The SEC's 7-year stranglehold on the national title finally gave way to the ACC and Florida State with its 34-31 win over Auburn in the final BCS Championship game. Now, let's see what happens with the new 4-team playoff format being instituted this year. Historically speaking, the odds are that the SEC can realistically expect to place 2 teams in the field.
But which two teams?
Virtually everyone thought Alabama was a lock in 2013, but rival Auburn staged a dramatic turnaround under first-year head Gus Malzahn as the Tigers went from 3-9 (0-8, SEC) in 2012 to 12-2 (7-1, SEC) in 2013.
Auburn's 34-28 win over 'Bama in the annual Iron Bowl rivalry game hurdled the Tigers into the SEC Championship contest where they prevailed 59-42 over Missouri.
Florida was a major disappointment in 2013 as the Gators fell over 16 points in the Congrove Computer Rankings power index over the course of the season.
In a remarkable show of restraint by the administration, Will Muschamp was not fired, but the seat is extremely hot entering the 2014 campaign.
In fact, the SEC's stable of head coaches would have remained 100% intact had James Franklin not opted to leave Vanderbilt to assume the head coaching reins at Penn State.
The one-time head coach in waiting at Maryland led the Commodores to unprecedented heights, compiling a 3-year record of 24-15 with 3 consecutive bowl appearances, 2 bowl victories and back-to-back 9-win seasons. Prior to his arrival in Nashville, the Commodores hadn't posted a 9-win season since 1915 and had only played in 4 bowl games. In 2013, Vanderbilt beat Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in school history. The 'Dores closed the 2013 season on a 5-game winning streak after ending the 2012 campaign on a 7-game winning streak. Over the last two years, Vanderbilt was 10-0 in games played after October 26.
The new man in charge is former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. It is the first head coaching job for Mason who also coached defensive backs with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings for three seasons before joining the Cardinal staff in 2010.
Now, here's what the computer says about 2014.
Believe it or not, the made-to-SEC-order playoff format could be void of any SEC teams. As remarkable as that sounds on the surface, the Congrove Computer Rankings have a solid final four with Florida State, UCLA, Ohio State and Oklahoma. All four of those schools are projected to go undefeated while no SEC school is projected to run the table.
Auburn gets a 12-0 regular season forecast, thanks to a win over South Carolina at home, but the computer gives the nod to the Gamecocks over the Tigers in a rematch game for the SEC Championship. Those results would leave both schools at 12-1 and give South Carolina a first-ever SEC title.
The bigger shock to a lot of people will be the projected 5th-place finish in the Western division for Alabama. Most national prognosticators have the Tide as the most likely opponent for Florida State in the national title game. But while Alabama's non-conference schedule is pathetically light (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss), the SEC slate sends Nick Saban's squad to Ole Miss and LSU as the forecasted underdog. Home games versus Texas A&M and Auburn aren't cakewalks either and the computer also has the Tide losing those by close margins.
Can Texas A&M finish 2nd without Johnny Manziel at QB? Can Mississippi actually manage to beat the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2003 and just the 9th time in history?
Arkansas gets a lowly last-place projection in the Western division with a record of just 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC as the other 6 schools are all seen as realistic competing for the SEC title with less than 9 power points separating 1st from 6th. The Razorbacks are 26 power points behind Auburn and nearly 18 behind expected 6th-place finisher Mississippi State.
It's a little more cut-and-dry in the Eastern half of the SEC where South Carolina gets a nearly 10-point edge over projected 2nd-place finisher Georgia. Missouri is another 5 points back of the 'Dawgs.
The most stunning predictions in the Eastern order-of-finish are Florida (5-7) and Vanderbilt (7-5). Will Mushcamp may not last the season as head coach if the Gators struggle as mightily as the forecast suggests, and the Commodores would be a significant surprise to stay above .500 after the loss of Franklin as head coach.