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More Likely to Produce a 2-Loss Champion: SEC or Pac-12

Published by Bleacher Report on Thu, 24 Sep 2015

Despite very little common ground between them, the Pac-12 and SEC remain linked like parties in an arranged marriage who hardly know each other. And now after some of their most notable teams have suffered earlier-than-expected losses, they're the central players in yet another hot-button topic:Can a two-loss conference champion earn a spot in the College Football Playoff, beating out a one-loss or unbeaten team from one of the other power leagues' And of these two leagues, which is more likely to end up having its best team finish with two setbacks'Through three weeks of the 2015 season, the Pac-12 is down to just four unbeatens (Arizona, California, UCLA and Utah) while the SEC has six (Georgia, Florida, Missouri, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M). Neither will have more than one perfect team come mid-December, since each conference holds a title game pitting division champions.Early losses by expected league and/or playoff contenders like Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and USC in the Pac-12 and Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee in the SEC has made it so there's a very strong likelihood that, when the dust settles, one or both conferences could end up with not only zero unbeaten teams but no one-loss squads, either.Losing just one game didn't guarantee the best teams a semifinal bid last year, as co-Big 12 champions Baylor and TCU proved, so consider the ramifications of having either the Pac-12 or SEC (or both) miss out on the playoffs because its top candidate wasn't good enough to make the cut.To figure out which league is more likely to end up with a two-loss champion, we first have to break down the remaining schedules of the top title contenders prior to their conference championship games.Pac-12No Pac-12 team has more than one loss at this point, but we're going to take out Colorado, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State from consideration and focus on the eight other schools, four of which have one loss and four of which are unbeaten. Five are in the super-tough South Division while three are up North, though between them there are nine remaining crossover games in addition to their intradivision clashes.Add in USC's trip to Notre Dame and Stanford's hosting of the Fighting Irish, and there are 24 games the Pac-12's best have against each other or Notre Dame.Much of the Pac-12's fate rests in what happens this weekend. UCLA-Arizona and Utah-Oregon are the only matchups of Associated Press Top 25 teams, and USC visits an ASU team that was ranked before losing to Texas A&M on Sept. 5 in the only scheduled game between the Pac-12 and SEC this year."It's a make-it-or-break-it type weekend out West," Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer wrote.Stanford has by far the easiest route. Thanks to its win at USC last week, the Cardinal have essentially negated their opening loss at Northwestern, and they don't face any Pac-12 contender on the road. Arizona comes in next week fresh off either a big win over UCLA or its first loss. Then, after a bye week, UCLA visits The Farm, and Stanford finishes the season with three straight at home against Oregon, California and Notre Dame.UCLA and USC both have four road games against tough opponents, with USC having to visit Notre Dame in addition to its league games while UCLA plays at the Trojans to end the regular season. USC also has to go to Oregon, while UCLA goes to Stanford next month and finishes with two straight on the road (at Utah and at USC).Arizona and ASU both have three road games against contenders, but ASU gets Arizona at home.Three of the Pac-12's four unbeatens (Arizona, UCLA, Utah) are in the South, and lone North unbeaten Cal faces both UCLA and Utah on the road. That further hurts the league's chance of having an unbeaten team come December and increases the likelihood it will be without a one-loss squad as well.Last year the Pac-12 South was won by two-loss Arizona, which then fell to one-loss Oregon in the conference title game. As it stands, the same scenario is very likely in the South, so unless Oregon or Stanford wins out and claims another league crown or Cal takes the North and then the Pac-12 title, this conference won't be offering up a one- or zero-loss champ for playoff consideration.SECArkansas, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have already removed themselves from this discussion by each losing twice in the first three games and thus making it improbable any will be able to run the table. The same applies to Kentucky and Mississippi State, which are each 2-1 but haven't shown enough to indicate they can seriously contend for the SEC title.We could say the same about unbeatens Florida and Missouri and one-loss teams Auburn and Tennessee, but for arguments' sake we're keeping them alive for now.The nine SEC contenders play a combined 19 games against each other, including five East/West crossover contests, and we've also included four nonconference games (Florida at Florida State, Georgia at Georgia Tech, Ole Miss at Memphis, Missouri vs. BYU) that all pose major threats to some of the SEC's best teams. That gives us 23 games that will have the most impact on the league's loss count at the top.Let's start in the West Division, which has dominated the conference both in regular-season crossover games and the league final for several years.Preseason division favorite Alabama and media conference title pick Auburnyes, the Tigers were picked to win the league but not its division, showing how tough the West is expected to be this seasonhave both lost already, and each has several losable games before meeting in the Iron Bowl at Auburn on Nov. 28. That includes each facing East favorite Georgia, with Alabama going to Athens next and Auburn hosting the Tigers in mid-November.Alabama also has to visit Texas A&M, which doesn't leave its home state until mid-October but has to visit unbeaten Ole Miss and LSU. LSU still has to play at Alabama and go to Ole Miss, which thanks to its win last week at Alabama, has a leg up on the rest of the field and might have the best shot to come out of the pack with fewer that two losses.But that's assuming the Rebels don't trip up next week at Florida or stumble at home to one of the top contenders. They also have a dangerous game Oct. 17 at unbeaten Memphis that can't be ignored."It's extremely likely that no team will go through the schedule unscathed, and any having just one loss would be nothing short of remarkable," Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh wrote earlier this week.SEC East contenders Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee are a combined 11-1, with the lone loss by Tennessee in overtime to Oklahoma. The Vols could be knocked out of contention for a one-loss season this week at Florida, and they also have to play a crossover game at Alabama and later visit Missouri.Georgia's only road game against an East contender is at Tennessee, but it also has the dubious task of playing both Alabama and Auburn in crossover games. The Bulldogs also finish the season at Georgia Tech, whom they lost to at home last season.Florida, if it makes it through the rest of the SEC with only one loss, still has to face rival Florida State at home to end the season. The Gators were the last team to beat FSU in the regular season, in 2012.And then there's Missouri, the two-time defending East champion that did so each time despite losing at home to another division contender along the way. The Tigers don't have a particularly tough road slate, the exception being Georgia, and they have won 11 consecutive road games, though a potential pitfall lies with a mid-November game against BYU in Missouri.The East has dropped six straight SEC title games, and assuming that trend were to continue this year, that means even if its champ was unbeaten or had just one loss, a setback in the final would negate them from the two-loss champion conversation. But if the East were to end the six-year skid, it's the side that has the better shot of producing a conference winner that has fewer than two losses.ConclusionThe Pac-12's hope of having a champion with one or fewer losses might boil down to the North Division champion coming out on top since last season's gauntlet in the South showed how difficult it was for someone to emerge from that side without two defeats.The Oregon-Stanford game could be the key to the conference's playoff hopes, though don't count out California being the wild card that comes out as the division and league champ.In the SEC, early results in the West make it probable that its champion will have two losses heading into the conference title game, and if a team did get through with just one loss, it's looking like the East entrant might be better suited to take the title in 2015. This is especially the case if Georgia represents the East, since it will have already faced Alabama and Auburn and would have been well prepared for either a rematch or another game against the West's lineup.When everything is settled and the playoff selection committee is weighing the top candidates from each conference, expect the Pac-12 to be the more likely of the two to have its champ sitting with two losses. There are too many games in which that league's best teams play even before the conference final, while the SEC has enough teams from the East that can get through with one or fewer defeats.Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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