After an exhilarating college football regular season, we have finally reached championship weekend. The SEC, Big 12, AAC and Big Ten championship games all carry a ton of significance with each one featuring at least one team ranked in the College Football Playoff committee’s top six. In the case of the SEC, both teams are in the group.
While it is likely we will see all the higher ranked teams win and a fairly predictable final four, Oklahoma State would probably replace Alabama in the top 4, this season has been anything but predictable. Each game could offer a really interesting wrinkle in determining which teams will compete for a national title. Here is the impact each game from championship weekend will have on the playoff.
SEC Championship Game
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on CBS
This obviously has the biggest impact of any game this weekend. Georgia is one of just two undefeated D-I teams in the country this season, Cincinnati being the other. Meanwhile, Alabama has struggled a bit defensively in recent weeks, losing to Texas A&M earlier this season. However, the Tide have won six of the past nine SEC titles. The Bulldogs only have one SEC title since 2005. Kirby Smart has also never beaten his former boss, Nick Saban. There is a ton of the line for both sides and definitely some history to be made.
If Georgia wins…
The Bulldogs will stay at No. 1 and cruise into the College Football Playoff at 13-0. Things become tricky on the other side of the matchup. A two-loss team has never made the final four. Alabama would be 11-2 on the season with a loss. That likely eliminates them, but there are scenarios where the Tide could still get in. However, they would need a lot to go their way. Baylor would have to win the Big 12 over Oklahoma State and at least one of Cincinnati or Michigan would have to lose. That would set up a playoff composed of Georgia, Cincinnati or Michigan, Notre Dame and then one more team. Alabama would likely be up against Baylor, Ohio State and potentially Oregon for that final spot. Perhaps the committee would like to avoid a rematch. It is far from a guarantee, but ‘Bama would be in the mix if it is a close game.
The only other scenario I can think of would be if Michigan and Cincinnati both lost their conference championship games. Regardless of who wins the Big 12, Alabama would once again be in the conversation. Notre Dame could move up to No. 2 if Baylor wins while Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, if it wins the Pac-12, would be in the mix for the final two spots. Would the committee opt for conference champions and pick Baylor and Oregon? Maybe, but it feels more likely that Alabama or Ohio State beats out one of those teams.
If Alabama wins…
The Tide almost assuredly move up to No. 1. Maybe Michigan would, but being the first team to beat Georgia would be a pretty big resume booster. That likely sees two SEC teams in the playoff. Georgia could slide down to No. 3 and face the Wolverines, assuming they beat Iowa. Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and company would all be fighting for the final spot. Georgia is pretty much the only team that could conceivably lose this weekend and comfortably make the playoff. Other teams certainly could if the right results break their way, but I don’t see a scenario where the Bulldogs are left out.
Big Ten Championship Game
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX
Jim Harbaugh finally got that Ohio State-shaped monkey off his back, but Michigan’s job is not done yet. Beating the Buckeyes is a huge momentum boost and should buy Harbaugh some good will with Wolverines fans, but it would be a disappointment not to see them finish the season with a conference championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. On the flip side, it was not that long ago that Iowa was in position to reach the playoff, climbing all the way to No. 2 in the AP Poll this season. Now, the Hawkeyes are just hoping to spoil the Wolverines celebrations and win their first conference championship game.
If Michigan wins…
The Wolverines will be in the playoff and Harbaugh will likely be in line for a further extension that his current deal that runs through 2025. Michigan could climb to No. 1 if Alabama knocks off Georgia, but that could also see the Tide surge right past them. For Iowa, there is not a ton that changes. They will probably be one of the top Big Ten teams to receive bowl invitations. The Citrus Bowl seems to be a likely landing spot.
If Iowa wins…
Rose Bowl baby! A win for the Hawkeyes would see them play in the “Granddaddy of them all”, surging into the top 10 of the rankings as well. For the CFP implications, there are many. Michigan would almost definitely be out. A two-loss non-conference champion stands basically no chance of reaching the playoff, but the Wolverines are ranked at No. 2 right now. If Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and Alabama all lose, there could be a way Michigan sneaks in. Unlikely, I know, but would the committee put Ohio State, whom Michigan just beat, in ahead of them? Maybe the playoff ends up being Georgia, Notre Dame, Baylor and Oregon in that scenario.
A Michigan loss opens the door for a number of other teams to get in. There will be a lot of teams rooting for Iowa to pull off the upset. That being said, it is hard to see the Hawkeyes moving all the way from No. 13 into the top four. Iowa can solely play spoiler.
