 30 (preseason No. 12).

Not that the Gators are expected to compete for the college football playoff this year, but it exemplifies the downside of having such a stacked SEC conference and something I highlighted in the three ways SEC teams could get screwed in the college football playoff.

SEC athletic directors were on the offensive at last week’s SEC spring meetings in Miramar Beach, Fla.  My favorite line came from Alabama AD Greg Byrne, who wasn’t afraid to add some biting sarcasm. (CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd did a good breakdown of their collective feistiness.)

​​”If you played a tough schedule, a 9-3 team better be considered,” he declared emphatically. “I’ve heard we’re pretty good in football in the Southeastern Conference.”

Three losses will be the rare exception, given that it’s only seven at-large teams that will get into the mix with that fifth conference champion almost always knocking out the 12 seed. Last year that would have been Oklahoma (with a 10-2 record) knocked out by No. 23 ranked Liberty (with a 13-0 record) by virtue of the Conference USA winner being the fifth highest-ranked conference champion.

Confused yet?

Bottom line, while an undefeated, ACC champion Florida State being controversially omitted from last year’s four-team playoff will now be a thing of the past, a 9-3 SEC team will have a tough time getting into that top eleven.

So let’s say Georgia and Texas are going to remain in that top five throughout the season. They and their fan bases will only be sweating out that first-round bye. 

That means there could very easily be a scenario where Alabama, Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or another surprise SEC team could be sweating it out with a 9-3 record with some tremendous wins as part of its resume for the College Football Playoff Committee. And it could be more than one team with three losses.

For all of the SEC ADs’ swagger, only two of the thirteen members of the 2024 College Football Playoff Committee are directly tied to the SEC – Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek and former Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel.

That third loss could be the dagger that sinks a lot of SEC teams’ playoff dreams this year.