College football games, matchups: All on the line in conference championship week

There is a new definition of failure.

In an age when the keyboard proletariat is guiding coaching hires, success is a day-to-day proposition. The College Football Playoff has helped make it so.

It’s no secret when the CFP debuted a new standard was established: playoff or bust. That’s what makes this weekend so make-or-break. At least six of the nine conference championship games figure to have a hand in CFP or New Year’s Six berths.

The Big 12 is more than aware of the vagaries of the CFP. It is the only Power Five to miss in two of the first three seasons. That’s why it’s pretty much Oklahoma or bust this year in this first year of the re-instituted Big 12 title game. https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/the-big-12-championship-game-is-back-and-the-timing-couldnt-be-worse/

Alabama could be defined by the standard if it misses the CFP for the first time. Also for the first time, the Tide, season over, will be watching Saturday from the couch. Clemson could then replace the Tide as your official CFP host with a third straight appearance.

What about Wisconsin, playing for the fifth time in the seven-year history of the Big Ten Championship Game? The Badgers are one step away from getting into a tournament to chase their first national championship.

Imagine the glee in Athens, Georgia, and Coral Gables, Florida, if both Georgia and Miami get in for the first time. That presents a possible Mark Richt-vs.-the Dawgs matchup.

Did we say failure? Going into Championship Week, maybe the CFP has defined a new kind of success.

With much respect and honor we present the final regular-season edition of Saturday Storylines …

1. J.T. Barrett’s knee: The piece of torn meniscus reportedly removed from the Ohio State quarterback’s right knee now becomes the most significant body part of the weekend. The Columbus Dispatch reported Barrett underwent surgery Sunday and will play Saturday. That, after cameraman conspiracy may have damaged the knee against Michigan.

What we don’t know is what shape Barrett will be in. Playing for a championship six days after knee surgery? “That’s not totally unheard of,” said one medical professional contacted by CBS Sports. “It’s not something you want to push. As long as the incisions are covered …”

You don’t have to be told the three-time Big Ten first-team quarterback is the key to any hope for the Buckeyes. Just a reminder, that knee will compete against the nation’s No. 1 defense. (The only defense not to give up at least 1,000 rushing yards this season.)

Another reminder for Urban Meyer: It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to rely more on tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber (combined 17 rushing touchdowns, 7.0 yards per carry). As things stand, this could not be looking better for Power Five’s only undefeated team.

2. Kerryon Johnson‘s shoulder: Equally important to Auburn‘s chances is the health of their top tailback, probably the SEC offensive player of the year. Auburn coaches have been cagey about Johnson’s availability continually saying “day-to-day.” I don’t blame them. You don’t want Georgia to know anything, especially if Johnson takes the field at 80 percent.

Just like Ohio State and Barrett, Auburn’s chances of beating the Dawgs go down significantly without Johnson. Backup Kam Martin, a sophomore, averages 34 yards per game. “I’m doing everything I can to get out there,” Johnson said.

3. Armageddon scenario: One way or another, it seems history will be made.  If the favorites at the top of the College Football Playoff Rankings all win, we’re guaranteed at least one two-loss team (Auburn) in the playoff for the first time. But what if the top four all lose (Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, Wisconsin)? Hold on to your off-shore betting sheets and see the shocking results below.

ACC Championship Game: If Miami wins, the Canes are in. The question is whether No. 1 Clemson stays in the top four after a second loss, this one to a Miami team coming off a bad loss to Pittsburgh. Probably not, making this a winner take all. That means the ACC has a place in the playoff. Prediction: Clemson 30, Miami 17

SEC Championship Game: Auburn is a slight 2.5-point favorite. That could sway back to Georgia if Johnson doesn’t play. With both teams sporting at least one loss, this is another likely winner take all. If No. 8 Georgia wins, only three teams above it have a chance to win (Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Clemson). The SEC has spot in the playoff, too. Prediction: Auburn 23, Georgia 17

Big 12 Championship Game: As mentioned, Oklahoma has nothing to prove. It has already beaten TCU by 18 on Nov. 11.  The Frogs would have to come from No. 11 with a win to get into the top four. There’s a chance, but it’s a longshot. TCU would have to hope for a losses by Auburn, Clemson, Wisconsin, Georgia and then fight off a Pac-12 champion USC, a two-loss Miami, a two-loss Georgia and an Alabama that didn’t win its division. Looks like it’s Oklahoma or the Big 12 is out. Prediction: Oklahoma 42, TCU 23

Big Ten Championship Game: It’s complicated. If Wisconsin — a 6.5 point underdog – wins, the Badgers are in. If No. 8 Ohio State wins, it becomes a conversation piece for the committee. At 11-2, the Buckeyes would have to beat out No. 5 Alabama — at least.

In that case, the committee needs to consider these numbers: Ohio State has already lost its two games by a combined 46 points — one of those by 31 to Iowa.  In the three-year history of the CFP, nine teams have headed into the playoff with one loss by a combined 58 points. So there’s that. Best case for the Bucks: Barrett is healthy, it beats Wisconsin and Oklahoma, Auburn and Clemson all win.  Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Ohio State 20

4. The shocking results of the Armageddon scenario: If the top four all lose, it’s most likely Georgia, Miami, Clemson, Alabama from 1-4. Yup, two from the SEC and two from the ACC. Only two of them (Georgia, Miami) would have won their conference. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

5. The rest: There are other games to be played even if they don’t have playoff implications.

AAC Championship Game: The Memphis-UCF winner most likely gets the Peach Bowl (or Cotton or Fiesta). The most likely news to come out of the game is that it’s Scott Frost’s last for the Knights. All signs point to a Nebraska press conference to introduce him early next week. UCF 43, Memphis 42

Mountain West Championship Game: Fresno State is on its way to becoming the most improved team in the country — statistically. (1-11 to 9-3) At Boise, the Broncos get revenge for a meaningless regular-season loss last week at Fresno. Boise State 27, Fresno State 20

Conference USA Championship Game: In the last meeting, Florida Atlantic stomped North Texas 69-31. The 804 yards by the Owls were the most in C-USA history. Lane Kiffin stops tweeting long enough to wrap a nice bow on first season in Boca. FAU 41, North Texas 24

MAC Championship Game: At age 61, Akron coach Terry Bowden still has some fire in the belly. He wants one more job (above the MAC level) after leading the Zips to their first MAC title game in 12 years.  The man who went 11-0 at Auburn in 1993 remains responsible for 100 percent of Akron’s bowl wins (one). Toledo 31, Akron 16 

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