Alabama coach Nick Saban knows the Crimson Tide’s strength of schedule has been called into question this season, as No. 20 Texas A&M is the only ranked opponent his team has faced this season besides No. 3 LSU, and the Aggies could fall out of the selection committee’s top 25 this week after their loss to Auburn.
Saturday’s trip to Baton Rouge presented the biggest opportunity to date for Alabama — not just to clinch the SEC West, but to prove Alabama can dominate elite competition too.
“Says a lot about their competitive character, but I think they wanted to make a statement all week long in terms of what kind of team we really have,” Saban told reporters at his postgame news conference. “They had the opportunity against a very good team, No. 3 in the country, toughest environment in the country. What better opportunity is there to make a statement than the situation we are in?”
Alabama might have spoken the loudest on Statement Saturday, but it was hardly alone. Michigan’s resounding win over Penn State could push the Wolverines into the top four this week. Or maybe that spot belongs to Georgia? Here’s a look at how Saturday’s results will impact the College Football Playoff, ranked in order of the biggest impact on the selection committee’s ranking:
1. Alabama 29, LSU 0
Alabama clinched the SEC West, and it will face Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta — the same site as Alabama’s victory over Georgia in last season’s national title game. The Tide should be a no-brainer for the No. 1 spot again on Tuesday night. By beating LSU and punching its ticket to Atlanta, Alabama gave itself some margin for error in its final three games against Mississippi State, The Citadel and Auburn. Even if by some miracle one of those teams pulls off the upset, Alabama would likely still finish in the top four if it wins the SEC championship. There’s also still the possibility that Alabama finishes in the top four without winning the SEC. It would depend on what happens with Notre Dame and the other Power 5 champions, but if Alabama’s only loss is a close one to Georgia in the SEC title game, the Tide would still at least be considered for a top four spot by the selection committee.
2. Georgia 34, Kentucky 17
Georgia clinched the SEC East, and it will finish the season with three straight home games against Auburn, UMass and rival Georgia Tech. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Georgia at least an 86 percent chance of winning each of those games. While Georgia would certainly finish in the committee’s top four if it runs the table and punctuates its résumé with a win over Alabama in the SEC championship, the Bulldogs might not crack the top four this week. There should be a good debate between Georgia and Michigan for the fourth spot, behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame. The committee will have to decide if Michigan’s stingy defense and five wins against Power 5 opponents over .500 is more impressive than Georgia’s back-to-back wins against Florida and Kentucky — both top-15 teams in the eyes of the committee last week. The committee also will have to consider how far LSU falls. Georgia lost to LSU, but now that the Tigers have two losses, they could drop behind Georgia in spite of the head-to-head result.
3. Michigan 42, Penn State 7
Michigan can make a case to move into the top four on Tuesday, the result of both the LSU loss and how dominant the Wolverines looked against Penn State. Considering the Wolverines’ next two opponents are Rutgers and Indiana, two teams with losing records, Michigan should enter the Ohio State game with just one loss and playoff hopes on the line in Columbus. According to FPI, it’s the only game left on Michigan’s schedule the Wolverines aren’t projected to win (45 percent). Notre Dame’s head-to-head win over Michigan should keep the Fighting Irish ahead in Tuesday’s ranking, but the Wolverines have won eight straight games since losing their opener, and they have looked like the best team the Big Ten has to offer this season.
4. West Virginia 42, Texas 41
The Mountaineers and Longhorns entered the day tied with Oklahoma atop the Big 12 standings. West Virginia’s chance to reach the Big 12 title game increased to 61 percent with the win, while Texas’s dropped to 21 percent. Nobody in the Big 12 has looked like a top-four team, but with only one loss, West Virginia can’t be ruled out yet — especially with home-field advantage for the regular-season finale against Oklahoma. Because the Mountaineers were able to do something Oklahoma was not (beat Texas), it’s possible they will jump the Sooners in this week’s ranking.
5. Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 46
Oklahoma had 10 penalties for 113 yards and two turnovers and allowed Texas Tech 473 total yards. While that’s certainly not top-four material, the Sooners can still finish as a one-loss Big 12 champ with an impressive win in Morgantown against a ranked West Virginia team to end the regular season. The question this week is who the committee favors: Oklahoma or West Virginia? The good news for the Big 12 is that it still has two one-loss teams for the selection committee to consider.
6. Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 21
Nobody expected this road trip to be easy, and it wasn’t, as the game was tied at 7 at the half, but the Irish remain undefeated and should jump a spot to No. 3 this week after LSU’s loss. Michigan and Notre Dame both continue to help each other, and there’s still a possibility they both finish in the top four if the Irish run the table and Michigan finishes as a one-loss Big Ten champ.
7. Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31
It was another pedestrian performance by the Buckeyes, who had to rally from a halftime deficit to beat the beleaguered Huskers; but as long as the Buckeyes remain a one-loss team in contention to win the Big Ten, they keep their hopes alive for consideration from the committee. With the win, the Buckeyes’ chance to reach the playoff improved to 36 percent. If they had lost, it would have dropped to 4 percent, according to the Playoff Predictor.
8. Washington State 19, Cal 13
Washington State is still clinging to playoff hopes, as it remains the Pac-12’s lone one-loss team, but it wasn’t until 32 seconds left that the Cougars scored Saturday’s game winner. Washington State and Utah were the only Pac-12 teams ranked by the committee last week, and committee chair Rob Mullens said one of the reasons the Cougars were No. 8 was because the group was impressed by their win over Utah. Utah, which is leading the South division, now has three defeats after its loss to ASU and should fall in the Tuesday ranking. The committee will have to decide if Washington State’s struggles against an unranked team, coupled with Utah’s loss, still merit a top-10 ranking for the Cougars this week.
9. Clemson 77, Louisville 16
This one is last on the list because it didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about either team. Clemson can clinch the Atlantic Division title with a win over Boston College next week and should lock up the No. 2 spot on Tuesday.