The College Football Playoff selection committee strongly endorsed the possibility of a two-loss team as worthy of inclusion when the bracket is unveiled Sunday. That was the big takeaway from the final primetime rankings reveal of the 2017 season.
The committee vaulted 10-2 Auburn all the way from No. 6 to No. 2, ahead of one-loss Oklahoma (in at No. 3) and undefeated Wisconsin (in at No. 4). The only team not ahead of the rampaging Tigers is Clemson, the new No. 1 team after Auburn took down previous No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
If Auburn wins the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday against Georgia, it will become the first two-loss playoff team in the four-year playoff era. Pummeling Georgia and decisively beating the Crimson Tide, coupled with respectable losses to Clemson and LSU, have established Auburn as the hottest team in the country. And the committee is willing to reward the hot team.
The committee remains unwilling to lavish ultimate respect on the Badgers, leaving them two spots behind a two-loss team due to a weak schedule. But Wisconsin is in the top four for the first time this season, which indicates that its place in the playoff likely will be secured with a victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Ultimately, the playoff structure could be simple and drama-free come Sunday: the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference title game between Clemson and No. 7 Miami assuredly will be in; the winner of the SEC game assuredly will be in; and if Oklahoma and Wisconsin win their respective title games, they will be in.
If the Sooners or Badgers lose, it gets really interesting. Or if they both lose.
Oklahoma’s Big 12 title game opponent is TCU, which is still stranded outside the top 10 at No. 11. That may be too large a leap for the Horned Frogs to make the top four, even with a dominant victory over Oklahoma, but it certainly could open up a spot for someone else.
Wisconsin is an underdog against Ohio State, and a Buckeyes victory coupled with an Oklahoma win in the Big 12 could create a showdown in the committee room between 11-1 Alabama and 10-2 Ohio State for the fourth spot.
Alabama fans, stuck on the sideline with the Crimson Tide’s regular season over, can root for TCU early in the day (kickoff is at 12:30 ET). If that game doesn’t work out — the Sooners are favored by seven — their hopes will turn to Ohio State at night (kickoff at 8 p.m.).
The tricky part for ‘Bama will be twofold: rooting for Urban Meyer, which doesn’t come naturally after some of the defeats he has inflicted on the Tide at both Florida and Ohio State; and rooting for a Buckeyes win over Wisconsin that isn’t too impressive.
An overwhelming victory could vault the No. 8 Buckeyes ahead of the No. 5 Tide. But, again, the committee still isn’t putting its full weight of approval behind Wisconsin, which might also diminish the impact an Ohio State win would have.
Aside from TCU, the two other teams that probably saw their playoff hopes dashed Tuesday night were USC and Central Florida. The undefeated Knights never had a realistic chance, having never been ranked higher than their current 14th, to the consternation of American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. USC, at No. 10, got a boost from Pac-12 championship game opponent Stanford vaulting to No. 12 — but beating the Cardinal likely wouldn’t provide enough of a boost to make the bracket.
Thus the stage is set for perhaps the most momentous conference championship Saturday ever. No fewer than seven teams will take the field hoping to play their way into the tournament. College football fans win big; we’ll see what four teams join them in the celebration.
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