Alabama will be in. So will Clemson and, almost assuredly, Notre Dame. Who will take the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff? Several teams have a claim on inclusion, and they weren’t shy about making that case on Saturday. Here’s what they said, in order of current CFP ranking.
No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs
Saturday result: 35-28 loss to No. 1 Alabama in SEC title game
Final record: 11-2
Unlike the other teams on this list, Georgia doesn’t have a conference title. And it’s the only one with two losses. So the case for Georgia would come down to the eye test. The Bulldogs lost to No. 10 LSU earlier this season, then went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game.
As it was building a big lead against the Crimson Tide, it certainly looked like one of the top four teams in the country.
“Well, it boils down to one thing: Do you want the four best teams in or not? It’s that simple,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “[Alabama] sat at home last year and got to go in the game, while everybody else is beating each other up, and they had a good football team. Give that coach across the sideline [Alabama’s Nick Saban] a vote who he doesn’t want to play. He’ll start with us. I promise you, [he] don’t want to play us. It’s not our decision. It’s their decision. But you’re going to put the four best football teams in.”
Saban offered his take.
“Based on the teams we played this year, [Georgia] sure deserves to be in the playoff, as well,” Saban said. “I sure as hell don’t want to play them again. That’s the best compliment I can give you or them.”
We’ll see if the playoff committee agrees. — Mark Schlabach
No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners
Saturday result: 39-27 win over No. 14 Texas in Big 12 title game
Final record: 12-1
The Sooners boast the nation’s top-scoring offense. In quarterback Kyler Murray, they have one of only two players can who can truly win the Heisman Trophy. They went 12-1 and on Saturday avenged their only loss of the season — a three-point defeat to Texas back in October — with a 39-27 victory over the Longhorns to become the first school to win four consecutive Big 12 championships.
Oh, and their much-maligned defense might finally be turning a corner.
Oklahoma’s playoff case starts with Murray, who is on pace to shatter the FBS season passing efficiency record set last season by predecessor Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman. Murray also can become the first player in FBS history to finish a season averaging more than 300 yards and passing and 60 yards rushing.
“He’s done things in college football that have never happened before, but I think the biggest thing for me is he had to do it in big moments,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s had to continually make big plays in big games throughout the entire year. He’s been the most dynamic player in the country. … There’s a lot of other great ones out there. I get this, but our guy right here is pretty special.”
Unlike with its special offense, Oklahoma’s defense doesn’t compare favorably with the other playoff contenders. But at least the Sooners have begun to come up with big plays on that side of the ball.
Last weekend, despite giving up 56 points in a win at West Virginia, the Sooners scored a pair of defensive touchdowns off fumble recoveries. On Saturday, cornerback Tre Brown delivered maybe the play of the game, sacking Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the end zone for a safety in the fourth quarter.
Sure, the Sooners could’ve played better overall defense this season. And they could’ve gone undefeated.
But otherwise, they’ve left a pretty strong playoff case.
“We’ve got a great résumé,” Riley said. “And we’ve got some great players behind us I think that a lot of people don’t want to play.
“We’ll let the committee do their job. They’ve got a lot of good things to look at from this team today. I’m sure they were tuned in watching this, and if they did, I think they saw one of the best teams in the country.” — Jake Trotter
No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes
Saturday result: Defeated Northwestern 45-24 in Big Ten title game
Final record: 12-1
After a blowout 49-20 loss to Purdue and just squeaking by Maryland, 52-51, Ohio State’s playoff dreams seemed all but over. But a late-season rally that included a 62-39 rout of then-No. 4 Michigan showed how dangerous the Buckeyes could be when everything was clicking.
All was not clicking throughout their win over Northwestern, but Urban Meyer’s squad still won by three touchdowns, and the coach made his case for inclusion shortly after the game ended.
“Those people in Dallas or wherever they are, it’s a tough situation to be in,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot of great football teams out there, and we’re one of those great football teams. There should be a lot of merit to winning your conference, which we did. You look at the road wins we had — at Penn State, at Michigan State, at TCU — and then obviously the way we played against the fourth-ranked team in America, and the way we played tonight. So I don’t know if we’re in a position to start making statements about where we belong, but I know they’ve got a tough decision to make because we’re a heck of a football team.”
Running back J.K. Dobbins was even more emphatic.
“We lost our coach early in the season,” Dobbins said. “We had to play three games without him. We faced a lot of adversity. Our offense is something crazy. We put up numbers that are ridiculous because we have so many weapons. And our defense is stepping up, so they should put us in there.”
Wide receiver Parris Campbell echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
“We’re playing our best ball right now,” Campbell said. “This team has shown resilience. Obviously, we had a bump in the road against Purdue, but this team never gave up. We got huge on-the-road wins against Top 25 opponents — TCU, Penn State, Michigan State — and I just think this team, we have a lot on our books, a lot to show for. We had that one bump, man, but just the resilience of this team and how we just won our conference championship, how we beat our rivals, they were a top-4 team. I think we’ve got a good track record.” — Adam Rittenberg and Dan Murphy
No. 8 UCF Knights
Saturday result: Defeated Memphis 56-41 in AAC title game
Final record: 12-0
UCF has the best case out there: The Knights won all their games — and won their conference championship game without injured star quarterback McKenzie Milton. What more could you ask of a team?
“You look at what this group of individuals has done collectively as a football team this season, being perfect on the football field, handling any situation that comes at them,” coach Josh Heupel said. “I believe in the strength of this conference and the quality of players and coaches. You look at what they’ve been able to do for two years straight inside of our program. To me, our players deserve an opportunity to go earn it on the field and play for it.”
UCF is the 17th team in the AP Poll era with a win streak of 25 or more games. Fifteen of the previous 16 played for the national title during their streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“There has been a national conversation going on for the last 11 months since we won the Peach Bowl and claimed a national championship last year,” athletic director Danny White said. “I don’t feel that a four-team playoff is adequate for the postseason of college football. Last year’s team showed that. Our football team, our student-athletes have now won 25 straight games; they deserve to be in this playoff, and I hope that’s the decision that’s made tomorrow. If that does not occur, that’s another pretty glaring example that a four-team playoff is not adequate for the postseason of college football.” — Andrea Adelson