Possibly becoming SEC football's ninth-best team in the 'Playoff Means Everything' era

More than ever before in college football, belief is strong in the power of money to buy championships. What happens when a sizable war chest fails to deliver?
Andy Lyons/GettyImages

To be clear, nothing in this post suggests the Alabama Crimson Tide will not be one of the SEC's top teams in 2024. It is a post about other SEC football teams and what can happen when summer optimism fades to reality.

More than ever before in college football, belief is strong in the power of money to buy championships. One recent claim had the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks spending well above $20M on their 2024 rosters. In terms of SEC football big-dollar clout, no program has a flex equal to the Texas Longhorns. The Horns also deserve an 'in your face' award for a recent line of Lamborghinis at their facility's entrance for recruits.

It is no surprise that Ohio State, Oregon and Texas are part a small group of national title contenders. To the extent there is an NIL funding gap between the three programs and other SEC football contenders, any gaps are not massive. Georgia, Alabama, LSU and other top SEC programs have plenty of cash to spend on players.

What about other SEC football programs that may be dishing out less, but not far below $20M to players? What happens when that largess does not equate to on-field success? Let's consider the situations for the Auburn Tigers and the Kentucky Wildcats. When the two teams meet in Lexington on Oct. 26, it is possible both teams will have three SEC losses. Before that game Auburn has Arkansas and Oklahoma at home and Georgia and Missouri on the road. The Wildcats have South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt at home, along with Ole Miss and Florida on the road. If the October contest pushes one of the teams to a fourth SEC loss, it could portend a regular season finish of no better than the ninth-best SEC team.

A ninth-best SEC finish might produce a post-season trip to Nashville, or Memphis or Birmingham. Would such a return on a $15M investment in players lead to tighter NIL pockets in subsequent seasons? Such hypotheticals are ones Auburn and Kentucky fans do not want to consider.

A more enticing storyline for Auburn fans is conjecture the Tigers could become a Playoff-spoiler. According to ESPN's FPI, there are 25 teams with a better chance to make the Playoffs than Auburn. The ESPN projection for the Tigers is 13.5%. Nine SEC teams have higher predicted Playoff chances.

What Auburn might be able to accomplish is spoiling the chances for some of those nine teams. Auburn plays five of those teams; Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M and Alabama. The Tigers will be a decided underdog in at least four of the games, but an Auburn upset in any of the five could crush a Playoff dream.

Tom Fornelli picked Auburn as one of four possible 'Cinderalla' teams in 2024. Even Fornelli was compelled to admit Auburn was a stretch, "I'll get this out of the way right now: based on my criteria for selecting a Cinderella, I feel safe saying there will not be a Cinderella at-large out of the SEC this season. The league is too deep at the top."

What the Aubies may be left with is enjoying a Spoiler season.