2024 now or never for three SEC football coaches

Three SEC football coaches have such easy paths to the Playoffs, coming up short will badly damage future chances.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In the current Playoff-or-bust environment of college football, not making the 12-team field means a failed season for every ambitious program. The SEC is heavily populated with ambitious programs.

On3's Andy Staples predicts five SEC football teams will make the first 12-team field. Realistic or not, probably another three or four SEC football teams believe they can contend for a Playoff slot.

In December, when the CFB Playoff Selection Committee announces the field, disappointment and celebration may be in close to equal proportion across the SEC. Because of schedule disparities, access to the final 12 is not equal. Unless the Selection Committee does an outstanding job, the Playoff selection process may be considered unfair.

Many college football experts are predicting Georgia, Texas, and Alabama will make the Playoffs. Using the prediction of five teams from Andy Staples, some good SEC teams will be left out. Saying the SEC has eight Playoff contenders requires Oklahoma to be considered. The Sooners are a stretch with one of the SEC's most difficult schedules. The other four believed to be in contention are Ole Miss, LSU, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Josh Heupel should be able to continue building the Tennessee program without making the Playoffs. At the least, he would get another season. Situations are different at Ole Miss, Missouri, and LSU. For Lane Kiffin, Eli Drinkwitz, and Brian Kelly 2024 is the 'now' to be a Playoff team. Circumstances differ for each program, but like Heupel, none should get fired for a 2024 Playoff exclusion. Even so, their programs would suffer considerably.

What Kiffin, Drinkwitz and Kelly share is their 2024 schedules are so much easier than the rest of the SEC. A fair question their fans can ask is if not now, when, and is the answer possibly never?

According to the ESPN FPI, the easiest SEC schedule belongs to Missouri. In the SEC's bottom three, LSU and Ole Miss have slightly tougher schedules than Missouri. The Sporting News also calculated the strength of SEC schedules and unlike the FPI, the method used is available for review. As with ESPN, Missouri, Ole Miss and LSU have the SEC's easiest schedules. The Sporting News concluded that the LSU and Ole Miss are almost equal.

The bottom line is the same for each program. There will be no credible excuse for missing the Playoffs. Drinkwitz, Kiffin, and Kelly would limp into the offseason with the 2025 prospects for their programs badly damaged.

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