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.”
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.