Ohio State or Oklahoma? For good reason, that discussion will dominate the college football landscape as Saturday's slate of conference championship games approaches.
Everything is a what-if question. It's been that way all season—from the opener to late September to the first College Football Playoff rankings to this coming weekend. And the argument involving two excellent programs isn't as exciting as possible.
Let's think bigger.
If you're a fan of a remaining CFP hopeful, we understand that rooting interests will dominate your outlook in Week 14. Congratulations on being born in the right region, stumbling into the right program or being a fair-weather fan. All are great! It's just sports!
But if drama, controversy and uproar are your preferences at this point, adopt a bulldog and cheer for the red and black of No. 4 Georgia.
Selection Day would feature peak excitement and intrigue if the Dawgs knock off No. 1 Alabama and drop the Crimson Tide to 12-1.
No. 3 Notre Dame has locked up a CFP spot, and a victory over Alabama would secure Georgia's place in the Top Four. Clemson would follow suit, pending its result with Pitt.
So, then what?
This is a classic discussion of whether the timing of a loss matters. If Ohio State and Oklahoma both win, shouldn't those programs rise above Alabama? But how much should that knock down an Alabama squad that dominated all season?
Purdue wrecked the Buckeyes, who squeaked past Nebraska and barely edged Maryland. Oklahoma has showcased a dynamic offense all year, but its defense is a wreck. Meanwhile, Alabama's smallest margin of victory this season is 22 points.
Would a conference championship atone for those obvious, accepted flaws? If they do, is that right? After all, Alabama's loss would be to a CFP qualifier compared to six-loss Purdue for No. 6 Ohio State and three-loss Texas for No. 5 Oklahoma.
Alabama is arguably a tier above both Ohio State and Oklahoma in terms of competitiveness. The biggest criticism of Alabama is "the kicker isn't great." OSU's defense ranks 76th in yards per play allowed, and OU's is 103rd. Among Power Five teams with winning records, those are two of the seven lowest rankings.
It's foolish to think a one-loss Crimson Tide team (at worst) wouldn't deserve equal consideration.
There's no way to predict how the selection committee would react. Everything about this is a what-if question.
The debate between Ohio State and Oklahoma is critical. It may continue into Sunday. But an Alabama loss to Georgia would throw a fascinating wrinkle into the final decision—one that could leave both Ohio State and Oklahoma out of the CFP.
If that happens, it would be perfectly reasonable.
Surely Not Pitt, Right?
No. 2 Clemson is carrying a seven-game streak of 20-plus-point victories into the ACC Championship Game. Dabo Swinney's club is a 26.5-point favorite against Pitt, according to OddsShark.
The Panthers, on the other hand, endured a nightmare performance in a 24-3 loss at Miami last week. That wasn't entirely unexpected, since the 'Canes ranked second nationally with 4.16 yards allowed per play during the regular season.
But Miami's offense was average this season. While the Hurricanes finished 71st in yards per snap, Clemson featured the nation's fourth-most efficient attack at 7.38 yards per play.
Given that awful display last week, how can this Pitt team stun Clemson?
Well, it's simple: Nothing about the Panthers against top competition is sensible. In 2016, they edged Penn State and Clemson—the first team outside of the CFP picture and the eventual national champion, respectively. In 2017, Pitt knocked off then-No. 2 Miami.
On paper, this shouldn't be much of a contest. But based on Pitt's recent history against top-tier teams, Clemson must be prepared for a 60-minute fight.
Red River Rematch
Longhorns fans enjoyed their big "Texas is back!" moment of 2018 when Cameron Dicker's 40-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to stun Oklahoma 48-45 in October.
Six games, five one-possession margins and two losses later, Texas is back...in the Big 12 Championship Game. No more, no less.
The Longhorns would rather have a CFP berth at stake in Arlington. But as far as consolation prizes go, a chance to defeat the Sooners twice in one season and eliminate them from national title contention while winning the Big 12 is a decent one.
The Longhorns are headed into the game as 7.5-point 'dogs, per OddsShark, which is understandable. Texas hasn't cracked seven yards per snap all year. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's lowest clip since its loss is 7.4. These offenses are in different worlds.
Oklahoma ceded an average of 47.3 points in November, though. Sam Ehlinger and Texas could take advantage of a porous defense and challenge Murray to avoid making mistakes.
That didn't happen in Dallas, when the Longhorns held a 3-0 turnover edge. Plus, Oklahoma committed six turnovers in eight games through October but has six giveaways in the last four contests.
In this rematch, no unit faces more pressure than UT's defense.
Next Man Up for UCF
The injury, the timing, the impact. Just horrible.
But as the season ended in miserable fashion for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton—he has nerve damage and will undergo reconstructive surgery on his right knee, according to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel—the No. 8 Knights still have a major opportunity. They'll host Memphis for the AAC Championship Game with a chance to earn a second straight New Year's Six bowl appearance.
UCF's high-powered scoring attack will turn to freshman Darriel Mack Jr., who totaled 189 yards of offense in a spot start at East Carolina and collected 132 in relief of Milton last week. Ready or not, it's his time to take center stage.
Should the Knights lose, it may create an opportunity for the two-loss Mountain West champion—Fresno State or Boise State—to steal a NY6 berth over the one-loss, Milton-less UCF.