There was nothing spectacular about the College Football Playoff selection committee’s Week 12 offerings on Tuesday night — not on the surface.
For consecutive weeks, the Suits chose to go with chalk, leaving us only to wonder how far down Oregon would fall (No. 12) after its thrilling loss to Washington, and if this might be the first time in recent memory that the Pac-12 boasted more ranked teams than the SEC (yes).
With just two weeks left in the regular season and one increasingly important conference championship weekend left to play before the final seeding is set, we do have some answers.
Four control their fate
No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU are not just the top four teams in the Week 12 rankings but the only teams that have total control over their route to play in the CFP. And it’s a really simple formula.
Win, and they’re in.
Of those three, Georgia is the only one that could take a loss in its conference title game and probably still make the CFP. The defending national champs have been that dominant in games against ranked opponents, and that dominant in the best league in the sport.
Ohio State and Michigan will sort themselves out on Nov. 26 at the Shoe in “The Game” (Noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). If the Buckeyes and Wolverines take care of business against Maryland and Illinois, respectively, this coming weekend, they’ll meet as undefeated opponents for the first time since 2006.
Like the winner of “The Game,” TCU can’t afford a loss and still make the CFP.
There are just nine teams with a realistic chance to move into the CFP’s Final Four: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 TCU, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 USC, No. 9 Clemson and No. 13 North Carolina.
With the exception of Tennessee, all of these teams have clinched or could clinch a spot in their respective league title games over the next two weeks. And that’s about as clear as the playoff picture gets.
Like 2017 Alabama, Tennessee could rise into the No. 4 spot in the CFP as a matter of simple practicality over the loser of Ohio State-Michigan. In that scenario, the Vols would become the second SEC team to make the CFP without playing for the league championship.
While the CFP’s criteria state that conference titles are indeed one of its important data points, that has not stopped the committee from putting Notre Dame into the CFP — twice. With the best résumé in the sport among one-loss teams, the Vols are in a position to give us a dose of déjà vu.
If UGA is seeded No. 1 and the Vols are seeded No. 4, Tennessee would be forced to play UGA for the second time this season in what would basically be a road game in Atlanta’s Peach Bowl. It also would cap off what has been a magical season for the Vols, who earned a No. 1 ranking for the first time this century and beat Nick Saban’s Alabama for the first time ever.
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RJ Young breaks down the route to the CFP for the Horned Frogs, Trojans, Tar Heels and Volunteers.
It also just might be the Vols’ year to be David to Georgia’s Goliath.
It’d be just as cool to see TCU cap off its undefeated season with a CFP appearance, too. The Horned Frogs were in a three-way debate for the final spot in the 2014 CFP with conference rival Baylor and Ohio State.
The committee selected the Buckeyes, and OSU made that decision hold up by winning the national title. But it hasn’t been seen that way in Fort Worth.
For seven years, TCU fans have believed the Horned Frogs would have achieved what the Buckeyes did — or at least should’ve been given the chance. Now, the small Christian university surrounded by stockyards has a chance to rodeo straight into the Show.
And there’s nothing more Texas than kicking in the door because you were once turned away after a polite knock.
Clemson could sneak into the playoff if three teams in front of the Tigers take an extra loss — notably TCU, Tennessee and USC.
If North Carolina was to run roughshod over Clemson to win the ACC title game, that would definitely draw the CFP committee’s attention, but the Heels’ low ranking — lower than USC, the Pac-12’s best hope to make the CFP for the first time since 2016 — just doesn’t make it feel realistic.
What this all shaping up to be is an excuse for the committee to put three SEC teams into the CFP for the first time. If LSU upsets Georgia in the SEC title game, the committee might have to weigh the Bayou Bengals — and LSU’s two losses — against an undefeated Big 12 champion (TCU), an undefeated Big Ten champion (Ohio State or Michigan), a one-loss Pac-12 champion (USC) and a one-loss ACC champion (Clemson or North Carolina).
And should TCU trip into a loss, it’s difficult to see how the CFP would not pick one-loss Georgia, an undefeated Big Ten champ, one-loss Tennessee and SEC champion LSU for its Final Four, all hell would break loose.
The expanded playoff can’t get here fast enough.
Here are the latest College Football Playoff rankings:
1. Georgia (10-0)
2. Ohio State (10-0)
3. Michigan (10-0)
4. TCU (10-0)
5. Tennessee (9-1)
6. LSU (8-2)
7. USC (9-1)
8. Alabama (8-2)
9. Clemson (9-1)
10. Utah (8-2)
11. Penn State (8-2)
12. Oregon (8-2)
13. North Carolina (9-1)
14. Ole Miss (8-2)
15. Kansas State (7-3)
16. UCLA (8-2)
17. Washington (8-2)
18. Notre Dame (7-3)
19. Florida State (7-3)
20. UCF (8-2)
21. Tulane (8-2)
22. Oklahoma State (7-3)
23. Oregon State (7-3)
24. NC State (7-3)
25. Cincinnati (8-2)
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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