NFL Draft Daily: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

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NFL Draft Daily: Does Bo Nix have a future in the NFL?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

In a somewhat surprising move, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix announced he is going to enter the transfer portal after graduating from the university. Nix had been a three-year starter and won SEC Freshman of the Year back in 2019.

After arriving in Auburn with a ton of fanfare, Nix is the son of former Auburn quarterback Pat Nix, it seemed like Bo was set to deliver on the hype. He helped take down No. 11 Oregon in his first collegiate game and capped off the regular season with a win over No. 5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. NFL scouts were certainly paying attention, waiting to see if Nix could take the next step in his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, injuries, inconsistent play and questionable decision making all side tracked Nix over the past two seasons to the point where the NFL does not even seem to be an option at this point. There is zero draft buzz around him despite being a former five-star recruit who just started for three years in the SEC.

His level of play has not really merited much draft consideration, Nix has yet to top 16 passing touchdowns in a season and often struggles with accuracy, but he checks pretty much all of the physical boxes to be an NFL quarterback. At 6’3″ with a strong arm and plus athleticism, he has many of the things quarterbacks coaches crave. Don’t get me wrong, he needs a ton of work on his footwork, processing and decision making, but those are aspects of the game that often improve with repetition and good coaching.

However, Nix was already working with one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country. Jordan Palmer works with a number of the top college and pro quarterbacks to help them improve their fundamentals and reach their potential. He’s worked with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and more in his role at EXOS. Palmer is a huge believer in Nix, saying he thought Nix would be the No. 1 overall pick in this upcoming draft back in March. That obviously won’t come true, but could a change of scenery and continued tutelage from Palmer finally lead Nix to realize his potential?

The NFL seems to have this fascination with the unknown. It’s what makes prospects like Trey Lance and Davis Mills so enticing. It’s why Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold can still net a second-round pick in a trade despite horrible play on the field. The idea of potential is addictive to NFL general managers, scouts and owners. The potential to hit on a prospect no one else saw, or to see a player finally reach their full potential makes them look like the smartest person in the room. They love that sensation.

With that in mind, Nix still has potential. He is only 21 years old and has rare physical gifts that you cannot teach. If he can find a new team and show some development in 2022, he will be worth a draft pick come the 2023 NFL draft. Maybe not in the first round, depending on just how much improvement we see in this hypothetical, but in the second or third round.

The question then becomes where could Nix go to take that next step and get himself on NFL draft boards. Notre Dame immediately comes to mind as Jack Coan will not be back next year. UCF also makes some sense with Nix’s former coach Gus Malzahn calling the shots down in Orlando. I don’t love this one because of Nix’s previous struggles in Malzahn’s system. Cincinnati could also make sense with Desmond Ridder in his final year with the program.

I would love to see Nix land somewhere with a good quarterback coach who can help simplify the game for him and help him grow as a passer. Pairing him with Lincoln Riley at USC feels like a dream, but I have a feeling Riley will stick with one of the young quarterbacks he already has in house. I like UNC as a potential fit with Mack Brown and Phil Longo turning Sam Howell into a solid draft prospect. Perhaps Pittsburgh could be a good fit as well given Kenny Pickett’s development this season. Mark Whipple definitely made a huge difference in his game. Maybe a move to LSU could work, but Brian Kelly does not have his full coaching staff in place yet, so it is hard to tell if that would really be a great fit for Nix.

Ultimately, the chances Nix ends up being a high draft pick or NFL starter look pretty bleak right now. Every year though, we see a quarterback rise up the ranks that just hasn’t put it together yet. This year it looks like Pickett. The year before it was Zach Wilson and the year before that was Joe Burrow. The point is, the door is not closed on Nix’s NFL future. He just needs to get this next move right if he has hopes of playing pro football.

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NFL Draft Daily: Where can Spencer Rattler rebuild his draft stock?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in Monday for another entry.

Things have changed quite dramatically for Spencer Rattler over the past four months. The soon-to-be former Oklahoma quarterback entered the season as the Heisman favorite and a fixture in the top five of NFL mock drafts. He seemed poised for a big year and almost assuredly would find himself playing pro football in 2022.

Instead, his season went a bit sideways. For the second year in a row, he was benched against rival Texas. This time though, he stayed on the bench as Caleb Williams engineered a dramatic comeback victory over the Longhorns in the Red River Showdown. Rattler did not start again the rest of the season and entered the transfer portal.

So how is it that this Heisman favorite and blue-chip prospect is suddenly off draft boards and looking for a new home? Consider it the fallacy of media hype and the assumption that players will only ever get better. Rattler had not earned that level of trust and confidence yet. Lincoln Riley had though, so we were all willing to bet on Rattler becoming the latest quarterback to flourish in his offense. He flashed high-end potential in his first season as the starter at OU, but there were also plenty of warning signs of what was to come.

