Sean Pendergast

Four Big Questions Heading Into CFB Conference Title Weekend

Nick Saban could be in a must win situation to get into the CFB Playoff.
Nick Saban could be in a must win situation to get into the CFB Playoff. Screen grab from YouTube
December is here, and the college kids have given us over three months of college football, and after hundreds of games, numerous twists and turns, avoidance of huge COVID issues, and a sudden hurricane of big time head coaches on the move, we have arrived at conference title week, with these six teams still standing and having a chance at the College Football Playoff:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Cincinnati
5. Oklahoma State
6. Notre Dame

Five of these six teams are in action this weekend, trying to win their conference title and secure a spot in the four team playoff. Here is the schedule for games involving these six teams:

BIG XII Title Game, Sat. 12/4, 11:00 a.m.
9 Baylor vs 5 Oklahoma State

SEC Title Game, Sat. 12/4, 3:00 p.m.
1 Georgia vs 3 Alabama

AAC Title Game, Sat. 12/4, 3:00 p.m.
21 Houston at 4 Cincinnati

Big Ten Title Game, Sat. 12/4, 7:00 p.m.
2 Michigan vs 13 Iowa

The fact that (a) two of the top three teams play each other in their conference title game, and (b) a Group of Five school, Cincinnati, is sitting there at fourth, the highest ranking for a Group of Five school this late in the season, makes this far from a cookie cutter "win and you're in" situation for everybody involved. Here are the four biggest questions heading into this weekend's conference title games:

Does Notre Dame get punished by the committee for not having a head coach?
If we've learned anything in the seven seasons where we've had a selection committee choosing the playoff participants, it's that pretty much anything is fair game as part of the criteria, and we have no idea how much any one thing is weighted. One part of the criteria for selection is whether or not teams have key injuries late in the season. In other words, if your starting QB is hurt, that could negatively affect your selection chances. The committee has never had to assess a team lacking a HEAD COACH before, but that's exactly the spot Notre Dame finds itself in after the departure of Brian Kelly to LSU. I don't know if the committee will downgrade Notre Dame operating with an interim head coach, and in fact, from a TV ratings standpoint (which shouldn't be a factor, but may be), Notre Dame as a "jilted underdog" might be something people find intriguing.

What does Alabama need to do against Georgia?
Georgia is likely in the playoff, regardless of the outcome of the SEC title game, but Alabama, on the heels of an overtime nail biter over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, are skating on much thinner ice. The committee keeping them at No. 3 overall, despite the close win over a three touchdown underdog at Auburn is an indication that, perhaps, Alabama has some wiggle room. in other words, if they lose a close one to the best team in the country, that could keep them in the top four. At the very least, it would keep them in front of Notre Dame, and from there, the Tide would probably need one of Cincy or Oklahoma State to lose their games.

Does Cincinnati still need style points?
Cincinnati sitting at four overall has to have their fans on pins and needles. The Bearcats are 10.5 point favorites over Houston, and fifth rated Oklahoma State is a 5.5 point favorite over Baylor. What if the Bearcats win a close one over the Coogs, but the Cowboys blow out Baylor? If it came down to Cincy and Oklahoma State for the fourth and final playoff spot, would that scenario be enough to jump the Big XII champion Cowboys over Cincy, and into the playoff? Ironically, if Oklahoma State were to get "Power Five conference" privilege like that, it would be the champion of Cincinnati's future conference home kicking them out of the final four teams in 2021.

Any last second Heisman style points available?
Outside of the playoff implications of these four games, there is still a Heisman trophy to be handed down. In the two Power Five games not listed above, two studs to keep an eye on would be Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett against Wake Forest for the ACC title, and Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux against Utah in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night. Bryce Young is the Heisman frontrunner right now, and an upset of Georgia would all but seal the Heisman for him. Houston's Marcus Jones is getting some late buzz, but probably won't get the invitation to New York for the ceremony.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast