It was painful at times in 2014 to watch and listen to the talking heads of college football try to figure out the College Football Playoff early in the season. Each week, a new, hot team was inserted into the conversation on the back of a win that passed the eye test.
More often than not, that new, hot team was from the SEC West.
The process began when Texas A&M took down SEC East foe South Carolina in the highest-profile game on opening night of the season. The win shot the Aggies up the rankings, subsequently giving a quality opponent (and win) to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama in consecutive weeks. Before we knew it, some of those same talking heads had Mississippi State, Ole Miss and either Alabama or Auburn — three teams from the same division — theoretically occupying three of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
We now know how far off those predictions were. The question remains, did we learn anything?
What I learned was that given the parity of the SEC West in most years, it will be quite an achievement for one of the teams — forget two or three — to make its way through the division, into the conference title game and onto the Playoff this season and beyond. This doesn't even take into account the uncertainty around the division heading into the 2015 season.
Alabama, the highest-ranked SEC West team in Athlon Sports' Preseason Top 25, lost their starting quarterback to graduation and two of the most prolific offensive weapons in the country to the NFL Draft. On defense, they lost one of the best safeties in the nation. All told, 28 players from the SEC West were drafted by NFL teams a little more than a month ago.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
That's a lot of impact-making positions for every team in the division to fill.
I'm not one of those people who is going to jump on board and say the SEC West is without a doubt the best overall division in college football, but I'll argue all day that it will be the most competitive this season. On paper, all seven teams have a shot at walking away with the division championship. All seven are in Athlon's Top 25 to start the season and obviously, all seven will play each other.
You are talking about a seven-way game of full contact paper, rock, scissors.
Few people outside the diehard fans of the seven SEC West teams realistically expect any one of those squads to run the table. I'll personally be shocked if the champion has two or fewer losses heading to Atlanta for the conference title game.
And that begs the next question: Can a two-loss team qualify for the College Football Playoff.
Given the small sample size we have from last season, I'd say the answer is a resounding "NO." We had borderline pandemonium trying to figure out which one-loss team would be left out of the mix. Looking around the country at how we expect the other Power 5 conferences to shape up, I'd say it would be a shock if three of the four other conference champions finished their campaigns with more than one loss. Taking that into account, a two-loss SEC West champion would then find itself in a marketing war with at least one other conference champion — with the target audience being the College Football Playoff committee.
And that's only if the SEC West champion can get past a team from the East in Atlanta.
College football is always changing, and it appears that the rest of the nation may have caught up to the SEC — particularly the SEC West — in this new system. The irony of all of this is, trumpeting an entire group of teams as elite over the years may have actually started a cannibalistic domino-effect in recruiting and subsequent on-field competitiveness that ends up being detrimental rather than beneficial in the current state of college football.