Kirby Smart explains why ranking second in SEC football will become a trap

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. — Kirby Smart wonders about the fate of the SEC’s second-place teams in a 12-team college football playoff, and if that seems like an odd concern for the coach of the two-time defending national champions, remember Georgia’s title team in 2021 did not win the SEC.

Georgia lost to Alabama in the conference championship that year. All that cost the Bulldogs was playoff seeding.

In a 12-team playoff, a loss in the SEC Championship can inflict additional damage. For one thing, without winning the conference, a team cannot earn a top-four seed that unlocks a first-round bye. The delay between the SEC championship and a first-round playoff game is also concerning.

After Georgia’s loss to Alabama in 2021, it had nearly four weeks to recover before facing Michigan in the first round of the CFP. In 2024, when the playoffs expand to a dozen teams, first round games will begin on December 20. The date for the 2024 SEC Championship has not been announced, but it usually takes place on the first Saturday in December. That would leave less than two weeks of recovery time between the SEC championship and the start of the playoffs.

That won’t be a problem for the SEC champion. Likely, the conference champion would earn one of four quarterfinal berths. These byes are reserved for the top four conference champions.

But, the Atlanta loser will experience an unprecedented turnaround from the conference championship to the playoffs. Smart describes such a scenario as a “competitive disadvantage” for the SEC finalist. Hard to argue with his logic.

“You may have to play (two weeks) after you play this (SEC Championship), which is going to be the most physical game you’ll play all year,” Smart said last week at Spring Meetings. of the SEC.

And this trap for a conference finalist won’t just apply to the SEC.

TCU lost in the Big 12 Championship last year but bounced back and reached the National Championship. In a 12-team playoff, however, TCU would have been relegated to a first-round playoff game on a short rest.

Let’s play it further: A team that loses in the SEC Championship could face, say, the third-place Big Ten team in a first-round playoff game. If so, that Big Ten team that fell short of its conference championship will have gained an extra week off, a strange advantage for a team that finished third in its conference standings.

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This scenario can be avoided, of course, by winning a conference championship, but it is nonetheless unusual that finishing second in a conference could, in some cases, be more disadvantageous than finishing third in a conference.

Additionally, a poor performance in the SEC Championship could cost a team a chance to stage a first-round playoff game.

Consider a scenario in which the 2024 SEC Championship features undefeated Georgia versus Oklahoma 10-2. Meanwhile, let’s say Alabama is also 10-2 but ranked third in the SEC, due to tiebreakers.

Next, Georgia defeats Oklahoma in Atlanta.

Nothing would stop the CFP selection committee from catapulting Alabama past the Sooners in the standings, granting Alabama a first-round home game thanks to their superior seeding and sending OU on the road for the first. round, despite Alabama finishing behind the Sooners in the standings. .

It’s a curious setup in which third place could be the best position for an SEC team to 10 conference championship wins on Saturday — stationed at home and resting for a first-round playoff game, rather than facing a undefeated juggernaut in the SEC Championship.

While some have argued that conference championships would lose importance in a larger playoff – conferences like the SEC are likely to qualify both participants for the conference championship, regardless of the outcome – I maintain that conference championships will remain important, due to the way the playoffs are structured. .

Four conference champions will get the ultimate advantage in a 12-team playoff: extra rest, a bye and the assurance of facing a team ranked no better than fifth in their CFP opener.

Meanwhile, the conference finalists will face a more dangerous path to the national championship than Team Georgia in 2021.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Kirby Smart explains why ranking second in SEC football will become a trap

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