American Athletic Conference Championship Game
No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Houston
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on ABC
Easily the biggest AAC title game ever, Cincinnati hosts this monumental showdown with Houston. It will be the fifth time that the game will consist of two ranked teams, but this time, there are legitimate College Football Playoff implications. That has to matter. In a year where the ACC has no shot and the Pac-12 needs about six different things to break their way, it is pretty interesting to see the AAC’s place in college football’s national hierarchy. Unfortunately, both these teams are heading to the Big 12 in 2024. Enjoy it while it lasts.
If Cincinnati wins…
Then the Bearcats should be in. It is far from a guarantee. The committee has an unrelenting bias against Group of 5 schools. If Cincinnati were to struggle a bit in the victory and Oklahoma State looks strong against Baylor, we could see the Cowboys leapfrog Luke Fickell’s team. If Alabama beats Georgia, then there is a good chance Cincinnati would get frozen out yet again and the nation would go into an uproar over expansion. Houston will likely find itself playing in some meaningless bowl game despite an 11-2 season.
If Houston wins…
Told you so. That’s what the committee will be feeling. They have questioned Cincinnati’s strength of schedule all year long despite the Bearcats owning one of the best wins in the country. A loss would end Cincinnati’s playoff hopes and potentially drop them out of the top 10. The door would unquestionably open for Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and others to move up and maybe even Alabama to stay in the mix even if it loses. Houston would likely vault into a better bowl game, but don’t expect to see them in a New Year’s Six game. They would likely be playing after Christmas though.
Big 12 Championship Game
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Baylor
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET on ABC
Quietly the only conference outside of the SEC to feature two top-10 teams, the Big 12 is hoping to send a team other than Oklahoma to the playoff for the first time ever. Oklahoma State being ranked above Notre Dame in Tuesday’s rankings definitely opens the door for Cowboys to get in with a win. Baylor could also crash the party, although the committee moved the Bears down a spot after a narrow victory over Texas Tech.
If Oklahoma State wins…
The Cowboys could be in the playoff. Mike Gundy also might be named the mayor of Stillwater. Oklahoma State is going to need just a little bit of help. If Georgia beats Alabama, that likely opens up a spot. As the top ranked team outside the top four, OK State will almost assuredly get the nod. There is even a scenario where the Cowboys could jump Cincinnati, which I touched on earlier. The committee definitely feels Oklahoma State is facing better competition with Baylor at No. 9 and Houston at No. 21. A convincing win could see them get in if Cincinnati struggles. Plus, the Cowboys would have three wins over top-10 opponents.
If Baylor wins…
Things will get really murky. The Bears winning is not enough to get them in. They would certainly need some help. However, beating a top-five team would definitely give their resume a boost and put them in the conversation. If Michigan, Cincinnati and Alabama all lose, unlikely, but possible, Baylor should have a legitimate shot. A Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Baylor playoff could make sense at that stage. If we have learned anything over the years, it is that the committee tends to favor conference champions. Maybe Alabama or Michigan would still get in over Baylor, but it is not out of the question.
However, there is something to be said for the Bears dropping to No. 9. More significantly, they moved behind Ole Miss. The Bears will have a chance to redeem themselves, but that clearly indicates that the committee is not overly impressed by their resume at this point. We have never seen a team jump from this far back into the playoff in the final week of the rankings.
Pac-12 Championship Game
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 17 Utah
Friday, 8 p.m. ET on ABC
Maybe just leave ABC on all weekend, with four conference championship games airing between Friday and Saturday. I already mentioned that the ACC title game has no bearing on the College Football Playoff. There is a chance that the Pac-12 doesn’t either. Oregon and Utah both have at least two losses entering Friday’s game. There is still plenty to play for with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, but the implications on the national landscape are more peripheral.
If Oregon wins…
Could the Ducks make the playoff? Probably not, but apparently anything goes in 2021. Let’s say Georgia beats Alabama while both Michigan and Cincinnati lose. The door suddenly opens for Oregon. Notre Dame would be in. The Big 12 champion likely would be, too, even if Baylor wins. Would the committee take Alabama or Michigan fresh off a loss? How about Ohio State, whom Oregon beat earlier this season? It gets a bit unclear. Likely, Alabama would get the nod, but a Power 5 conference champion would certainly be in the conversation. There is also something to be said for the Ducks avenging their most recent loss of the season.
I’m not saying it is likely, but at that point, the committee would be picking between two-loss Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Ole Miss and Oregon. It becomes an interesting discussion. The fact that Oregon is ranked behind all of them and facing a team outside the top 10 makes it feel unrealistic. Maybe a win by Oregon makes Ohio State’s resume look better? I don’t know. This year has just been so confusing.
If Utah wins…
Go enjoy the Rose Bowl and revel in beating the Ducks twice. Utah will not be in the playoff. This year is weird, but not weird enough for a three-loss team to somehow reach the final four. Mario Cristobal could be headed for Miami though as a result. Food for thought.