Georgia, Michigan, TCU seek to maintain College Football Playoff positions on Saturday

One game. Maybe two.

That’s how many of this year’s conference championship matchups actually matter in regard to which four teams make the College Football Playoff.

One of those was the Pac-12 title game, a Friday-night affair with No. 4 USC likely needing to beat Utah to get into the playoff for the first time. As for Saturday’s slate, the Big 12 game — No. 3 TCU against Kansas State — holds all the intrigue. If the unbeaten Horned Frogs finally lose, and lose badly, are they out? If they lose a close one, are they still in, warts and all? Of course, if they beat the Wildcats for a second time this season, they get to kiss the princess and start packing for either Glendale, Ariz., or Atlanta.

But with news that playoff expansion is coming in 2024 — the field expanding to 12 — it’s hard not to get sidetracked imagining what the weekend might have looked like.

The new format will reward the six league champs ranked highest by the selection committee (the top four of which get first-round byes) and the six highest-ranked teams not among them. If the format were in play now, Utah would have a chance to win and put two Pac-12 teams in the field. Same with Kansas State in the Big-12. An LSU upset of Georgia in the SEC potentially would put four teams from that powerhouse league in the field. A Purdue upset of Michigan would put three or four in from the Big Ten. Clemson-North Carolina in the ACC and Tulane-UCF in the American would be play-in games. Non-champs Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee and Penn State, meanwhile, all would be licking their chops in anticipation of the first-round pairings.

So much excitement and chaos … just not yet.

This year and next, we’ve got what we’ve got. It’ll have to do.


Big 12: No. 3 TCU (-2 1/2 ) vs. No. 10 Kansas State (11 a.m., Ch. 7, Arlington, Texas): K-State led 28-17 at the half — at TCU — the first time these teams squared off. The Frogs ended up getting it done, but they’ve come through in close games all season. Against the Big 12’s No. 1 defensive team, is it finally their time to blow one? K-State can run the ball, and its coach, Chris Klieman, is a postseason master, having won four FCS national titles at North Dakota State. But the Frogs still get overlooked in funny ways, like ESPN’s silly Power Index still having them behind Texas even though they won in Austin and are unbeaten. Come on, man. TCU, 34-31.

MAC: Ohio (+3) vs. Toledo (11 a.m., ESPN, Detroit): Toledo last won this thing in 2017. Ohio has made four title games and lost them all, which hardly seems fair. Northern Illinois lost by only seven at Ohio but got bombed at home by 20 by Toledo, and you know what that means — absolutely nothing. Bobcats in a bit of an upset.

Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina (+8 1/2 ) at Troy (2:30 p.m., ESPN): Troy’s defense is as good as it gets at this level, a tireless unit that plays angry and can really run. Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell, meanwhile, reportedly has one foot out the door to Liberty, which can’t be good for his current squad, can it? Trojans protect their house, 27-14.

SEC: No. 1 Georgia (-17 1/2 ) vs. No. 14 LSU (3 p.m., Ch. 2, Atlanta): The embarrassment of last weekend’s pathetic showing at Texas A&M fueled LSU’s preparation for Georgia, for whatever that’s worth. But are the ‘Dogs really going to lose this game for the second year in a row? Not a chance. Still, knowing they’re in the playoff no matter what is bound to take the edge off a bit. ‘Dogs win, Tigers cover.

Tulane seeks a giant “W” in the American.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

American: No. 22 UCF (+4) at No. 18 Tulane (3 p.m., Ch. 7): We saw these very same teams play three weeks ago at the very same New Orleans stadium, and UCF won 38-31. Why else would Tulane be favored, right? Green Wave flip the script, 38-31.

Mountain West: Fresno State (+3) at Boise State (3 p.m., Fox-32): We saw these very same teams play eight weeks ago at the very same Boise stadium, and the visitors lost 40-20. But it was a closer game than that score indicates and — more important — terrific senior QB Jake Haener was out with an injury. Led by Haener, Bulldogs get some payback.

Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan (-17) vs. Purdue (7 p.m., Fox-32, Indianapolis): A letdown for the Wolverines after a glorious win against Ohio State? That’s what many of us asked a year ago, then they stormed the field in Indy and obliterated Iowa 42-3. Figure they’ll leave a bit more in the tank for the playoff this time. Blake Corum, Michigan’s superstar running back, has been shut down, but that’s OK. Backup Donovan Edwards hits paydirt three times in a 34-19 win.

ACC: No. 9 Clemson (-7 1/2 ) vs. No. 23 North Carolina (7 p.m., Ch. 7, Charlotte, N.C.): Can UNC’s passing attack, powered by QB Drake Maye and top target Josh Downs, keep up with Clemson’s scoring? Because even Dabo Swinney’s up-and-down offense is sure to put up big numbers against Mack Brown’s terrible defense. Tigers 38, Tar Heels 34.

Last week: 5-3 straight up, 3-4-1 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 71-41 straight up, 56-55-1 vs. the spread.

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