Nine conference championship games are in the books, and resumes have been completed. All that's left is for the College Football Playoff selection committee to announce which four teams are playoff-bound, at around 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday. First, here's what we learned in Week 14 and what we still need to learn.
1. Ohio State made sure that the selection committee won't have an easy answer.
Going into the weekend, all of the debates could have been easily solved if Oklahoma and Wisconsin won to join the SEC (Georgia) and ACC (Clemson) champions in the playoff. There would have been no mess, and the committee could have released the top four with little backlash. Oklahoma did what was expected of it, rolling past TCU 41-17 early in the afternoon to secure its spot. At night, Ohio State and Wisconsin made things more complicated.
Early on, it appeared that Wisconsin would be no match for Ohio State's speed. Playing just six days after knee surgery, Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett connected with Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard touchdown and Parris Campbell for a 57-yard touchdown in the first quarter … with a pick-six thrown to Wisconsin's Andrew Van Ginkel in between. But the Buckeyes couldn't put the Badgers away.
Despite the knee injury, Barrett had a team-high 19 carries -- J.K. Dobbins had a team-high 174 yards -- and struggled as a passer in the second half. Trailing by 11 late in the third quarter, Wisconsin intercepted Barrett. The Badgers mounted an 11-play, 52-yard drive, capped by a Chris James touchdown run … that resulted in the turf being pulled up and, subsequently, a delay in the game while it was fixed.
imagine being this guy fixing the field with like 80,000 people watching you pic.twitter.com/WK7rHYPmQx- Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) December 3, 2017
Wisconsin got the two-point conversion to make it a three-point game, but Ohio State extended the lead to six with a field goal after converting one fourth down by an inch but deciding to kick on another fourth down closer to the end zone. The two teams exchanged punts before Wisconsin's final drive was derailed by a holding penalty and ended with Alex Hornibrook throwing a fourth-and-20 interception.
Ohio State won 27-21, giving it the Big Ten championship and giving the selection committee a problem to solve with no perfect solution.
2. Three playoff teams are obvious. The fourth is not.
Clemson beat Miami 38-3 for the ACC championship. The Tigers were No. 1 in last week's top 25, and they'll likely be No. 1 in the final rankings. They're in.
Oklahoma beat TCU 41-17 for the Big 12 championship. The Sooners were No. 3 in last week's top 25. They're in.
Georgia avenged its earlier loss to Auburn with a 28-7 win for the SEC championship. The Bulldogs were No. 6 last week, but with a 12-1 record, an SEC championship and now a decisive win over the No. 2 team they previously lost to, they'll leap into the top three.
Wisconsin doesn't have a strong enough resume to make a playoff argument without a conference title, despite its 12-1 record. Back-to-back losses to Pitt and Clemson knocked Miami out. USC won the Pac-12, but its two best wins are both over Stanford and it was only No. 10 last week.
That leaves the biggest playoff debate yet in four years of the system almost certainly down to two teams for the chance to play presumed No. 1 seed Clemson: Ohio State or Alabama?
- Big Ten champions
- 11-2 record
- Top-25 wins over No. 4 Wisconsin (27-21), No. 9 Penn State (39-38) and No. 16 Michigan State (48-3)
- Five wins over teams with winning records (Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Army)
- 31-16 loss vs. Oklahoma
- 55-24 loss at Iowa
- Second place, SEC West
- 11-1 record
- Top-25 wins over No. 17 LSU (24-10), No. 23 Mississippi State (31-24) and No. 25 Fresno State (41-10)
- Five wins over teams with winning records (LSU, Mississippi State, Fresno State, Texas A&M, Colorado State)
- 26-14 loss at Auburn
The selection committee takes into account conference championships as a potential tiebreaker of sorts when it considers two teams to be comparable. Alabama was No. 5 last week, three spots ahead of No. 8 Ohio State, but the Buckeyes added a win over the previously undefeated Badgers and a Big Ten championship, closing any gap that existed.
The obvious advantage for Alabama is that Ohio State has an extra loss by 31 points to an Iowa team that finished 7-5. The Buckeyes' advantages: three better wins than anything Alabama has on its resume, plus that conference title. The committee has leaned toward rewarding good wins more than it punishes bad losses (No. 1 Clemson lost to 4-8 Syracuse, albeit with an injured quarterback), and thus there are more tangible advantages it can point to if it selects Ohio State for No. 4. Picking Alabama will come down to a less-tangible "eye test," in some respects, although maybe a 31-point loss to Iowa is all the eye test that's needed.
