Conference championship games will steer final stretch of road to CFP

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett calls a play at the line of scrimmage against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett calls a play at the line of scrimmage against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The AJC’s weekly update on the College Football Playoff race

The College Football Playoff selection committee will watch a series of conference championship games on television Saturday and then choose four teams for the playoff.

The championship games in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and American Athletic Conference will weigh heavily on the committee’s final rankings, which will determine the CFP semifinal matchups.

“Winning a conference championship is … not the only factor we consider, but it is an important piece of information,” committee chairman Gary Barta said on a conference call this week. “We’re not looking for any one thing in those championship games. We’re looking to see what that adds to what we already believe about those teams.”

The 13-member committee will gather for the weekend at a hotel in Grapevine, Texas.

“We’ll all watch the games together,” Barta said, “and you have an opportunity to talk while you’re watching, which is really invaluable.”

Their verdict – their rankings – will be unveiled on ESPN in a live show beginning at noon Sunday. The top four teams will reach the playoff, with No. 1 facing No. 4 in one semifinal and No. 2 meeting No. 3 in the other. The semis will be played in the Orange and Cotton bowls.

The top five teams in the committee’s next-to-last rankings earlier this week -- No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Cincinnati and No. 5 Oklahoma State – will be in action Saturday in conference championship games that will run from noon until about midnight. It’ll be Georgia against Alabama in the SEC, Michigan against Iowa in the Big Ten, Cincinnati against Houston in the AAC and Oklahoma State against Baylor in the Big 12. If the favorites win all four of those games, the committee’s work might be pretty simple.

“I think if Georgia wins and Michigan wins and Cincinnati wins and Oklahoma State wins, then those are probably your playoff teams,” said Gary Stokan, president of Peach Bowl Inc. and a close observer of the playoff selection process.

But if there’s an upset or two, the committee’s deliberations will become much more taxing.

The hardest decision could involve No. 6 Notre Dame if Saturday’s results fall in such a way that the Fighting Irish, who lost coach Brian Kelly to LSU this week, are being considered for a top-four ranking. Barta confirmed that the CFP’s “protocol” allows the committee to consider the unavailability of a coach (or player) in determining where to rank a team.

Heading into the weekend, only Georgia appears to be a near certainty for the four-team playoff regardless of what happens on the field Saturday.

“The way they’ve dominated the season, I don’t think there’s any doubt Georgia will be in the top four (even if it loses to Alabama),” Stokan said. “In that case, I think you’d have Alabama and Georgia in.”

What’s next for UGA?

After the Georgia Bulldogs’ first loss of the season to Alabama, what happens next?

The Bulldogs fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and are set to face No. 2. Michigan (12-1) in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

Journalists from the AJC are providing complete coverage of the SEC Championship and the decisions on Sunday about the College Football Playoffs.

Readers will find updated coverage in print and ePaper editions, the AJC app and on ajc.com.

Sunday ePaper College Football Extra: Expanded photos and coverage of UGA and the SEC Championship

On Twitter: Follow UGA reporter Chip Towers @ctowersajc, @AJCSports and @ajc

On Facebook: UGASportsNewsNow

On Instagram: @ajcnews

Championship Saturday: Scores from all the conference title games

Latest UGA updates

Here’s a closer look at the four league title games with playoff ramifications:

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who, when, where, TV: No. 1 Georgia (12-0) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1), 4 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, CBS.

Playoff ramifications: Georgia will be the No. 1 seed if it beats Alabama, and the Bulldogs’ resume is strong enough to withstand a loss to the Crimson Tide without falling out of the top four. Alabama obviously will be in the playoff if it defeats Georgia, but if the Tide loses an extremely close game, debate could ensue about whether Bama should become the first two-loss team to make the CFP. The answer would hinge on what happens in other leagues. Losses by Michigan, Cincinnati and/or Oklahoma State would increase the odds of a two-loss Alabama getting in.

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who, when, where, TV: No. 2 Michigan (11-1) vs. No. 13 Iowa (10-2), 8 p.m. Saturday, Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis), Fox.

Playoff ramifications: A Michigan win would seal a playoff berth for the Wolverines, but an Iowa win probably would leave the Big Ten without a team in the playoff. Iowa is ranked too low to have a realistic shot of reaching the top four even with an upset win. Big Ten team Ohio State is ranked No. 7, but has losses to Michigan and Oregon.

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who, when, where, TV: No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. No. 21 Houston (11-1), 4 p.m. Saturday, Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati), ABC.

Playoff ramifications: Cincinnati is well-positioned to become the first team from a “Group of Five” conference to make the CFP if it defeats Houston. But the Bearcats still might need a loss by Michigan, Alabama or Oklahoma State to seal a spot. A Cincinnati loss, combined with an Oklahoma State loss or other chaos, could open a door for Notre Dame in the top four. “A Cincinnati loss is crucial for Notre Dame because there’s no way they’re going to jump an undefeated Cincinnati with a head-to-head loss (to the Bearcats),” Stokan said.

BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who, when, where, TV: No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. No. 9 Baylor (10-2), noon Saturday, AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas), ABC.

Playoff ramifications: Oklahoma State seemingly can make the playoff with a win over Baylor and a loss by Michigan, Alabama or Cincinnati. If all three of those teams and Oklahoma State win, the selection committee could have to choose between an undefeated AAC champion Cincinnati and a one-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma State. Stokan predicts the committee would move Oklahoma State ahead of Cincinnati in that scenario. If Baylor beats Oklahoma State, the Big 12 likely would be shut out of the playoff. It would require complete chaos above for Baylor to get from No. 9 into the top four in one day.

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