By Ralph Russo
The 12-member College Football Playoff selection committee will gather Saturday in Texas to watch the final weekend of the season play out and then rank the top 25 teams in the country. The top four will compete for the national championship in the sport’s first ever playoff.
How difficult the committee’s job will be depends on the outcome of about a half dozen games to be played Friday and Saturday.
“At that point, we will have had a season long body of work to evaluate, in addition to knowing who the conference champions are,” committee chairman Jeff Long said.
The top four heading into the weekend are in order: Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Florida State. If they all take care of business, there is a good chance that will be the top four on Sunday, too. Probably. Maybe?
But what happens if things don’t go as expected? Let’s dive into the possibilities.
What happens if ….
Missouri beats Alabama?
The unthinkable — at least for many down South. There is a very real possibility the Southeastern Conference would be left out of the playoff. Missouri is ranked 16th in the latest playoff rankings. That’s a long way to go to get in the four-team field. The committee clearly is not loving Missouri’s ugly losses (at home against Indiana and 34-0 to Georgia), so it’s doubtful it will forgive Alabama for losing to the Tigers and allow the Crimson Tide to back into the field. If the Tigers pull an upset, the SEC is going to need a lot of help. The Crimson Tide is favored by 14.5.
Arizona beats Oregon?
The Wildcats are seventh in the rankings, heading into a rematch with Oregon Friday. Two wins away from home against the Ducks would be like holding a pair of aces: tough to beat. It could come down to a resume contest between Baylor and/or Ohio State and Arizona. Don’t bet against the Wildcats making the big jump. The Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott are touting their championship as a playoff play-in game. They might be right. Despite losing the first game, Oregon is favored by 14.5.
Georgia Tech beats Florida State?
Considering the fourth-place and unbeaten Seminoles have been dropping when they win, there’s no doubt they’d be done with a loss. Georgia Tech is 11th and beating Florida State would mean finishing the season with three straight wins against ranked teams. The Yellow Jackets would probably need Baylor (vs. Kansas State) and Ohio State (vs. Wisconsin) to lose to reach the top four, but considering who those teams are playing, that doesn’t seem so like such a stretch. Florida State is favored by 4.
TCU struggles to beat Iowa State?
The Horned Frogs got a pass for squeaking by at Kansas last month. That can’t happen again against a 30-point underdog at home. If it does, it would open the door for either Baylor or Ohio State to replace the Frogs in the top four. With the Bears and Buckeyes in position to add marquee wins to their resumes, the third-ranked Horned Frogs better exert some serious game control against the Cyclones.
Three of the top four teams lose?
Assuming it won’t be TCU, the Big 12 would be looking good to get two teams in the field. TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Arizona sounds about right in this scenario. If Baylor were to lose to K-State, the ninth-ranked Wildcats could become a viable option, though that scenario probably allows Georgia Tech to squeeze through.
Alabama, Ohio State and Baylor lose?
This is how Missouri could get in. Assuming Arizona and Georgia Tech also lose, the final spot with Florida State, TCU and Oregon comes down to Missouri, Kansas State and Wisconsin. Michigan State (eighth) and Mississippi State (10th) would likely come back into the conversation, but neither would have the conference championship that those other three would have on their resumes. And what team would have a better win than Missouri if it takes down the committee’s No. 1 team on a neutral field?
The top six teams all lose?
Long and his crew might have to pull an all-nighter.
The questions with this doomsday scenario are: Could it allow Alabama to back in? Would Mississippi State and/or Michigan State get in? And how bad will the TV ratings be for a final four of Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Wisconsin or Missouri?