What Georgia’s big win and SEC mayhem mean for Ohio State and Michigan

Shortly after the clock hit zero at the end of last year’s Orange Bowl, a photo began circulating in the Michigan sector of Twitter. The photo captured wide receiver Andrel Anthony, quarterback JJ McCarthy and running back Donovan Edwards – who were all freshmen during the 2021 season – watching Georgia celebrate their lopsided beating of the Wolverines to reach the national title match.

Coupled with a postgame assurance from tailback Blake Corum that Michigan would return to the college football playoffs in 2022, that image has become synonymous with the program’s revival under once-maligned head coach Jim Harbaugh — a visual embodiment of how the Wolverines wanted to claw their way back to national relevance after winning more than 10 games in a season just once since Lloyd Carr’s retirement. If last season was Michigan’s long-awaited breakthrough under Harbaugh, this season was all about proving it wasn’t a fluke.

But any path Harbaugh has taken to win his school’s first national championship since 1997 seems destined to include a rematch with Georgia, whose comprehensive 27-13 victory over Tennessee on Saturday recertified the coach- leader Kirby Smart as both the best in college football and the odds-favorite to lift a trophy in January. Ohio State is the only other Big Ten team with a chance of reaching the playoffs after Illinois was knocked down by Michigan State over the weekend, and the Buckeyes will be asked to bypass the same roadblock in bulldog form if they end up undefeated.

Stetson Bennett drives Georgia to TD

Stetson Bennett drives Georgia to TD

Stetson Bennett led Georgia downfield for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead over Tennessee.

So let’s explore what Georgia’s victory means for the playoff image.

Where does that leave the SECOND?

In addition to clarifying college football playoff standings, Saturday’s showdown between Georgia and Tennessee was almost certainly an SEC Eastern playoff game given that the two schools are in the same division. The Bulldogs improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the conference, while the Volunteers fell to 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the league.

Georgia will be favored in each of its remaining games against Mississippi State (road), Kentucky (road) and Georgia Tech (home) with hopes of finishing the regular season undefeated for the second straight season. Qualifying for the SEC Championship Game with an unblemished record secures the Bulldogs a spot in the playoffs no matter what happens Dec. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Tennessee’s remaining schedule includes three teams that entered the weekend unranked at Missouri (home), South Carolina (road) and Vanderbilt (road). As with the Bulldogs, who are expected to move up to No. 1 in the upcoming CFP standings, the Volunteers have a strong chance of winning to finish the regular season 11-1 and give themselves a shot at reaching the playoffs – depending on how the committee consider Saturday’s loss.

Throughout the conference, LSU controls the SEC West race after beating Alabama on Saturday night. The Tigers (7-2, 5-1 SEC) already hold the tiebreaker against Ole Miss thanks to a 45-20 win over the Rebels last month. Head coach Brian Kelly’s team can earn a trip to Atlanta with three more wins to close out the regular season, and a win in the SEC Championship Game could leave the conference with three legitimate contenders: 12-1 Georgia, 11-1 Tennessee and 11-2 UGB.

LSU fans rush to Tiger Stadium after win over No. 6 Alabama

LSU fans rush to Tiger Stadium after win over No. 6 Alabama

Jayden Daniels’ two-point conversion pass lifted No. 10 LSU to a 32-31 win over the Crimson Tide.

What outcomes are possible in the Big Ten?

A surprising home loss to beleaguered Michigan State on Saturday shattered No. 16 Illinois’ slim chance of reaching the playoffs after a fairytale start to the season under the sophomore head coach. Bret Bielema.

But the Illini still control their own destiny in the upside-down Big Ten West, where a 3-2 conference record puts them one game ahead of Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota – all of which are tied at 3-3 in the league. . Another season of choppy performances means the team that wins the West can do little more than spoiler in the league title game on December 3.

The same can’t be said for the Big Ten East, where either Ohio State or Michigan advance to Indianapolis undefeated barring any unexpected mistakes by their highly anticipated matchup in Columbus later this month. The winner of this game should be a strong favorite no matter what challenge the Big Ten West throws down, and will expect to reach the CFP unscathed. The loser would likely finish the regular season 11-1 and harbor some uncertainty about their playoff bid compared to teams from other conferences with identical records.

There’s also a storyline where the Ohio State-Michigan winner is upset in the Big Ten title game to produce a pair of 11-1 finishers. That’s when the league’s lack of top-tier talent this season could be used against the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

How would a one-loss Big Ten team compare to a one-loss SEC team?

This is where things get dicey for Michigan, whose Charmin-soft non-conference schedule was the main reason the Wolverines sat outside the top four in the CFP’s initial standings last week. Blowout wins over Colorado State (51-7), Hawaii (56-10) and UConn (59-0) — all three of which have freshman head coaches — left the selection committee unimpressed.

If the quality of opponents becomes a major factor in unraveling a group of teams with 11-1 records, the Wolverines could find themselves in an awkward position. Pro Football Focus ranks Michigan’s program strength 83rd nationally and 22nd out of 23 Power 5 teams in the original CFP rankings. Of the contenders, only Clemson, whose schedule strength ranks 87th nationally, will have played a worse roster than Harbaugh’s group – and the Tigers were lambasted by Notre Dame on Saturday.

That yardstick is far more favorable to the Buckeyes, whose season-opening win over Notre Dame trumps anything the Wolverines have on their non-conference resume. Ohio State’s schedule strength ranks 24th nationally and compares favorably to the handful of well-regarded teams in the SEC: LSU at 44, Georgia at 42 and Tennessee at 19.

These kinds of consistently tough schedules are why the selection committee loves the SEC.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with a focus on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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