No. 1 Georgia avoids CFP rankings chaos one more week

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, MVP running back Najee Harris, and defensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hoist the SEC trophy while celebrating a 52-46 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban, MVP running back Najee Harris, and defensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hoist the SEC trophy while celebrating a 52-46 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

ATHENS -- The final tweaking is done. The next College Football Playoff rankings, which comes out Sunday, will be the final one, and the only thing we know for sure is it will be different than the one announced Tuesday night on the weekly selection show.

Undefeated Georgia (12-0) remained No. 1 for the fifth consecutive week following its 45-0 win over Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs head into Saturday’s SEC Championship game as a one-touchdown favorite over Alabama (11-1), which remained No. 3 Tuesday despite needing four overtimes to knock off a 6-6 Auburn team on The Plains on Saturday. ESPN’s panel of experts believes Georgia would remain among the four semifinalists even if it loses to the Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But there are a bunch of teams ranked just outside of the top four rooting for the Bulldogs to take care of business against Bama. With conference championships being conducted across the Power 5 -- with the notable exception of Notre Dame, of course -- No. 5 Oklahoma State is Georgia’s biggest fan Saturday. If the Cowboys (11-1) are able to beat No. 9 Baylor (11-1) in the Big 12 title game, they’ll be the team to fill the void in the top four left by the Crimson Tide’s exit.

If Alabama were to lose, the main question would be what happens at Nos. 3 and 4. Would Cincinnati simply move up one spot with an American Athletic Conference Championship game win over No. 21 Houston, or would the Bearcats’ stay at No. 4 and get leapfrogged by an Oklahoma State squad with three top-15 victories, including back-to-back defeats of No. 9 Baylor and No. 10 Oklahoma?

ESPN’s panel was split on the issue. Joey Galloway thought the Bearcats would need to display “some style points” in a win over Houston to stay ahead of the Cowboys. A victorious Georgia would be very interested in the other outcomes, as No. 1 opens against No. 4. The Bulldogs could either get a rematch of last year’s Peach Bowl against the Bearcats or face hot Oklahoma State team for the first time since a 2009 loss in Stillwater.

Likewise, there remains paths in for No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1), No. 7 Ohio State (10-2) and Baylor (11-1), if any of the other title games do not hold form. However, the Fighting Irish might have trouble moving up. As an independent, their season is over without a conference championship game. Also, coach Brian Kelly quit to take the LSU job. Selection committee chairman Gary Barta said Tuesday that the committee does have the latitude to take into consideration player and coach absences for the final rankings.

The big move this week was Michigan moving up to No. 2 with its 42-27 win over Ohio State. The Wolverines (11-1) are in if they’re holding the Big Ten championship trophy after Saturday’s game against No. 13 Iowa (10-2). The Buckeyes fell five spots to No. 7.

“I would just tell you the committee was not surprised at the way Michigan played -- maybe, like everybody, a little surprised at the way the score ended up -- but just a complete team,” Barta said in a teleconference call with reporters. “And that’s how the committee’s felt about Michigan now for quite a while. And they showed it in a championship environment.”

If “chalk wins,” as the saying goes, then the Bulldogs will be the only one of the semifinalists to have previously played in the playoff. But should Bama beat Georgia for a seventh consecutive time and the rest of the teams hold form, there wouldn’t likely be a route for new blood to move up.

There’s more at stake for Georgia than just vanquishing the beast that has been Bama. The No. 1 seed in the semifinals gets to select which location it wants to play in. This year, that would be either the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, or the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The Bulldogs haven’t played in the Orange Bowl since 1960. But nostalgia aside, they might prefer the controlled variables that come with playing in an indoor building such as the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

Lose to Bama on Saturday, and such decisions get made by someone else.

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