The four-team field for the College Football Playoff won’t be announced until shortly after noon Sunday, but this weekend’s conference championship games have greatly simplified the selection committee’s decisions.
Georgia's 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC Championship game Saturday will open the No. 4 spot in the committee's rankings, and Oklahoma's overtime victory over Baylor in the Big 12 title game put the Sooners in position to join Ohio State, LSU and Clemson in the top four.
The biggest decision the committee might face at this point is whether LSU, ranked No. 2 by the CFP the past two weeks, should move up to the top seed.
“I think we’re a darn good football team,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said after the rout of Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “We don’t know (if we’ll be the top seed). And I told the team it doesn’t matter.
“It don’t matter where they rank us or where they tell us to go. We’ve got to win the next game. That’s all that matters.”
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow put it this way: “Look, we’ll play anybody anywhere. You can take us to Canada, and we’ll play on a gravel lot. It doesn’t matter where or who we play.”
While LSU made its case for the top seed by dominating Georgia, Ohio State -- ranked No. 1 by the CFP the past two weeks -- made its case to hold on to the top spot with a dominant second half in a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game Saturday night. Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Ohio State won 34-21.
Also Saturday night, No. 3-ranked Clemson routed Virginia 62-17 in the ACC Championship game.
LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are all undefeated, while Oklahoma is 12-1.
By the time the Georgia-LSU game began, the playoff race had been reduced to five contenders: the top four teams in the committee’s most recent rankings (Ohio State, LSU, Clemson and No. 4 Georgia) plus No. 6 Oklahoma.
One contender had been eliminated Friday night when No. 5 Utah lost 37-15 to No. 13 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game. If Utah had won, it would have been in prime position to move into the top four – and the playoff – with a Georgia loss. But Oregon’s win meant the Pac-12 would be shut out of the playoff.
That left Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor to fight for playoff positioning in the Big 12 Championship game. Oklahoma defeated Baylor 30-23 in overtime in a game that ended about 25 minutes before the Georgia-LSU kickoff. The win put the Sooners in position to reach the top four, provided LSU beat Georgia.
The 13-member selection committee -- consisting of current athletic directors (including Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury), former coaches and others -- watched the conference championship games together this weekend at a hotel/conference center in Grapevine, Texas. The group will reconvene Sunday morning to finalize its rankings, which will be announced at about 12:15 p.m. on ESPN.
The Nos. 1 and 4 seeds will meet in one playoff semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the other. One semifinal will be played in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the other in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., both on Dec 28.
Whether the Peach Bowl gets the 1-vs.-4 matchup or the 2-vs.-3 matchup will be determined by the committee Sunday. The protocol for deciding which matchup goes to which semifinal site calls for the committee to give “preference” to the No. 1 seed, “weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for its fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium.”
The No. 1 seed could be assigned to the Peach Bowl because both the Ohio State and LSU campuses are considerably closer to Atlanta than to Glendale. Peach Bowl Inc. CEO Gary Stokan said he won’t get advance notice from the committee of his bowl’s matchup. He’ll be watching ESPN at 12:15 Sunday.
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