College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

GRAPEVINE, Texas — It’s finally here. Saturday’s conference championship games will end weeks (months?!) of hypotheticals and put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the College Football Playoff selection committee to pick the four best teams in the country on Selection Day.

The committee gathered on Friday evening to watch the C-USA and Pac-12 title games at their headquarters in the Gaylord Texan Resort. They will reconvene on Saturday to watch the rest of the FBS championships, and then begin their deliberations following the end of the ACC and Big Ten championship games.

As the rest of the results unfold, we will break down how each game will impact the race for the playoff and beyond:

Big 12 championship



Kirk Herbstreit, David Pollack and Joey Galloway debate if Cincinnati or Oklahoma State would be more worthy of making the College Football Playoff if the Cowboys beat Baylor.

College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

Matchup: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor (Noon, ABC/ESPN app)

ESPN’s FPI says: Oklahoma State has a 64% chance to win

If Oklahoma State wins: The one-loss Big 12 champions still have to hope there are upsets above them or that Georgia beats Alabama so soundly the Tide is eliminated, making room for the Cowboys to join Cincinnati in the top four. That also could happen if Iowa wins the Big Ten or Cincinnati loses. If there are still two SEC teams on Selection Day and Cincinnati and Michigan both win, Oklahoma State needs its résumé to impress the committee enough that it wins a debate against the undefeated Bearcats. It could be very close — and extremely controversial. Oklahoma State would have defeated Baylor twice this season, along with a top-25 Oklahoma team in a thrilling rivalry game. Cincinnati’s win at Notre Dame has gone a long way in overcoming an otherwise dreadful strength of schedule that ranks No. 93 in the country. Is that, along with a win against Houston, enough to keep the Bearcats there?

If Baylor wins: As the No. 9 team in the country, Baylor would at least be considered by the selection committee for a top-four spot because it would finish with three wins against CFP top-15 opponents — BYU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It’s also not as far of a climb as Iowa would have to make, but the reality is the two-loss Bears and the entire Big 12 likely would be eliminated. That would open the door for one-loss Notre Dame and/or possibly a two-loss Alabama, depending on how the other conference games unfold.

SEC championship



The Get Up crew takes a deep dive into Alabama’s chances to stay in the College Football Playoff race if it loses to Georgia.

College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key gameCollege Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

Matchup: Georgia vs. Alabama (4 p.m., CBS)

ESPN’s FPI says: Georgia has a 67% chance to win

If Georgia wins: Georgia is a lock at No. 1. The question is what happens to Alabama — but only if there are upsets elsewhere and it’s a close game. The reality is that Alabama’s chances of finishing in the top four with a loss have decreased over the past month after close wins against LSU, Arkansas and now Auburn, which the Tide needed four overtimes to beat. For Alabama to gain serious consideration as a two-loss runner-up, the Tide would at least need two of three upsets in the Big 12, Big Ten and/or AAC title games. In this scenario, Alabama would be evaluated by the committee in the same way as Notre Dame — without a conference championship. According to the committee’s protocol, if a team does not win a conference title, it has to be deemed “unequivocally” one of the four best teams to make the playoff field.

If Alabama wins: It’s easy peasy for the selection committee, and SEC champion Alabama finishes in the top four along with one-loss runner-up Georgia. That could cause problems for Cincinnati, which then might have to win a debate against Oklahoma State, and it definitely hurts Notre Dame’s chances if Oklahoma State and Cincinnati both win their respective leagues.

American Athletic Conference championship



Cincinnati’s unbeaten record and CFP hopes are on the line Saturday against Houston.

College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key gameCollege Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

Matchup: Cincinnati vs. Houston (4 p.m., ABC/ESPN app)

ESPN’s FPI says: Cincinnati has an 83% chance to win

If Cincinnati wins: The Bearcats are in a terrific position, but they would be even more secure for a semifinal if Georgia eliminated Alabama from the top four for good. If the SEC has two teams in the top four, Cincinnati has to still hope that its résumé stands up in the committee meeting room against one-loss Oklahoma State on Selection Day if the Cowboys win the Big 12. Or Cincinnati could cement its place with Iowa winning the Big Ten or Baylor winning the Big 12. The other less-discussed impact of Cincinnati finishing in the top four is that another team from the Group of 5 isn’t guaranteed a second spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. The Group of 5 gets one guaranteed spot — and Cincinnati would be it, even in a semifinal. So, any other Group of 5 team would likely have to finish in the top 12 to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. The one thing that absolutely cannot happen is …

If Cincinnati loses: What an absolute heartbreaker for the Bearcats. To come so far and get so close … it would be devastating to the entire Group of 5, but Cincinnati would almost certainly fall out of the top four, and it would have to hope for a New Year’s Six bowl bid because it wouldn’t be guaranteed. That goes to the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion, and Cincinnati wouldn’t be the AAC champ. Typically, teams that receive at-large bids finish in the CFP top 12.

Big Ten championship



Georgia, Michigan, Alabama and Cincinnati are revealed as the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key gameCollege Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

Matchup: Michigan vs. Iowa (8 p.m., Fox)

ESPN’s FPI says: Michigan has a 77% chance to beat Iowa

If Michigan wins: The Wolverines will head to the playoff as a one-loss Big Ten champion, most likely keeping the No. 2 spot behind No. 1 Georgia. If that’s how the SEC and Big Ten games play out, Michigan would face the committee’s No. 3 team.

If Iowa wins: The Big Ten is almost certainly out of the playoff because it’s unrealistic to think the selection committee would promote the two-loss Hawkeyes from No. 13 into the top four. The computers might malfunction: Iowa would have zero chance in 4,790 different simulations that include the Hawkeyes winning. As good as Iowa has been on defense and special teams, it is ranked No. 98 in the country in offensive efficiency. While a win against a top-four Michigan team would rank among the best in the country, it would be the Hawkeyes’ only win this season against a CFP Top 25 team. The committee would instead likely turn to one-loss Oklahoma State and one-loss Notre Dame to join Georgia and Cincinnati.



Paul Finebaum and Heather Dinich discuss the chances that Notre Dame gets into the College Football Playoff.

College Football Playoff Tracker: Analysis and updates of every key game

Notre Dame

Playoff path: After a wild week in South Bend that saw coach Brian Kelly leave the Irish for the LSU coaching job and eventually be replaced by defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame must now sit home and root for chaos.

The Irish need multiple upsets in order to garner serious consideration without a conference title or a win against a CFP Top 25 opponent.

Cincinnati’s win against the Irish has lifted the Bearcats all season long. The head-to-head result is one of the tiebreakers the selection committee uses to help evaluate comparable teams — along with a conference championship. That would be two strikes against the Irish, unless Cincinnati loses to Houston. Would a one-loss Notre Dame team that’s won seven in a row get in over a one-loss Cincinnati team, given the head-to-head result?

Notre Dame can also get in with undefeated Cincinnati. If Georgia can eliminate Alabama, and two-loss Baylor wins the Big 12, the top four could be Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Notre Dame can also potentially get in with an Iowa win in the Big Ten championship game and a Cincinnati loss.

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