JOE COX: Can SEC Knock Off Unbeaten Wildcats This Winter? How About Eight-Team Playoff in College F
By Joe Cox
The non-conference foes have been dispatched. Kansas? Check. Texas? Check. UNC? Louisville? Check, check. All finished. If anybody stands between Kentucky basketball and an undefeated regular season, it is…
Well, who exactly? The bottom line is this—the SEC isn’t a very strong conference. It’s been worse, but to say that there is a quality drop-off after UK is an understatement.
RealtimeRPI.com projects the rest of UK’s schedule, and they project the ‘Cats to have the hardest time at LSU on February 10. The Tigers defeated West Virginia and four other teams in the RTRPI Top 100 in the pre-season. Their only losses were in neutral site games against Old Dominion and Clemson. Jarrell Martin leads the SEC in scoring and Jordan Mickey is a rare big man with UK-level skills. If they can score enough from outside to stay in the game, the Tigers could indeed be UK’s toughest test.
The site also projects UK’s final road game, at Georgia on March 3rd, to be a challenge. The 8-3 Bulldogs have three top 100 wins by RTRPI’s reckoning, and no bad losses. Four Bulldogs average double-figure scoring, led by Marcus Thornton, who seems like he’s been at Georgia for a decade or two.
Beyond those two, other opponents who RTRPI projects to come within a dozen points of the ‘Cats (and it projects UK over LSU by 9 and Georgia by 10, for what it’s worth) are at Texas A&M (January 10, projects UK by 12), at Alabama (January 17, projects UK by 11), and at Florida (February 7, projects UK by 12). The closest home foe left? Georgia and Arkansas are projected to lose at UK by 26.
While it’s a mathematically-based site, the calculations make sense. It’s hard to fathom UK having serious trouble at home. On the road? Well, the five schools named above are the most likely suspects, although only LSU seems to even arguably have the talent to pull an upset (although this could change if Florida’s squad stumbles into a proctologist’s office).
It’s safe to say that ultimately, the only opponent UK needs to fear is the enemy within—the team’s untapped potential and sometimes shaky focus. It could be a historic season in the end.
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Now that the cat is out of the bag in regard to college football playoffs, the clamor will begin to increase and extend the playoffs. Yuck. One thing that has kept college football strong is the fact that every single game truly does matter. The bigger the playoff, the less that is true. That said, here is my humble proposal to extend the playoff and keep the regular season alive.
1) The playoff is hereby extended to eight teams. No more. The No. 8 team in the country usually has a legitimate argument to be a national champion. The No. 16 team does not. Period.
2) Conference championships, at least in the power conference, are cancelled. Non-power conferences can have them at will, but they’ll probably cancel them also.
3) Two weeks after the normal end of regular season, the first-round games are played. The No. 8 team will play AT the No. 1 team. The No. 7 team will play AT the No. 2 team. The 3/6 and 4/5 games are neutral site games and are two of the five big bowls. The semi-finals (also neutral site) are two more bowls, and the title game is the fifth bowl. The semi-finals are played on or about January 1st, with the title game being played when it is played this year.
4) No spots are guaranteed, with one exception noted below. No conference may have more than two teams in the field of eight, with an exception that any conference with a streak of two or more consecutive national champions is eligible for a third member. (So there’s a reason for conference loyalty!)
5) The top team from a non-power conference is guaranteed a spot in the field of eight—so long as that team is within the AP Top 25 poll at the end of the regular season.
6) Seedings will generally be based on rank, although the selection committee could jiggle the match-ups to avoid repeats of any regular season games in the first round.
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So this year, how would my plan have worked out?
Alabama would’ve hosted Boise State in the 1/8 game. Oregon would’ve hosted… somebody. Probably Baylor. Arizona is the team that the CFP Poll seems to indicate would’ve been No. 7, but of course, that would be a regular season rematch. So there you go, Oregon hosts Baylor. The neutral site games would be Florida State/Arizona and TCU/Ohio State.
Alabama might’ve lost to Ohio State anyway… but TCU would’ve had its fair shot, and based on how well they played in their bowl game, might well have won their way in. That Oregon/Baylor game would be interesting… but out in Oregon, it’s hard to imagine it’d be anybody but the Ducks. Not sure FSU would’ve survived Arizona.
So how is that better? Well, it’s a lot better if you’re TCU or Baylor or Arizona or Boise. TCU is really the team this year that has a strong argument that they got jobbed out of their rightful spot. Ohio State winning will quiet that some, but if the Buckeyes had been blown off the field, the call would’ve gone out, saying that instead of hosing No. 3, the new system just hosed No. 5.
I know that any cutoff will mean somebody arbitrarily has a gripe. But I think eight is a reasonable number. I like having a non-power conference team in—so long as they are a legitimate top 25 squad. I like rewarding the top two schools with a home game—and their athletic departments would like the ticket revenue.
I’m sure I’m crazy. Feel free to tell me why.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for Kysportsstyle360.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written three books involving UK sports -- 100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Fightin’ Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville (both with Ryan Clark), and Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting (with Alan Sullivan). Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com