- Alex Scarborough, SEC reporter
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Sadly, college football's version of the NCAA tournament doesn't reach anywhere near 64 teams. There's no 5-12 matchup to roll the dice on. There's no play-in game to whet your appetite.
But that doesn't mean there can't be a Cinderella on the gridiron.
Teams can come out of nowhere to reach the big game. It happens all the time. Remember when Boise State toppled Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? Only two years ago, Auburn went from 3-9 to 12-2 and in Pasadena, California for the BCS National Championship Game. You could even argue that Ohio State winning the playoff after losing both its starting quarterbacks and barely beating out a Big 12 team to get in was something of a fairy tale.
So the question becomes who will be 2015's Cinderellas? Does the shoe fit anywhere in the SEC?
Tennessee: As one SEC coach told me recently, "Tennessee, where were they two years ago?" The answer, of course, was nowhere. Phillip Fulmer was long gone. The ghost of Lane Kiffin still hung somewhere over Rocky Top. And Derek Dooley was still a favorite punching bag. Butch Jones was only getting started and in 2013 he and the Vols finished with an unspectacular 5-7 record. Now, they're on the cusp. They're still young, granted, but after reaching and winning a bowl game with almost no experience on either the offensive or defensive lines last season, you have to recognize there's potential there. In a lackluster SEC East, the road to Atlanta isn't exactly treacherous. Win there and you're likely in the playoff. From there, it's all about the roll of the dice.
Arkansas: The same question that SEC coach had about Tennessee two years ago applies to Arkansas as well. Houston Nutt was long gone. The ghost of Bobby Petrino still hung somewhere over Razorback Stadium. And John L. Smith was still a favorite punching bag. In 2013, Bret Bielema was only getting started. The Hogs went winless in the SEC and people questioned whether Bielema's brand of smash-mouth football from Wisconsin could work at Arkansas. Now that message has changed after the team took an almost inexplicable jump forward. Despite a difficult schedule, Arkansas won eight games, including a bowl win over Texas. Their road to Atlanta is more difficult in the West against the likes of Alabama and LSU, but with a veteran quarterback and two of the best running backs in the country, there's a formula there that could lead to even more success.
Texas A&M: Don't picture John Chavis wearing a glass slipper. Instead imagine him as the glass slipper. Stay with me here because Chavis is the key. If he can work the same magic he did building LSU into a defensive powerhouse at Texas A&M, then the sky's the limit. There's talent there with players like Myles Garrett and Daylon Mack. And on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin has an embarrassment of riches. One top-ranked quarterback will win the job, whether that's Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray. Whoever is under center will then have a couple potential stars at receiver in Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. If the offense keeps putting up points like it has in the past and Chavis brings the defense out from the dumps, then the Aggies could make some noise in 2015.
Who will be 2015's Cinderellas? Does the shoe fit anywhere in the SEC?