Road to the College Football Playoff: Will the top four teams win this weekend?

It’s conference championship weekend. The College Football Playoff field is nearly set, but there’s always potential for disruption.

“The interesting thing is, it’s never gone to chalk on championship weekend,” said Gary Stokan, who’s president of Peach Bowl Inc. and knowledgeable about the playoff selection process. “So something will likely happen that could cause some changes.”

No. 1 Georgia overcame a lackadaisical start Saturday to defeat Georgia Tech and go 12-0 for the second consecutive season. The Bulldogs face LSU in the SEC Championship game, and a victory would ensure the Bulldogs the top seed and that they would play their semifinal contest in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

No. 2 Michigan earned perhaps the best win of the season by throttling Ohio State on the road. The Wolverines, feeling good about themselves after defeating the Buckeyes in consecutive seasons, would be the No. 2 seed with a victory over Purdue this weekend in the Big Ten Championship game.

It gets a little more intriguing here. No. 3 TCU faces Kansas State with the Big 12 title on the line. The Horned Frogs are a win away from a perfect season and their first CFP berth. But if they lose, it could open the door for No. 5 Ohio State.

“If TCU lost to Kansas State, they (TCU and Ohio State) would each have one loss,” Stokan said. “Neither would be a champ. What do we do? So that could get real interesting.”

No. 4 USC dominated Notre Dame last weekend, its second consecutive win over a ranked opponent after defeating UCLA in its previous game. All that stands between the Trojans and a CFP berth is Utah, the team that handed USC its only loss (by one point). Like TCU, it’s win and you’re in for the Trojans.

It’s that simple: If the teams that are supposed to win do so, the field is set. In that case, the group would include three undefeated teams and a one-loss conference champion.


No. 11 Utah (9-3) vs. No. 4 USC (11-1), 8 p.m. Friday at Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas), Fox: USC makes the CFP with a victory. Quarterback Caleb Williams also appears close to securing the Heisman Trophy. Lincoln Riley’s recruiting pitch to quarterbacks just keeps getting easier.

“I think it’s up to Caleb,” Stokan said. “If he has a good game against Utah, he probably can close the door.”

No. 10 Kansas State (9-3) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-0), noon Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas), ABC: The Horned Frogs are one win from an undefeated season. This would be their first CFP berth, and they would join Oklahoma as Big 12 schools to make the CFP.

No. 14 LSU (9-3) vs. No. 1 Georgia (12-0), 4 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, CBS: Georgia has won 27 consecutive regular-season contests. They’ve lost one game in the past two seasons – last year’s SEC Championship game against Alabama. They’ll go for their second SEC title under Kirby Smart on Saturday.

Purdue (8-4) vs. No. 2 Michigan (12-0), 8 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis), Fox: The Wolverines should roll here, but there’s a reason they play the games. They would be the CFP’s No. 2 seed with a victory.

On any other CFP hopefuls:

No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama will hope the chips fall in a way that justifies their place in the discussion. The Buckeyes just lost by 22 points at home, so the margin and recency bias won’t help. The Crimson Tide lost twice, but each game – at Tennessee and at LSU – came down to the final play.

How could it happen? If TCU and/or USC loses. Even with losses, Georgia and Michigan seem safe. Could the committee favor a one-loss Ohio State over a one-loss TCU, with neither team winning its conference? Would a two-loss Alabama leap a one-loss TCU or a two-loss USC? It’s interesting conversation if it reaches that point.

Ohio State and Alabama are the only other schools that might have a path. LSU blew its opportunity by losing to Texas A&M last week. Clemson was upset by South Carolina. The Volunteers gave up 63 points to South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, which apparently was a large factor in them being ranked one spot behind Alabama, a team they defeated on the field. Oregon was upended by rival Oregon State last weekend, and while Washington won, it lost one too many games and sat out the Pac-12 Championship game.

So there are your six: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC, Ohio State and Alabama. And if the weekend goes as expected – a dangerous assumption – then the CFP field is set.