The Long Shots
No. 10 Texas Christian (10-2) and No. 11 Southern California (10-2) are both playing for league titles against impressive (in T.C.U.’s case) or relatively impressive (in U.S.C.’s case) competition. With big enough blowouts and the right upsets, one could craft a scenario in which one gets in the playoffs. That said, fans of these teams should not harbor much hope, particularly in the case of the Trojans, who would need something like a truly massive win Friday night over No. 12 Stanford (9-3) in the Pacific-12 championship game combined with unconvincing wins by T.C.U. and Ohio State. Pixie dust wouldn’t hurt, either.
How will this play out on Saturday?
The most influential game actually comes first, as the Big 12 title game between Oklahoma and T.C.U. kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Eastern (Fox) in Arlington, Tex. If Oklahoma wins, as is expected, the long shots become no-shots and the two teams who need help immediately are competing for only one open slot alongside the Sooners and the SEC winner (Auburn or Georgia) and the Atlantic Coast Conference champ (Clemson or Miami).
The SEC champion will be crowned next, with a 4 p.m. kickoff (CBS) in Atlanta. The winner is in; the loser is out.
At 8:14 p.m. (ABC) in Charlotte, N.C., Clemson and Miami will square off in the A.C.C. championship, and three minutes later (Fox), the Big Ten game will kick off in Indianapolis. If Oklahoma has won, Alabama fans will be rooting hard for the Buckeyes, who must defeat Wisconsin to give Alabama the opening it needs to sneak into the playoff.
By around midnight, the A.C.C. will have crowned its champion and either Wisconsin will have won — clinching a place at 13-0 — or Ohio State will have made things very interesting. In the latter case, fans and the committee members will debate the next morning between Ohio State and Alabama (and perhaps a just-defeated Clemson).
The Sunday Discussion (If Necessary)
The Ohio State-Alabama talking points are as follows:
■ Alabama has the better record and the best loss (to Auburn), and it has beaten three ranked teams, though two of these were Nos. 23 and 25.
■ Ohio State has the worse record and the worst loss (a 55-24 drubbing at Iowa, which barely finished with a winning record), but also two wins better than Alabama’s best, over No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State, to say nothing of, in this hypothetical, a Wisconsin team likely to remain in the top 10 regardless of the outcome.
Also: in this hypothetical, Ohio State would be a conference champion, while Alabama would not, and the committee is instructed to consider this as one factor. Then again, last year an 11-1 nonchampion made the playoff — none other than Ohio State.
One thing is for sure: if these two mainstays of college football pride and glory end up competing for the final spot, the spurned fan base will take the committee’s decision politely and without any note of bitterness.