In short, chalk it up to the Lincoln Riley effect finally failing. We expected Rattler to make a jump into elite quarterback territory. He didn’t. If anything, he regressed from his 2020 performance. This time, Riley just so happened to have a very capable replacement. However, this is not the end of the line for Rattler as a draft prospect. If he was capable of generating this much buzz once, he could assuredly draw the attention of NFL scouts again.

But where will he do it? Arizona State was the easy prediction early on for the Phoenix, Arizona native, but with Jayden Daniels returning to school, that rules out a move to Tempe. The list is still long. Let’s take a look at some schools where Rattler could be in line for immediate play on a big enough stage for him to reclaim the national spotlight.

Notre Dame
Let’s start with a big-name program with legitimate title aspirations. Notre Dame’s only loss of 2021 came against Cincinnati and the Irish finished one spot out of a playoff spot. Jack Coan was a serviceable starter as a grad transfer from Wisconsin, but his eligibility is up and Notre Dame will certainly be looking for a new starter next year. Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner are both four-star recruits that could be in line to start, but Rattler would be a better option than either of them for 2022. Pyne played the second half of the Cincinnati game and struggled. He finished 9-of-22 throwing, with a touchdown pass.

Buchner is seen as the future at the position, but could new head coach Marcus Freeman be interested in bringing in a veteran option with a lot more experience? This could be a bit of a risk for Rattler given that much of the coaching staff that recruited Buchner is still intact, but if he could win the job and perform well in South Bend, he would certainly have the clout necessary to generate positive draft buzz again. Notre Dame is known for having strong offensive lines and reliable run games as well. Both of those elements would likely make Rattler’s transition easier and would bode well for future success.

UNC
This is operating under the assumption that Sam Howell declares for the NFL draft. Mack Brown has put UNC back in the national spotlight very quickly. The Tar Heels did not have the kind of season they had hoped for after opening the year at No. 10 in the AP poll, but the potential for offensive success is still incredibly high. Sam Howell put up some big numbers in his second year under Brown despite having his top two receivers and top two running backs playing in the NFL this season.

The potential is there for Rattler to do the same. Jacolby Criswell would be his main competition for the starting job. However, Rattler was a much higher-rated recruit coming out of high school. Playing in a pro-style offense in the ACC should give him the stage to flourish and rebuild his draft stock. Howell was generating buzz alongside Rattler as the potential first overall pick prior to the season. There is no doubt he could rebound in Chapel Hill.

Georgia
This is an interesting and perhaps unlikely destination, but I think it could work well. Stetson Bennett is a redshirt senior, so he will not be back next season. J.T. Daniels still has one more year of eligibility remaining, but he has struggled to stay healthy and I’m not totally convinced the coaching staff believes in him at this stage. Brock Vandagriff could be in the mix as well. The former five-star recruit only appeared in two games this season though, so he will have four more years to work with.

Georgia is undoubtedly going to lose talent to the NFL, but Kirby Smart is arguably the best recruiter in the country. They will reload quickly on both sides of the ball. Putting Rattler in an offense that features Brock Bowers, a dominant running back room and maybe even George Pickens if he returns to Athens sets him up nicely to have success. If he can mature as a decision maker under Todd Monken and perform well against SEC defenses, the NFL will be lining up to watch Rattler play again.

LSU
Brian Kelly could use a quarterback. The former Notre Dame coach inherits a roster with a lot of talent, but a huge hole at quarterback following transfers by Max Johnson and Myles Brennan. Garrett Nussmeier is still enrolled at the school and could be the future at the position, but it might take another year for him to be fully ready to start. There is also the tough spot he finds himself with regards to LSU’s bowl game. With Johnson and Brennan gone, he would be in line to start, but that would officially burn a year of eligibility.

It will be interesting to track how Kelly handles that situation. I don’t think it will impact how he approaches the quarterback situation for next year. LSU has five-star quarterback Walker Howard committed for 2022, but I think Kelly could pursue Rattler to give himself a veteran option to start his first season while he turns over the program. Most of LSU’s skill players will return for next year as well, led by Kayshon Boutte. Especially if Joe Brady happens to return to Death Valley, this feels like a dream scenario for Rattler.

UCLA/Oregon
Some of this will hinge on what happens next with Chip Kelly. It looks like he is headed back to Oregon after four seasons with UCLA. However, the Bruins will still need a quarterback no matter who the coach is next year. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is graduating after a solid career and the only other quarterback in the mix right now is freshman Ethan Garbers, who transferred in from Washington this year. If Kelly leaves though, this becomes a much less appealing landing spot for Rattler.

