Conference Championship weekend is almost here, and there is an onslaught of incredible games lined up on Saturday. Without a doubt, the results of several of these games are going to have serious implications on who makes the College Football Playoff. Each year seems to bring new developments in the committee’s decisions on who makes it, and they are surely going to have their hands full this year.
Here’s the thing though. In my mind, three of the four spots in the CFB Playoff are up for direct grabs on Saturday. I firmly believe that whoever wins the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 championship games will get into the CFB Playoff. The CFB Playoff Committee Chairman said himself that there is very little separation between teams #5-#8. Here’s why I believe this. Let’s take a look at each of the matchups in these three conferences.
Clemson Tigers: The case for Clemson almost does not even need to be mentioned. It is exceptionally simple. They are already the number one team in the country, they win, and they are in, simple as that. The bad loss to the Syracuse Orange in early October will mean nothing. However, a loss and they will not make it.
Miami Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are a peculiar case. Last week, they had just been ranked #2 in the standings. It had seemed inevitable that they were going to be rolling into conference championship week undefeated. But they suffered an upset loss on the road to the Pittsburgh Panthers, bumping them to #7. However, they still crushed the then #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish a couple weeks ago, and also defeated the #13 Virginia Tech Hokies. A win over #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game would surely convince the committee to put Miami into the CFB Playoff.
Auburn Tigers: The case for Auburn, like Clemson, is simple as well. They sit at #2, and play the highest ranked team of any top 4 team during conference championship in #6 Georgia. Auburn has suffered two losses this year, a 14-6 loss on the road against Clemson (rematch pending?), and a four-point loss against the LSU Tigers. Auburn however has something riding for them that no other team in the nation has. They have beaten TWO number one teams this season. Auburn took down #1 Georgia by the whopping score of 40-17 on November 11th, and then defeated the vaunted #1 Alabama Crimson Tide last weekend 26-14. The committee has never put a two-loss team into the CFB Playoff, but that changes if Auburn wins Saturday.
Georgia Bulldogs: For a while, Georgia seemed like the team to beat. The Bulldogs were undefeated, and boasted wins against the ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Mississippi State Bulldogs. They were named the #1 team in the first CFB Playoff rankings before getting smacked by Auburn the following Saturday. But Georgia has not lost since, and following some upsets in recent weeks, find themselves just outside the top 4. They have a good resume, and a win over Auburn Saturday likely pushes them into the College Football Playoff.
Wisconsin Badgers: Wisconsin is the only undefeated team left in the CFB Playoff discussion. The Badgers are 12-0, but lack high quality wins. Wisconsin has beaten two ranked teams in the last three weeks, defeating the #20 Iowa Hawkeyes 38-14, and beating the #24 Michigan Wolverines 24-10. However, both ranked teams they beat had just joined the Top 25 the week of each respective game, so take those wins with a grain of salt. Wisconsin is still considered overrated in the eyes of the CFB world, and a win over #8 Ohio State could silence the doubters, and clinch a spot in the CFB Playoff for the Badgers.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes always seems to be the talk of the town when it comes to the CFB Playoff. They won the first ever CFB Playoff back in 2014. Ohio State also got into the playoff last year, despite not winning or even participating in the Big 10 Championship. The Buckeyes did not help their case later either, getting walloped 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl by eventual National Champion Clemson. The committee has shown sort of a soft spot for Ohio State, and they may do so again this year.
OSU has two losses, a 31-16 loss against the then #5 Oklahoma Sooners back in September, and then a horrendous 55-24 loss against the Iowa Hawkeyes four weeks ago. But the Buckeyes boast quality wins as well in a 39-38 win over the then #2 Penn State Nittany Lions, and a 48-3 blowout of the then #12 Michigan State Spartans. In my mind, a win over undefeated and top 4 Wisconsin will push the Buckeyes into the CFB Playoff.
Here’s the thing. #3 Oklahoma controls their own destiny, as well as Alabama’s. The Sooners take on the #11 TCU Horned Frogs in the Big 12 Championship (which was thankfully brought back). If the Sooners win, which I’m fully expecting them to do so, they punch their ticket to the CFB Playoff. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. However, if they lose, they are obviously out. But even if TCU pulls off the upset, I do not see the committee jumping the Horned Frogs to the top 4. TCU has a decent resume, but have lost two of their last five games. In my eyes, even with a win, TCU will finish as #5 or #6 in the rankings.
An Oklahoma loss opens the door for Alabama. The Crimson Tide are 11-1, and are right outside the top 4 at #5. The Tide have a decent resume, but nothing truly eye opening. They beat the then #3 Florida State Seminoles to start the year, but FSU starting QB Deondre Francois suffered a season ending injury midway through the game. FSU finished the season 5-6, good for second to last in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. So that watered down Bama’s win some.
The Tide did not play another ranked team for over two months, when they beat #19 LSU 24-10 in Tuscaloosa. The following week, Bama narrowly escaped an upset on the road at #16 Mississippi State, beating the Bulldogs 31-24 on the strength of a touchdown with 25 seconds remaining. But Alabama suffered their only loss at perhaps the worst time, the week before the SEC Championship game in a game that had the SEC West up for grabs.
One thing Bama has riding against them is that the CFB Playoff committee has never selected two teams from the same conference to be in the playoff. However, Alabama is still Alabama, and they are not a team you want to see come January; so teams will be relieved if the Crimson Tide find themselves outside of the playoff.
Since I believe that the winners of the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 Championship all clinch bids to the CFB Playoff, the only outlet for Alabama to get in is with an Oklahoma loss. If I were an Alabama fan, I’d be rooting hard for the TCU Horned Frogs this weekend. I do not see an OU loss happening, but it’s college football and anything can happen. Nonetheless, we are in store for several intriguing games during Conference Championship weekend, and the CFB Playoff could look drastically different than it does right now during the selection show on Sunday, December 3rd.