Even though it would appear that only one of the four playoff spots is still in doubt, the possibilities remain intriguing. Let’s start with the nuclear option, in which Georgia knocks off Alabama in the SEC Conference Championship. This would give Georgia the most impressive victory among the one-loss contenders that include Oklahoma and Ohio State. Georgia would therefore solidify a spot in the top four, but I don’t anticipate that Alabama would drop out of this club based on their twelve straight weeks of annihilating every other opponent.
I believe Clemson would ascend to the top position while a Bama loss would keep them in the hunt at Number four. Georgia and Notre Dame would be pitted against each other in the other semifinal game. I seriously doubt the committee would slot Georgia and Alabama at #2 and #3, respectively, thereby setting up an immediate rematch. The public would not be amused. Nor would it matter much if the committee rewarded Georgia for beating Alabama by lifting them to the #2 spot above the Fighting Irish, since that argument would be settled on the field by these schools.
But let’s now assume that Alabama takes care of Georgia as most people expect. Unless the margin of victory is very narrow (and we’ll discuss a close Bama victory later), Georgia will have two losses and would be hard pressed to argue its case if either Oklahoma and Ohio State win their conference championships and are sitting at 12-1. Georgia already has a 20-point loss to LSU, and another beatdown by the Tide will put them on ice.
Wins by favorites Oklahoma and Ohio State coupled with a Georgia loss will trigger a debate between the Sooners and Buckeyes, and both teams have some explaining to do. Oklahoma will have avenged its only loss by beating Texas on Saturday, and that’s a big plus for them. The negative is they play in a league that can’t even spell defense, and none of their wins were comparatively impressive. Beating Army in overtime at home and edging Oklahoma State by 48-47 and West Virginia by 59-56 earn no extra bragging rights.
The Buckeyes have even bigger problems. Their win over Michigan is better than any of Oklahoma’s accomplishments, but they have a fairly recent 29-point loss to explain. OSU followed that fiasco by barely getting past Big-10 Conference mediocrities Nebraska and Maryland by the slimmest of margins.
While the committee will have an easier task if only one of Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State wins on Saturday, the greatest turmoil will ensue if Oklahoma and Ohio State emerge as conference champs while Georgia goes down. The committee will have to hold its nose and pick one of the two, and right now they seem to favor the Sooners by virtue of ranking them fifth over the #6 Buckeyes.
Can Ohio State jump Oklahoma by throttling Northwestern while the Sooners just get past Texas? I think not. Texas is the main rival of the Sooners and a clear sight better than the Wildcats. In the end, the Sooners will have avenged a three point loss while Ohio State still can’t remove the stink of the Purdue game.
It seems the only difficult decision will come if Georgia barely loses to Alabama while both Oklahoma and Ohio State either lose or look decidedly unimpressive. To reward Georgia for a close loss but managing to avoid a semifinal rematch with Alabama, the committee would have to raise the then 11-2 Bulldogs to the third postion over 12-0 Notre Dame. Probably not happening.
In that case, the committee would have to hold its nose and put Oklahoma in the playoffs at number four, since Central Florida and Michigan would be even poorer choices.