This should be easy, with the second word of this story being the most important: SHOULD. Even with the politics and affinity for the Southeastern Conference and other big-name schools, the College Football Playoff committee can’t mess this one up, right? There are only two scenarios that can unfold this week. All four teams that should be in CFP qualifying spots come Tuesday night — Georgia (12-0), Michigan (12-0), TCU (12-0), and USC (11-1)— all play in conference championship games this weekend. It’s the most simple idea to state if they win, they’re in. Because it’s true.
In reality, three of those four teams are in the CFP win or lose this weekend. If Georgia loses to LSU, the Bulldogs’ effort to repeat as national champions is still on. Michigan can’t possibly lose in the Big Ten title game to Purdue, could it? Even if the Boilermakers somehow take the trophy, it’s the New Year’s Six that gets thrown into chaos, not the four-team race for a national champion. Even though TCU won five one-score games this season, even a loss to a strong Kansas State team doesn’t deny the Horned Frogs their first trip to the playoff, negating some of the bad juju from 2010 and 2014.
The three FBS teams to end the regular season undefeated need to be rewarded. Power Five champion or not, and I wouldn’t bet against any of them to get win No. 13 this weekend, all should already have a 100 percent chance of making the four-team field. Then there’s USC. A 1-point loss to fellow Pac-12 Championship competitor Utah is the Trojans’ only blemish. A late Utes’ score downed them on Oct. 15. If USC wins the rematch, it’s in the playoff. No doubt about it. It’s only a matter of the order of the top four. If USC loses the rematch to Utah, the Pac-12 will be shut out of the CFP for the sixth straight season. And there’s only one suitable team to replace the Trojans — Ohio State.
Did the Buckeyes look like a top-four team in the country on Saturday? Nope, and where they would fall from that one performance isn’t particularly close. However, Ohio State would be the only one-loss team left to pick from. The list of teams to not be in a conference championship game with one or zero losses: Ohio State. That’s it. By USC losing a second time, it’d be disqualified. No team has ever made the CFP with two losses. The committee would have nowhere else to turn. The Buckeyes would make it in at No. 4. There’s no other way, meaning the main slate of conference championship games on Saturday would be to jostle for position in the CFP, not acceptance or denial. USC’s bout with Utah is Friday night.
Washington getting smacked by Alabama in the 2016 semifinals was the last time the Pac-12 got an invite to the exclusive four-way dance, by far the longest streak in the short history of the College Football Playoff. The Big 12’s two-year hiatus will end this season, and another team besides Oklahoma will represent the conference in the two-game chase for a title. The Big Ten was shut out in 2017 and 2018. The ACC’s streak, largely held up by Clemson, will extend to a second season after Sunday’s straightforward selection ceremony. The SEC is the only conference to have a representative in every playoff. That’s what hangs in the balance for the Big Ten-bound Trojans.
Any deviation from the scenario above would be asinine from the CFP committee. If TCU gets blown out by Kansas State, it’s prone to drop to No. 4, but that’s it. Georgia and Michigan should be the top two unless they lose, even with a TCU blowout win because of how dominant they’ve looked for long stretches of the season. Should USC lose, it would be interesting to see if the committee avoids giving Michigan the No. 1 spot no matter what, which would also delay a possible rematch between Big Ten rivals. Several months after a Final Four matchup of Duke-North Carolina, getting a huge rivalry game in the postseason must also be whetting the appetites of college football’s most powerful. We’ve narrowed the possible-national-champions list to five. Getting the list to four should be academic. Any alternate timeline would be unwelcome chaos.