Opinion: Sorry, Clemson, but no College Football Playoff for you. It's an SEC party

·5 min read

Clemson fans should be able to celebrate New Year’s Eve without the stress of a College Football Playoff semifinal.

Clemson isn’t eliminated from the CFP after a 10-3 loss to Georgia on Saturday, but the path to admission is awfully narrow, in part because the remainder of Clemson’s regular-season schedule features no opponents in the Top 25 of the latest USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaches poll.

Clemson flopped in its opportunity for a marquee victory.

The Tigers should score points with the selection committee if their offense improves throughout the season, but how seriously will the committee accept that improvement against a schedule of mostly lackluster foes?

The ACC’s other projected top teams, North Carolina and Miami, also lost their openers, with UNC falling to ACC brethren Virginia Tech.

Georgia Head Football Coach Kirby Smart and  Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talk during pregame warm ups Sep 4, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;  at Bank of America Stadium. (Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)
Georgia Head Football Coach Kirby Smart and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talk during pregame warm ups Sep 4, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; at Bank of America Stadium. (Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)

Clemson will not play UNC, Miami or Virginia Tech until potentially the ACC championship.

With Georgia possessing the head-to-head advantage over Clemson, the Tigers likely would need Georgia to suffer at least two losses to leapfrog the Bulldogs.

Even then, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Notre Dame could block Clemson’s path – and the ACC’s – to the playoff.

The SEC emerged from Week 1 in great shape to have at least two teams earn admission to the playoff. Add in future SEC member Oklahoma, and the CFP once again will be dominated by chants of S-E-C!

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A-lli-ance! doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Anyway, if you’re to believe certain athletics directors or conference commissioners, one of the top priorities of the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 alliance was to support their like-minded academic focus.

And I’m not sure whether the nerd bowl allows celebratory chanting.

SEC isn’t so mighty at the bottom

Some have speculated that the SEC is the strongest it has ever been. The argument holds up when you consider Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M are legitimate CFP contenders.

But the conference also has multiple weak spots, as evidenced in this week’s betting lines.

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Tennessee (hosts Pittsburgh), Mississippi State (hosts North Carolina State), Arkansas (hosts Texas) and Vanderbilt (at Colorado State) are betting-line underdogs, while South Carolina (at East Carolina) is a slim favorite.

Bryce Young, Matt Corral look the part of Heisman hopefuls

Alabama’s Bryce Young displayed poise, vision and maturity to go with a strong arm, mobility and accuracy in a 44-13 win over Miami. He showed he's worthy of the Heisman Trophy hype, despite having never started a game before this season.

Matt Corral also looked the part of Heisman contender in Ole Miss’ 43-24 thumping of Louisville.

Heisman stock down: Georgia’s JT Daniels and Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler.

Of course, Heisman Trophies are won with November and December performances, not September showings.

But if Young and Corral keep playing like they did in their season openers, expect Ole Miss’ game at Alabama on Oct. 2 to also carry Heisman implications.

An early welcome for Texas

SEC expansion is driven by money and television contracts. But from a football appreciation standpoint, the Arkansas-Texas and Texas A&M-Texas rivalries renewing is the best part of the Longhorns joining the SEC. Those rivalries were disrupted by previous rounds of SEC expansion.

Texas and Oklahoma are scheduled to begin SEC competition in 2025, but Saturday offers a prequel. Texas will play at Arkansas, its former Southwest Conference rival, in front of a sellout crowd in Fayetteville (7 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).

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Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman said that if you ask fans who are older than 30 to identify Arkansas’ top rival, they’ll point to Texas, despite the teams not competing in the same conference since 1991.

“It’s what college football is all about,” Pittman said. “If there wasn’t any rivalries, it wouldn’t be any fun. … I think our kids understand (the importance of this game). I really do.”

If the SEC shifts from divisions to a four-team scheduling pod after Texas and OU join, a pod featuring Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri is logical.

The only issue with that is it would interrupt the annual Battle for the Golden Boot between Arkansas and LSU, and you wouldn’t have a guaranteed date between the Longhorns and Aggies.

I prefer an eight-team division format that would include Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, LSU and Texas A&M in the same division. Rivalries galore.

If Will Levis is legit, look out SEC East

Kentucky will host Missouri (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in this week’s most intriguing SEC game. The winner will emerge well positioned to finish as high as second (but more likely third) in the SEC East.

I ranked Missouri third in the SEC East, one spot ahead of UK, in my preseason predictions because Missouri had the more proven quarterback commodity in returning starter Connor Bazelak.

And quarterback dependability counts for a lot.

Quality quarterback play had been the missing element throughout Mark Stoops’ otherwise applaudable coaching tenure at UK. If Kentucky’s Will Levis, a former Penn State backup, plays like he did in Saturday’s rout of Louisiana-Monroe, that snaps in a key piece into the Wildcats’ puzzle.

Bazelak also fared well in Missouri’s win over Central Michigan, but the real star was running back Tyler Badie, who rushed for 203 yards. Badie is a three-star product of Briarcrest Christian in Eads, Tennessee. Credit Missouri’s former coaching staff for spotting a talent whom other SEC staffs missed.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Clemson's path to College Football Playoff narrows. It's an SEC party