Silverberg: Who wins and who gets in on championship week?

By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg

It’s finally here.

I geek out over championship week. All of the playoff scenarios. All of the chaos. All of it. This is a weekend in college football I always look forward to, and it pains me that Tennessee hasn’t been a part of it for so long. Still I enjoy seeing the big matchups and potential upsets that could spoil the playoff party the day before the committee has to make its hardest decision of the year.

There are five games that will play a major impact in the selection of college football’s final four teams to duke it out for the national title. Let’s take a look at the spread for the weekend.

The Rankings

  • 1. Ohio State
  • 2. LSU
  • 3. Clemson
  • 4. Georgia
  • 5. Utah
  • 6. Oklahoma
  • 7. Baylor
  • 8. Wisconsin

The Matchups

  • No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
  • No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia
  • No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia
  • No. 5 Utah vs No. 13 Oregon
  • No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor

Now some questions to ask and answer leading up to the big weekend.

Can Wisconsin actually get in?

No. As fun as it’s been to play up that chaotic scenario, that loss to Illinois has ultimately doomed the Badgers. It takes away from what has otherwise been an impressive season for Wisconsin and the Big Ten West in general. The Badgers shut out four teams this year and have three ranked wins, including blowout victories over Michigan and Minnesota. However, two loss teams have a significant chasm to cross to have any sort of argument against undefeated or one-loss teams. It doesn’t help that second loss came against a 6-6 Illini team that wouldn’t have been bowl eligible otherwise.

On top of an unlikely loss for Clemson, the Badgers would need Utah, Oklahoma and Georgia all to lose while the Badgers beat Ohio State by multiple scores. A close win over the Buckeyes won’t be enough considering Ohio State already owns a 31-point win over Wisconsin. Plus Ohio State doesn’t have a bad loss, or any loss for that matter.

It just isn’t happening. What a shame it would be if the Badgers actually pulled off the upset.

Does that mean Ohio State or LSU can still get in with a loss?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Ohio State and LSU both lost, but Utah and Oklahoma both won along with Clemson. Clemson, Georgia, Utah and Oklahoma would all be Power 5 conference champions with one loss, with the exception of undefeated Clemson. The committee has never put a team that lost its conference title game into the playoff.

That being said, both the Buckeyes and the Tigers have arguably the two best resumes in college football. Even Ohio State’s non conference schedule was somewhat impressive. Florida Atlantic is playing for the Conference-USA title, Cincinnati is playing for the American Athletic Conference championship and Miami of Ohio went 7-5. The Buckeyes have seven wins over teams with a winning record.

LSU’s strength of victory speaks for itself. Auburn, Alabama, Texas and Florida were all top ten teams at the time the Tigers beat them. It also never flirted with disaster against any of the weaker teams on its schedule.

So could either team get in? Maybe not both Ohio State and LSU if both were to be upset on Saturday, but one of those two teams could stay considering what they accomplished over the regular season. If they didn’t, then it begs the question of why a conference should hold a championship game if it’s just an opportunity for its best playoff contender to be eliminated.

The Big 12 knows why. Because it didn’t have a championship game in 2014, and Baylor and TCU were both jumped by Ohio State, which showcased its ability in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, then went on to win the College Football Playoff.

Every season is a different case. It’s arbitrary. Some years the conference championships matter. Some years they don’t. This season it feels like it should lean towards the latter.

Utah vs. Oklahoma/Baylor: who gets in?

If both teams win Utah will have more victories over teams with a winning record than whoever the Big 12 champion is. However, Oklahoma would have more ranked wins. Baylor has not beaten a ranked team all year. Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas were all unranked at the time the Bears won those games, but is that really Baylor’s fault?

Utah’s loss looks a little better now that USC is 8-4 and ranked. Oklahoma’s win over Texas looks less impressive and nobody outside the Sooners or the Bears finished better than 8-4. Utah is the higher ranked team in the playoff rankings, but Oklahoma is higher in ESPN’s FPI and SP+ rankings.

How much more impressive is a second win over Baylor than a ranked win over Oregon? Will style points matter? Probably.

If the results are similar I think Utah should be in, but it’s hard to imagine the committee taking Oklahoma’s brand into account. I disagree with Paul Finebaum saying nobody in the country wants to see Utah, but the committee has made mistakes in the past, and picking Oklahoma over Utah should both teams win in similar fashion would be another one.

But we’ll see.

So what happens?

Utah hangs on to win a tight one against Oregon. Oklahoma handles Baylor in an uninspiring sequel to the game they played in November. Clemson destroys Virginia and Ohio State waxes Wisconsin for the second time this season.

Oh, and Georgia stuns LSU.

Yep, I said it. The Bulldogs beat the Tigers in Atlanta. Georgia’s defense hasn’t given up 20 points in regulation this season, it’s a virtual home game in Atlanta and the Bulldogs have been here before. Georgia knows how close it’s been to a national title in 2017 and an SEC Championship with a playoff spot on the line last year.

Jake Fromm needs to play better and I think he will. This will by far be the best defense LSU has faced all year. How do the Tigers respond to adversity if the offense struggles in the first half? Joe Burrow will put up some numbers, but Georgia’s defense will keep it in the game into the second half.

With that being said, the College Football Playoff will look like this:

  • 1. Ohio State
  • 2. Clemson
  • 3. Georgia
  • 4. LSU

The committee won’t want a rematch of the SEC title game in the semifinals. LSU and Ohio State would be the marquee matchup, but Clemson and Georgia renewing their old border rivalry would be great for the playoff. It would be the 65th all-time meeting between the two schools and the first since 2014.

It’s a tough draw for Utah and Oklahoma, but LSU shouldn’t be punished for only winning four of five games against top ten teams. Had the Tigers lost to Auburn, but beaten Georgia, LSU would be in. Plain and simple.

The action begins Friday with the Pac-12 title game between Utah and Oregon. The rest of the conference championship games are on Saturday. 99.1 The Sports Animal will carry both the SEC and Big Ten title games starting at 3:30. It should be a lot of fun.

Let the chaos begin.

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