The first piece of the College Football Playoff puzzle that could have presented a problem for the selection committee fell easily into place.
Championship Saturday began with No. 2 Oklahoma (11-2, CFP No. 3) winning the Big 12 title, shutting down one possible point of controversy for selection Sunday.
Baker Mayfield and the Sooners routed No. 10 TCU 41-17 in the first of four games matching AP top-10 teams that will determine who will enter the postseason with a chance to win a national championship. Georgia (12-1, CFP No. 6) then made a strong bid for a spot by hammering Auburn and the only potential problem left for the committee was the Big Ten championship game late Saturday between unbeaten Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Thoughts, predictions and takeaways from championship Saturday:
The rebirth of the Big 12 championship could not have come at a worse time for the conference. The Sooners didn’t need it to get into the playoff for the second time in three years.
The Big 12 championship was the only Power Five conference title game Saturday where only one of the participants had real playoff chances. A TCU victory would have mucked up things for the selection committee, which gathered at a resort hotel in Grapevine, Texas, to watch games before working on their final top 25.
Mayfield and Co. made it a non-issue.
Now the question is could the Sooners take the No. 1 seed? They came into the weekend behind Clemson and Auburn in the playoff rankings. This is for sure: No playoff team will have a better quarterback.
Mayfield tossed four touchdown passes against TCU to give him 41 on the season. He will surely be a runaway Heisman Trophy winner next week. He also plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the country with two likely future first-round draft picks in tackles in Orlando Brown and Bobby Evans. Sure, the Sooners ranked 73rd in the country in yards per play allowed (5.69) coming into Saturday. But who is stopping these guys?
Three weeks after losing at Auburn, Georgia won a rematch 28-7 with higher stakes. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs will be in the CFP for the first time.
This one was easy for the committee. Whoever won was getting into the bracket. Auburn was trying to become the first team to get in with two losses. Instead, Georgia, which was No. 1 for the first two weeks of the playoff rankings, ran away from the Tigers to become the first SEC East team to win the league championship game since 2008 when Florida did it.
There is another SEC team hoping to join Georgia but you have to wonder if Saturday’s result damaged Alabama’s hopes. The Crimson Tide is watching at home this weekend. Nick Saban spent Saturday morning on ESPN’s ”College GameDay” touting his teams resume and breaking down the Dawgs v. Tigers.
Alabama is hoping to take the route to the playoff that Ohio State took last year, when the Buckeyes did not even win their division. The Tide doesn’t have a resume stocked with big victories the way Ohio State did in 2016. And now the one team that beat Alabama, Auburn, is 10-3.
The Tide came into the day rooting for TCU and for No. 8 Ohio State (CFP No. 8) to beat No. 3 Wisconsin (CFP No. 4) in the Big Ten title game to create a possible opening to the playoff.
Of course, the Buckeyes might have a case, too.
GOING HOME A CHAMPION
All signs pointed in this direction so it was no surprise when, after Scott Frost was done leading Central Florida to the American Athletic Conference championship, he was announced as Nebraska’s next coach.
The Knights are unbeaten and likely heading to the Peach Bowl as the highest-ranked champion from outside the Power Five conferences. No doubt some fans will wonder why UCF doesn’t get a chance to play in the final four, but the schedule lacks big nonconference wins. It might not be fair, but unless the playoff expands it will always be a long shot for the teams outside the Power Five.
TCU’s lose could open up a spot in the New Year’s six for a team that has not been talked about much since the rankings started coming out. Washington was 13th last week, right behind Stanford and TCU, which both lost. Unless TCU (10-3) stays ahead or the committee reconsiders Notre Dame (9-3) the Huskies (10-2) could be headed to the Cotton Bowl.
With the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference (Clemson vs. Miami) titles not yet settled, here’s how the New Year’s Six could come together, assuming Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State and both ACC title game teams are getting in:
Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl semifinals: Oklahoma, Georgia, ACC winner, TBD.
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. (Big Ten team TBD)
Peach Bowl: UCF vs. (Auburn, Alabama or Big Ten team)
Cotton Bowl: Washington vs. (Big Ten team TBD)
Orange Bowl: ACC loser vs. (Alabama, Auburn or Big Ten team)
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
More AP college football coverage: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25