Welcome to Championship Saturday in college football, which leads us to Selection Sunday when the four qualifiers for the College Football Playoff and many of the teams participating in the other 37 bowls will be announced.
Two things we've noticed as we await the results and the decisions coming out this weekend.
It seems that two of the conference championship games — Georgia-Auburn in the SEC and Miami-Clemson in the ACC — are strictly elimination games: Win and you're in the playoff, lose and you still have a nice bowl game coming up but not one of the biggies, although the Hurricanes may be on thinner ice than the others because of their shocking loss last week at Pittsburgh.
Then there is the CFP selection committee, which listed teams this week in such a way that wins by the top four — Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — will leave us with absolutely no drama as we count down to the ESPN selection show at noon Sunday.
Of course, if Oklahoma or Wisconsin goes down, then there's drama, not to mention speculation, expectation, anticipation, apprehension and, finally, condemnation of the committee members and the process if your team doesn't get in and the annual cry of "Why-oh-why don't they expand the field to eight?"
Will Texas Christian be elevated from its current No. 11 position into a final four spot by beating Oklahoma? Can Ohio State overcome the 31-point thumping it experienced at Iowa and sneak in from No. 8 with a win over Wisconsin? And what about Alabama, which has nowhere to go this weekend as it sits in the No. 5 spot which, as Penn State could tell you last year, is the loneliest spot on that final Sunday?
Tide standing by
Alabama is in the same position as Ohio State was last year — no conference championship game, yet hoping to get the benefit of the doubt from the committee anyway. The Buckeyes got in ahead of Penn State. Can the Crimson Tide roll in as a second SEC team, or could they move up to No. 4 even if Miami wins?
Selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt was asked Tuesday about what would happen if Ohio State defeated Wisconsin. Would the two-loss Buckeyes advance ahead of one-loss Alabama?
"We'll need to have the conference champion designation and metric in front of us to answer that question," he said. "This week obviously the selection committee thought Alabama was the better football team. If that should change, if Ohio State should win a conference championship, I don't know how the committee would make that decision until it happens."
After Alabama lost to Auburn last week, Tide coach Nick Saban said, "I think this team deserves the opportunity to get in the playoff by what they've been able to accomplish."
A meme came out this week that quoted Saban as saying in 2016, "You should have to win your conference to get in the CFB playoff." The fact is, he never said it. He called a conference title "a significant accomplishment" but just a part of a team's entire body of work to be considered.
J.T. Barrett to play after reported surgery
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is expected to play against Wisconsin despite the fact that, according to multiple reports, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last Sunday.
Barrett left last week's game against Michigan in the third quarter after his knee locked up, and it was revealed afterward that he first hurt the knee when a photographer bumped into him before the game. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said on his radio show Thursday night that Barrett had been cleared to play.
If Barrett can't go, his place will be taken by redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins, who led Ohio State back from a 20-14 deficit to beat Michigan. Haskins' presence is reminiscent to that of Cardale Jones, who replaced Barrett late in the 2014 season after the then-freshman broke his ankle and led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin.
Some numbers to crunch
Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, a Salem High graduate, needs 120 yards against Ohio State to break the FBS freshman rushing record held by former Oklahoma star Adrian Peterson, who ran for 1,925 yards in 2004. Taylor has 1,806 yards.
Florida State needs to defeat Louisiana-Monroe to qualify for a bowl for the 36th consecutive year, the longest active streak in the nation.
The two highest scoring teams in FBS — Central Florida (first, 48.3 points per game) and Memphis (second, 47.0 points per game) — will clash in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner is likely to go to a New Year's Six bowl.
Expatriate of the week
Congratulations are in order for three local players who were named first-team all-conference in the Big Ten and the ACC. Taylor led the Big Ten in rushing and Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore (Imhotep Charter) topped the conference with 80 catches and 1,033 receiving yards. In the ACC, Pittsburgh punter Ryan Winslow (La Salle College) averaged 44.5 yards on 57 punts.
Games of the week
Texas Christian vs. Oklahoma at Arlington, Texas (12:30 p.m., Fox29): The Big 12 title game is the last chance for Baker Mayfield to show off his Heisman Trophy credentials before the award is presented next Saturday, and lead the Sooners into the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
Georgia vs. Auburn at Atlanta (4 p.m., CBS3): The Bulldogs were embarrassed 40-17 three weeks ago by the Tigers, who were playing at home. But in the friendlier confines of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and with a CFP berth on the line, Georgia hopes its rushing attack behind Nick Chubb will allow it to square matters.
Miami vs. Clemson at Charlotte, N.C. (8 p.m., 6ABC): The Hurricanes looked like an ordinary team last week at Pittsburgh in suffering their first loss, and it remains to be seen how confident they will be against the Tigers, who want a chance to defend their 2016 national championship.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin at Indianapolis (8:15 p.m., Fox29): The last time these two teams met for the Big Ten championship in 2014, the Buckeyes blew out the Badgers, 59-0. The key matchup will be Wisconsin's dominant defense against quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is six days off of knee surgery.
RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
Johnson suffered a shoulder injury last week against Alabama and is considered to be a game-time decision against Georgia in the SEC championship game. The Tigers will need him,
The 6-foot-0 212-lb. junior from Huntsville, Ala. led the SEC in rushing yards per game at 127.6, while scoring 17 touchdowns on the ground. He gained 100 or more yards in seven of his last eight games, including a season high of 204 against Mississippi.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Johnson missed one day of practice and has been able to do "some things" at practice this week.
The Inquirer Top 10
1. Oklahoma (11-1)
2. Clemson (11-1)
3. Wisconsin (12-0)
4. Auburn (10-2)
5. Alabama (11-1)
6. Georgia (11-1)
7. Miami (10-1)
8. Southern California (10-2)
9. Ohio State (10-2)
10. Texas Christian (10-2)