Maybe Rattler could follow Kelly to Oregon though. Anthony Brown is done after spending five years with Boston College and Oregon. The Ducks have three freshmen that could all contend for the starting job, but the coach who recruited them there, Mario Cristobal, is now at Miami. It would not be a surprise to see at least one of them enter the transfer portal.

The bottom line is that Kelly’s offense probably bodes well for Rattler’s skillset. He is not quite as mobile as Thompson-Robinson or Marcus Mariota, who thrived under Kelly at Oregon back in the day. That is why this feels like such a good fit. Kelly has a decent track record of developing quarterbacks. Mariota went on to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. With Lincoln Riley headed to USC, there is also an opportunity for Rattler to stick it to his former coach. There is a lot to like about Rattler landing in the Pac-12, especially growing up in the Southwest.

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NFL Draft Daily: What happens when O-line U meets DBU?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Kelly broke the record for most wins in Notre Dame program history in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Kelly became the first coach to ever leave Notre Dame for a different college job when he decided to head to the SEC and join LSU. He brings with him an impressive track record of recruiting and developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen, turning South Bend into a pipeline to the next level.

I should admit now that I am a big proponent of building a strong offensive line. If you gave me control of an NFL roster or asked me to build an expansion team, I would focus on building up a rock solid offensive line before doing anything else. I definitely subscribe to the idea of building in the trenches. I would even argue that having an elite offensive line is more important to team success than an elite quarterback. That quarterback cannot do much if he does not have time to throw. Anyway, I digress.

Yesterday, I talked about the impact of a coach moving programs and the long-term implications when a coach is known for developing a specific position group. Lincoln Riley’s move to USC bodes well for future Trojan quarterbacks finding success at the next level. He has a strong track record for developing quarterbacks and preparing them for the pros. It is fair to wonder if Kelly could do the same thing with the Tigers.

It is important to separate school history from future success. We saw this year how harmful that can be when D.J. Uiagalelei attempted to replace Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. In short, just because Ohio State has a long history of producing successful NFL defensive backs, that does not mean that every Buckeye corner will be a Pro Bowler. It is important to individually evaluate each player independent of where they went to school, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at history to guide where we start looking.

With all that in mind, Kelly developed a ton of high-end NFL starters across the offensive line in his time at Notre Dame. Quenton Nelson and Zack Martin are arguably the two best guards in the league. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, when healthy, are both quality starting tackles. Time will tell when it comes to the three offensive linemen drafted from Notre Dame in 2021. There could be another lineman or two selected in 2022, namely Jarrett Patterson.

Martin is a four-time First-Team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. (Wikimedia Commons)

This begs the question: Can Kelly replicate this success at LSU?

Fans will obviously hope so. The Tigers have produced some talented linemen, though not at the same level as the Irish. Lloyd Cushenberry and Damien Lewis are both young starters in the league. Ethan Pocic actually starts next to Lewis in Seattle. The most successful LSU alum on the offensive line in recent years has to be Trai Turner, who went to five straight Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2019. Some success, but far from Nelson and Martin caliber.

Kelly will look to bring that success recruiting and developing linemen for the pros while not jeopardizing LSU’s already existing moniker of DBU. I know there are challenges by Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and strangely Texas to that title, but I firmly believe the true defensive back U is located in Baton Rouge. Tre’Davious White, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson are among the best in the league. Kristian Fulton might not be far behind. Derek Stingley Jr. will likely be the latest top-10 defensive back in 2022. Alabama has a legitimate case with Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs and Marlon Humphrey, but I still give LSU the edge.

Kelly has deep recruiting ties in the midwest from his time spent at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As it turns out, there are a lot of talented offensive linemen that hail from that region. Ryan Ramcyzk, Terron Armstead, Tristan Wirfs, Taylor Moton, Jack Conklin, Taylor Decker, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff, Corey Linsley and Zack Martin hail from either Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan.

On top of that, Louisiana actually had the most active NFL players per capita at the start of the 2021 season. There will be talent for Kelly to work with. He needs to find a way to meld his midwest background with the recruiting hotbed in the Bayou. That is obviously easier said than done, but I think Kelly should be in position to accomplish it. He will need to fill out his staff with coaches who know the territory. While talent is important, having people who can help Kelly create inroads in a state that Kelly himself admitted he had never even been to prior to accepting the job will be vital in upping the program’s offensive linemen production while sustaining their success with developing elite defensive backs.

Much like Lincoln Riley’s move to USC, it will take several years to see the full impact on draft prospects. That being said, I will definitely be tracking LSU linemen a little more closely in the coming years, especially if Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn does in fact follow Kelly to Louisiana.

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The impact of each conference championship game on the College Football Playoff

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.