Greg Sankey says SEC won’t panic over conference expansion race

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ATLANTA — The Southeastern Conference is a leading player in the dramatic changes to the national football landscape. New Louisiana State coach Brian Kelly likens them to a game of musical chairs, and warns there’s not enough chairs for every school.

“That’s the current state of college football,” Kelly said Monday at SEC media days, a high-pressure game to find a desired conference.

The SEC will become a 16-team conference in 2025 with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma. The Big Ten recently countered by voting to add Southern California and UCLA as conference members beginning in 2024.

Kelly’s former school, Notre Dame, may be the biggest prize in the expansion race. It continues to operate as an independent school in football but would be an attractive addition for any league.

Might the SEC have interest in another power grab? SEC commissioner Greg Sankey didn’t go that far: “It is a compliment that people from all across the country and all across the globe want to be a part of the Southeastern Conference.”

In an apparent reference to the Big Ten’s reach into California, Sankey said the SEC won’t be pushed into an expansion competition.

“There’s no sense of urgency in our league, no panic and reaction to others’ decisions,” Sankey said. “We know who we are. We are confident in our collective strength, and we are uniquely positioned to continue to provide remarkable experiences, educationally and athletically, along with world-class support to student-athletes.”

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, who previously was at USC, said he doesn’t like to see traditions and rivalries end.

“When you go to places, you’ve been to USC, all these different places, you see how passionate fans are about certain things, what matters, rivalries,” he said. “For those to be dismantled for money is kind of a shame.”

Kiffin also said the challenges for USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten are not the same as what Texas and Oklahoma will face when adjusting to the SEC.

“You know, they’ve been playing in great conferences and against great opponents,” Kiffin said of the four schools. “I mean, I just say how it is. I don’t know that there’s a huge jump into the Big Ten. I think going to the SEC is a whole another animal. … Said it for a long time: The SEC just means more. And it does. It’s different, it’s ahead of the game.”

The SEC has won three consecutive national championships in football: Georgia beat Alabama in last season’s all-SEC championship game. LSU won the 2019 title, followed by Alabama in 2020.

Sankey was careful to mention those most recent championships before adding that four different SEC teams won four consecutive national titles in a stretch that began in 2007: LSU, Florida, Alabama and Auburn. A sixth SEC team, Tennessee, won the 1998 championship.

“I’ll let you make the comparisons between us and our colleagues as it relates to national championship success in football,” Sankey said.

The SEC is seeking to maintain its edge while other conferences are trying to improve their standing in the national title picture.

“In this environment, I’m proud to say in my view, I think in the view of our entire membership, the Southeastern Conference is stronger now than at any other time in our history,” Sankey said.

Clearly, the SEC is open to adding to that strength.

“We know who we are,” he said. “We’re confident in our success. We’re really looking forward to the expansion and being at 16 teams. Don’t feel pressured to just operate at a number. But we’ll watch what happens around us and be thoughtful but be nimble.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”