Some will try to draw parallels to past committee decisions, but that can be a mistake. This Alabama team is different from the Ohio State team that made the playoff last year with one loss and no conference championship, as those Buckeyes had three top-10 wins on their resume to get over the hump. Circumstances are different. If Alabama is left out, it can place some blame on preseason No. 3 Florida State stumbling to 6-6 and, thus, devaluing the Crimson Tide's marquee nonconference win. The Seminoles did have QB Deondre Francois for most of the game, but the committee isn't going to treat that like the resume-making win it was thought to be.
Whether it's Ohio State or Alabama -- the guess here is Ohio State will get the spot, but I voted Alabama No. 4 on my AP ballot -- something new will happen in Year 4 of the playoff system: Either the playoff will feature a two-loss team for the first time or it will feature two teams from the same conference for the first time.
3. UCF won the most exciting game of the weekend. Then it lost its coach.
After winning one thriller against South Florida to win a division title, UCF won another thriller eight days later to capture the American Athletic Conference championship and effectively lock up a trip to a New Year's Six bowl game.
The No. 14 Knights finished off their undefeated regular season with a 62-55 win over No. 20 Memphis in double overtime on Saturday. In September, the Knights beat the Tigers 40-13. This proved to be much more difficult, with the nation's top two scoring offenses dueling back and forth in a memorable shootout that ended with a game-clinching UCF interception.
And after weeks of speculation, the news everybody expected came out at the end of the game: UCF coach Scott Frost is leaving after two years to coach his alma mater, Nebraska, where he won the 1997 national championship as a quarterback. Unlike the mess at Tennessee or the bad breakup at Florida State, there was no drama here. Frost celebrated his victory and got a joyous sendoff from his team as he prepares to return home to Nebraska. (Frost still may coach the Knights in their bowl game.)
We sent him out with a 🏆- UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 2, 2017
Good luck back home, Coach. pic.twitter.com/ivcqXm7sJr
4. Georgia and Boise State were the only two teams to reverse results in rematches.
Seven of the weekend's nine conference championships -- all but the Big Ten and ACC -- were rematches of regular-season games. As I wrote before the games, teams that won the regular-season meeting were 20-13 in conference championship rematches before this season. On Friday and Saturday, regular-season winners went 5-2: USC swept Stanford in the Pac-12, UCF swept Memphis in the AAC, Toledo swept Akron in the MAC, Florida Atlantic swept North Texas in Conference USA and Oklahoma swept TCU in the Big 12.
The two changes occurred in the Mountain West and SEC.
Just one week after losing the regular-season finale in Fresno, Boise State beat Fresno State 17-14 on its home blue turf, with Ryan Wolpin's two-yard TD run with 4:42 left providing the winning points and the only points of the second half. It's the second time in four years that the Broncos beat the Bulldogs for the conference crown, although this time there won't be a major bowl bid waiting as a reward.
In the SEC, three weeks after Auburn beat Georgia 40-17 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Georgia responded by pummeling the Tigers 28-7. Auburn scored on its first drive but wore down as the game went on and made more mistakes. Georgia capitalized and put up 15 points in the fourth quarter, punctuated by a 64-yard D'Andre Swift touchdown run. It represented a 44-point swing from Auburn's 23-point win in the regular season, a swing bested only by Oregon going from a seven-point loss to Arizona to a 38-point Pac-12 title game win in 2014.
5. There are 78 available bowl spots for 81 teams.
On Saturday, Florida State beat UL Monroe to extend its bowl streak to 36 years. New Mexico State, meanwhile, can end a 56-season bowl drought after reaching 6-6 with a win over South Alabama. Those two being added to the bowl picture guarantees that three bowl-eligible teams will be left out of the postseason. With 10 eligible teams, three of whom are 6-6 (Louisiana Tech, WKU, Middle Tennessee), Conference USA is a good bet to have a couple teams left out.
In the major bowls, there appears to be one New Year's Six spot up for grabs. Power Five champions Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and USC are guaranteed spots. Top Group of Five champion UCF will be in, too. Based on previous rankings, it's safe to say that Auburn, Wisconsin, Miami, Alabama and Penn State will take up five more spots. That leaves one last major bowl bid available: TCU entered the week at No. 11; if the committee doesn't punish it for a second loss to playoff-bound Oklahoma, the Horned Frogs could stay in that last spot. If not, Washington, which is 10-2 and was ranked No. 13 last week, would be in the best position to jump over it, unless the committee changes its mind about No. 15 Notre Dame.