LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia gave the College Football Playoff selection committee an easy task this week, at least at the top of the rankings: All four won Saturday, solidifying their spots for the second straight week when the weekly rankings were released Tuesday night.
The question, then, remains which team will rise should one of those teams falter over the season's final weeks. (And considering that LSU and Georgia are likely to meet in the SEC championship game, one of those teams indeed will falter.)
Will it be No. 5 Alabama, which probably won't even play in its conference championship game and will move forward without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who's out of the season with a hip injury suffered in Saturday's win over Mississippi State? No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah will have a case should either emerge from the Pac-12 with just one loss, as will No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 14 Baylor(substitute Big 12 for Pac-12). No. 8 Penn State and No. 10 Minnesota also linger on the fringe, though both have tough roads ahead; the Nittany Lions will be somewhere around 18-point underdogs Saturday at Ohio State.
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The top 10
Here's the path to the playoff for the top 10, with the full rankings listed below:
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Here's a look at three things that could happen, based on their varying levels of chaos:
LSU, Ohio State and Clemson win out, giving the committee little to think about apart from seeding with regard to those three teams.
Without Tagovailoa, Alabama falters against Auburn to end its regular season.
A one-loss champion, either Oregon or Utah, emerges from the Pac-12 to fill out the bracket.
LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and the Pac-12 winner (Oregon or Utah) are your College Football Playoff teams. A one-loss Big 12 champion would have an argument, but neither Oklahoma nor Baylor looked great down the stretch.
LSU and Georgia both win out to close the regular season, but Georgia beats LSU in the SEC championship game. Alabama wins out with a backup quarterback to finish with one loss.
Ohio State loses to Penn State but beats Michigan. Penn State defeats Rutgers to end the season and advances to the Big Ten title game. Minnesota loses to Wisconsin, which advances to the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers defeat the Nittany Lions, giving the Big Ten a two-loss champion but a one-loss non-champion, just like the SEC.
Clemson has the easiest path. Let's assume the Tigers win out to finish undefeated.
A one-loss champion emerges from both the Pac-12 and Big 12.
This scenario gives us three one-loss SEC teams - Georgia, LSU and Alabama - and one has to think the Crimson Tide would be the odd team out. So pencil in Georgia, LSU and Clemson. The committee would then have to choose between Ohio State, Oklahoma or Baylor, and Oregon or Utah. Considering Ohio State's dominance this season, the Buckeyes would seemingly have the edge. It would echo the 2017 season, when Alabama didn't make the SEC championship game but still got into the playoff with one loss.
All hell breaks loose
LSU loses to Texas A&M. Alabama wins out. Georgia also loses to Texas A&M but then beats Georgia Tech and then LSU in the SEC title game, leaving Alabama as the sole one-loss SEC team (without its star quarterback).
Clemson loses to South Carolina or in the ACC title game, making the Tigers a one-loss team with an underwhelming strength of schedule.
Penn State beats Ohio State, which then beats Michigan to end the regular season. Minnesota closes the regular season with two wins. The one-loss Gophers beat the Nittany Lions again in the Big Ten title game.
Utah loses to Arizona or Colorado, and Southern Cal beats UCLA, giving the Trojans the Pac-12 South title. Four-loss USC then beats Oregon in the conference title game, ensuring everyone from the Pac-12 has at least two losses.
The Big 12 champion - let's assume it's Oklahoma or Baylor - finishes with two losses.
What's the playoff field then? Alabama (11-1 in this scenario), Clemson (12-1), Ohio State (11-1) and Minnesota (12-1)? Alabama, Ohio State, Minnesota and LSU (11-2)? Alabama, Ohio State, Minnesota and Georgia (11-2)? Clemson, Ohio State, Minnesota and Georgia? Basically, it would boil down to how the committee regards a two-loss SEC champion, and/or whether a one-loss Alabama (which couldn't even win its division) playing with a second-string quarterback is more worthy than a one-loss Clemson (which played an easy schedule).