Ranking college football conference championship games by playoff implications


When the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee gathered on Monday to determine their fifth ranking of the season, their longest debate centered around No. 5 Utah and No. 6 Oklahoma.

“We spent considerable time on it, more time than anywhere else on the board,” selection committee chair Rob Mullens said on Tuesday night. “There was plenty of debate.”

It might have been just the beginning.

There are seven undefeated or one-loss Power 5 teams remaining in the FBS, and all seven will be playing for conference titles this weekend. The Pac-12 and Big 12 conference championship games will steer what should be their most difficult discussion this season: Who’s No. 4? That’s assuming, of course, that No. 2 LSU beats No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship game and opens the last semifinal spot.

For the first and only time this season, the committee members will watch games together in their conference room at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas, starting on Friday night. Following the conclusion of the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, they will take their seats around the massive table in the adjoining room they call “Selection Central” and begin their deliberations with the games fresh in their minds.

They’ll truly have a lasting impression.

So which game is the most important to the final ranking?

All games Saturday unless otherwise noted

1. SEC

No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

Why it’s at the top: Because there is no debate for the fourth spot unless LSU knocks Georgia out of contention. If the Bulldogs pull off the upset, though, the one-loss SEC champs would likely finish in the top four with LSU — eliminating both the Big 12 and Pac-12 champions in the process. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, LSU has an 81.3% chance to make the CFP even with a loss. That would be the easiest scenario for the committee, as the top four would likely be No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 LSU.

What’s at stake: It’s possible for LSU to overtake Ohio State in the final ranking, but without Ohio State actually losing, it’s an extremely close debate. With No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State both in the committee’s top 10, plus No. 14 Michigan and No. 20 Cincinnati also ranked opponents, the Buckeyes’ résumé will be tough to beat. If LSU can win with style — and defense — against Georgia, it would have the best win the country to go along with three other CFP top 25 wins.

“As we’ve talked in past weeks, both really have dynamic offenses, both have good defenses,” Mullens said. “Ohio State’s is just a little ahead at this point.”

So is its résumé. It didn’t help that Alabama sank seven spots to No. 12 after its loss to Auburn, but the committee still holds LSU’s win over the Tide in high regard, since it happened in Tuscaloosa and with star QB Tua Tagovailoa on the field.

“We understand what happened at the time,” Mullens said. “We’re aware of exactly what happened that game, where the teams were going into that game.”

2. Pac-12

No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Why it’s No. 2: Because if Oregon wins, the Pac-12 is eliminated and the Big 12 champion is likely in, regardless of whether it’s Oklahoma or Baylor. If Utah wins (and Georgia loses), then the debate begins. So much attention has been given to Utah, it’s overshadowed that Oregon is more than capable of winning. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Utes a 51.1% chance to win, essentially a coin-flip game. If it’s close, and Oklahoma beats Baylor soundly, that could influence the committee’s final vote. Remember, Utah is not ahead of Oklahoma right now because of its résumé — it has not defeated a single CFP top 25 opponent yet. The committee likes the Utes because of how consistently well they have played. “When we look at Utah, we see a season-long balance of very consistent play on both sides of the ball,” Mullens said. “Very dominant wins. Their only loss is on a Friday night on the road at a No. 22-ranked team when a key player on offense missed the majority of the game.” If Utah is going to stay ahead of the Sooners, it might have to stay consistently dominant for one more game.

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