How will conference title games Saturday affect ‘Selection Sunday’?

Road to the College Football Playoff: The AJC’s weekly update

Like tens of millions of fans, the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee will watch conference championship games from across the country on television Friday night and Saturday.

The outcomes will determine whether the committee’s weekend assignment – selecting four teams for the playoff – will be relatively simple or extremely complicated.

“We’ll be in a room – socially distanced with masks on, of course – and we’ll watch all 10 of the championship games together,” selection committee chairman Gary Barta said. “It gives us a chance while we’re watching to continue conversation.”

Shortly after noon Sunday on ESPN, the committee’s final Top 25 ranking of the season will be unveiled, and the top four teams will advance to the playoff.

The top four might well remain the same as in the past four weeks – Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State – with perhaps only the order adjusted. But an upset or two Saturday could cause upheaval in the committee’s deliberations at a Grapevine, Texas, hotel.

“It’s 2020, and in this year of chaos we will see if chaos comes to the conference championship games to create chaos for the selection committee,” said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl Inc.

“All the games (throughout the season) matter,” Barta said, “but one of the reasons championship weekend creates a lot of important game evaluation is because in most of those cases … it’s a ranked team versus a ranked team.”

Here’s a look at how the conference championship games figure into the playoff race, or not, at this point:


Who, when, where, TV: No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 7 Florida (8-2), 8 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, CBS.

Playoff ramifications: This game loomed larger in the playoff picture before Florida lost to LSU last week. If the Gators had won that game, an upset victory over Alabama clearly would have put them in the playoff. But now that they have two losses, even an SEC championship likely wouldn’t get the Gators into the playoff, although the selection committee left them some hope by oddly dropping them only one spot in this week’s rankings despite the home loss to a 23-point underdog. Alabama presumably will be the CFP’s No. 1 seed if it wins Saturday and seems to be a virtual lock for the four-team playoff even if it were to lose its first game of the season.


Who, when, where, TV: No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (9-1), 4 p.m. Saturday, Charlotte, N.C., ABC.

Playoff ramifications: The winner obviously is in the playoff. The loser probably will be, too, if it’s Notre Dame, which beat Clemson in a double-overtime regular-season game. But if Clemson, a 10.5-point favorite Saturday, loses to the Fighting Irish for a second time, the CFP’s decision gets interesting. Would the committee keep a two-loss Clemson in the top four, especially if the ACC title game is extremely close? Or would it hold to its history of not putting two-loss teams in the playoff, opening a door for No. 5 Texas A&M (if it beats Tennessee on Saturday) or someone else?

Big Ten

Who, when, where, TV: No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) vs. No. 14 Northwestern (6-1), noon Saturday, Indianapolis, Fox.

Playoff ramifications: Although Ohio State has played fewer games than other CFP contenders and only one game against a team that currently has a winning record, the committee’s rankings to date make it pretty clear the Buckeyes will be in the playoff if they win the Big Ten championship. If 20-point underdog Northwestern wins, the Buckeyes presumably would fall from the top four, triggering intense debate about who should replace them. Double the debate if both Ohio State and Clemson lose.

Big 12

Who, when, where, TV: No. 6 Iowa State (8-2) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (7-2), noon Saturday, Arlington, Texas, ABC.

Playoff ramifications: The selection committee has put Iowa State on the playoff radar by moving it from No. 9 two weeks ago to No. 6 this week, making the Cyclones the highest-ranked two-loss team. If Ohio State or Clemson loses Saturday, it’s possible Iowa State, if it wins the Big 12 championship, could jump ahead of No. 5 Texas A&M into the top four.


Who, when, where, TV: No. 13 USC (5-0) vs. Oregon (3-2), 8 p.m. Friday, Los Angeles, Fox.

Playoff ramifications: None, realistically, what with 12 teams ranked ahead of USC, the highest-rated Pac-12 team.

American Athletic

Who, when, where, TV: No. 9 Cincinnati (8-0) vs. No. 23 Tulsa (6-1), 8 p.m. Saturday, Cincinnati, ABC.

Playoff ramifications: Little to none, based on the committee’s recent treatment of Cincinnati. The undefeated Bearcats have dropped two spots in the rankings the past two weeks without playing a game and now are behind three two-loss teams (Iowa State, Florida and Georgia).

Sun Belt

Who, when, where, TV: No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0) vs. No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette (9-1), 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Conway, S.C., ESPN.

Playoff ramifications: Apparently none, based on the CFP rankings, even though Louisiana-Lafayette defeated No. 6 Iowa State 31-14 in September and unbeaten Coastal Carolina defeated Louisiana-Lafayette in October.

Conference USA

Who, when, where, TV: UAB (5-3) at Marshall (7-1), 7 p.m. Friday, Huntington, West Virginia, CBS Sports Network.

Playoff ramifications: None.


Who, when, where, TV: Ball State (5-1) vs. Buffalo (5-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Detroit, ESPN.

Playoff ramifications: None.

Mountain West

Who, when, where, TV: No. 24 San Jose State (6-0) vs. Boise State (5-1), 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Las Vegas, Fox.

Playoff ramifications: None.