Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I’ll unveil 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Let’s continue with the No. 9 seed … Ole Miss.

Why the Playoff path exists

In 2 of the past 3 years, Lane Kiffin’s squad would’ve been in the 12-team Playoff. This year’s team should be better suited to hang with the big boys as an 11-win team that ranks No. 22 in FBS in percentage of returning production. That’s not about the skill players, which you never really question with a Kiffin-coached team. Yeah, Jaxson Dart coming back is key, as is having the best group of pass-catchers in America with Tre Harris, South Carolina transfer Juice Wells, the underrated Jordan Watkins and likely preseason All-SEC tight end Caden Prieskorn.

But the difference with this team is in the trenches, where Kiffin has gone super portal-heavy to beef up Ole Miss’ chances of bridging the gap between itself and Georgia.

Related: Looking to place a bet on the 2024 Heisman Trophy? SDS has you covered with all the latest odds!

The additions of former No. 2 overall recruit Walter Nolen and Florida All-SEC edge rusher Princely Umanmielen were pivotal, especially after the return of former Georgia Tech transfer Jared Ivey and former Auburn transfer JJ Pegues. Suddenly, the defensive line is the group that Kiffin is most excited about. Without those game-changers up front who can consistently get off blocks, Ole Miss’ ceiling has been limited. No longer is that the case.

Let’s also remember that the schedule has “double-digit wins” written all over it. LSU, Oklahoma and Georgia are the only teams that Ole Miss will face that won 8 games last year, and including Kentucky, there are just 4 Power 5 (it’s the “Core 4” now) teams that went to a bowl game last year.

Ole Miss can lose 2 of those games and still be set up well to have a spot locked in at 10-2, especially if it can win convincingly against some of those lesser foes.

The potential roadblock

There’s not 1 obvious thing here because while I could point to some questions on the back end of the defense or if the offensive line will gel, the potential roadblock is … the lack of opportunity for quality wins.

A 9-3 Ole Miss team might not get the benefit of the doubt if the best win is at South Carolina or home against Kentucky. Those 3 aforementioned games — at LSU, against Oklahoma and Georgia — will have a ton of eyeballs. In theory, Ole Miss can go 1-2 in those contests and still have Playoff life, but let’s also remember that means no slip-ups.

Related: Who will win it all in 2024? Saturday Down South has the latest betting odds for who’ll win the next national championship!

While the schedule is as favorable as Ole Miss can ask for, it’s not without some hurdles. It would be devastating to suffer a road loss at South Carolina (Williams-Brice will be 110 degrees in early October), at Arkansas (Kiffin is 2-2 vs. Sam Pittman) and at Florida (9-4 at home under Billy Napier during 2 losing seasons). Those are the losses that Kiffin has done a masterful job of avoiding.

In regular-season games against teams that aren’t Alabama (0-4), Georgia (0-1) or LSU (2-2), Kiffin is 30-6. That’s why Ole Miss has a regular-season over/under of 9.5 wins (-115 on DraftKings). Without Alabama not even on the regular season schedule and with the 12-team Playoff allowing for a 10-2 nonconference champ to make the field, roadblocks aren’t nearly as obvious as they once were for Kiffin.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

I know 40% will sound low, but remember that this is a true road game for Ole Miss. Before 2023, Kiffin had 1 career win against a Power 5 team that went on to win 9 regular-season games, and it was when he led 2011 USC to an upset at No. 4 Oregon. Then in 2023, he beat LSU (9 regular-season wins) and Penn State (10 regular-season wins).

But I bring that up because the last time that Kiffin won a true road game against a Power 5 team that won at least 8 regular-season games was that 2011 upset at No. 4 Oregon.

Here are Kiffin’s true road wins against Power 5 teams that finished with a winning record (excluding limited crowds in 2020):

  • 2009 at Kentucky (7-6)
  • 2010 at Arizona (7-6)
  • 2011 at Oregon (12-2)
  • 2012 at Washington (7-6)
  • 2021 at Tennessee (7-6)
  • 2021 at Mississippi State (7-6)

To recap, Kiffin has been a head coach for 12 seasons and he has exactly 1 road win against a Power 5 team that went on to win 8 regular-season games. That’s noteworthy. It’s noteworthy how Ole Miss’ résumé is perceived as a team that I have on the outside looking in at the SEC Championship. The difference between that 8-seed and the 9-seed is everything because of the home-field advantage.

The same path that could open the door for Ole Miss to make the Playoff could be what puts it at a disadvantage with that Round of 12 matchup.

And if it’s a trip to Tuscaloosa for that 8 vs. 9 matchup? To quote Kiffin, get your popcorn ready.

Predicting the Playoff will continue on Tuesday with No. 8 … Alabama.