Road to Atlanta: How Tech-Georgia, Bama-Auburn games impact playoff race

Georgia senior safety Dominick Sanders leads the team through the “G” to take on Kentucky last week.



On a recent visit to Atlanta, the man who runs the College Football Playoff resisted indulging in hypotheticals, leaving that fun to the rest of us.

“I think it’s funny that after about Week 6 of the season, people begin to do what-ifs and begin to predict chaos,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “I always know if I hear these two words to sort of turn it off: What if? What if so-and-so wins?

“There are just too many possibilities to speculate about, and we’ve got our hands full dealing with what has happened to this point in the season without trying to predict what might happen in the future.”

That approach may work for the selection committee tasked with picking four teams for the playoff. But for most people who follow college football, no such restraint is necessary.

So heading into the final weekend of the regular season, let’s look at what various outcomes in Saturday’s Georgia-Georgia Tech and Alabama-Auburn games might mean in the playoff race:

If Georgia beats Georgia Tech: The SEC Championship game would become a clear play-in for the playoff for the Bulldogs. They're currently ranked No. 7, but a win over Tech and a win over Alabama or Auburn on Dec. 2 surely would vault them into the top four as a one-loss SEC champion. "If Georgia beats Georgia Tech, the SEC Championship game winner will be in the playoff, whoever it is," said Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, who follows the playoff process closely.

If Georgia Tech beats Georgia: The Bulldogs would drop in the rankings, perhaps out of the top 10, far enough to be reduced to playoff longshot. But a subsequent win in the SEC Championship game would stir debate about whether a two-loss SEC champion Georgia should make the playoff even with a loss to Tech. It would be a tough sell to the committee, but isn't completely out of the question, depending on what happens elsewhere, Stokan theorized.

If Alabama beats Auburn: This would send an undefeated Alabama to the SEC Championship game, where it could clinch the playoff's No. 1 seed by beating Georgia. And even with a loss to Georgia, the Crimson Tide might have a shot at the playoff as a 12-1 SEC runner-up, if results elsewhere fall favorably. That probably would have to include a Wisconsin loss in the Big Ten title game and/or an Oklahoma loss in the Big 12 title game, Stokan suggested.

If Auburn beats Alabama: This would send Auburn to the SEC Championship game, where a win over Georgia could make the Tigers the first two-loss team in the playoff. But an Auburn win in the Iron Bowl wouldn't necessarily end Alabama's playoff chances, because an 11-1 Alabama without an SEC Championship game berth still might have a shot at reaching the four-team field, depending on what happens with contenders elsewhere. Stokan wonders what the committee would do if faced with a choice of a one-loss Alabama or a two-loss Big Ten champ Ohio State.

Such hypotheticals prove Hancock’s point: “just too many possibilities …”

“Something unexpected is going to happen somewhere this weekend that is going to impact this thing,” Stokan said.

On to the rest of our weekly update on college football's road to Atlanta, where the national championship game will be played Jan. 8. . . .


Games this week that could have an impact on the playoff picture:

No. 1 Alabama (11-0) at No. 6 Auburn (9-2), 3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS: One or the other of these teams has played for the national championship in seven of the past eight seasons.

No. 2 Miami (10-0) at Pittsburgh (4-7), noon Friday, ABC: Coach Mark Richt's Hurricanes try to complete an undefeated regular season before meeting Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

No. 3 Clemson (10-1) at No. 24 South Carolina (8-3), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: A win over South Carolina, followed by a win over Miami, would put Clemson in the playoff for the third consecutive year.

No. 4 Oklahoma (10-1) at home vs. West Virginia (7-4), 3:45 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: The Sooners are playoff-bound if they beat West Virginia, which will play without injured quarterback Will Grier, and then survive TCU in the Big 12 championship game.

No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0) at Minnesota (5-6), 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Despite its unimposing schedule,  Wisconsin likely will find its way into the playoff if it beats Minnesota and then Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

No. 7 Georgia (10-1) at Georgia Tech (5-5), noon Saturday, ABC: Georgia hasn't lost at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1999.

No. 9 Ohio State (9-2) at Michigan (8-3), noon Saturday, Fox: Ohio State doesn't control its own playoff destiny, but if it beats Michigan and Wisconsin, it has a chance.


Q. What was the selection committee’s rationale in flip-flopping Miami and Clemson this week, lifting Miami from No. 3 to No. 2 and dropping Clemson from No. 2 to No. 3? 

A. "Miami continues to strengthen their resume," committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said. "They have shown progress, especially in these last three weeks. They continue to protect that undefeated record and (show) characteristics of championship-caliber teams. When you get down the way Miami did to Virginia two times, once in each half, and you have the poise and the ability to come back and win in a convincing manner, that is special. It was the selection committee's view that Miami strengthened their resume just enough this week to give them that slight edge over Clemson."

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