• Road to the playoff: Will Texas A&M play spoiler for Georgia or LSU?

    By: Tim Tucker

    Updated:

    Unlike the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, the College Football Playoff selection committee didn’t move Texas A&M into its top 25 rankings this week. The committee nevertheless will pay close attention to the Aggies’ next two games. 

    That is because the games are against teams currently ranked in the CFP’s all-important top four, No. 4 Georgia in Athens on Saturday and No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 30. 

    An upset win by Texas A&M in either game would seriously scramble the playoff picture, which otherwise seems pretty clear as far as LSU and Georgia are concerned: If they reach the SEC Championship game with 12-0 and 11-1 records, respectively, the winner in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 7 will go to the four-team playoff. And the loser might reach the playoff, too, if Georgia were to hand LSU its first loss.  

    If, on the other hand, Texas A&M springs an upset against Georgia or LSU, the playoff picture would become  much more  muddled, no matter the outcome Dec. 7 in The Benz. 

    A&M has won four games in a row to lift its record to 7-3 (4-2 SEC), the three losses coming to teams ranked in the playoff committee’s top 15 (No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 Alabama and No. 15 Auburn). By the end of next week, the Aggies this season will have played four of the nation’s top five teams, based on the committee’s current rankings. 

    Although Texas A&M isn’t in playoff contention itself, coach Jimbo Fisher was asked at a news conference this week about his team being in position the next two games to potentially affect the  race as a spoiler. 

    “We want to affect our program by how we play,” Fisher said. “Hopefully we have learned from the games earlier in the year of how to approach those games and understand the level of ball you have to play at consistently day in and day out. These young guys, it’s going to be nothing but a great learning experience.

    “We’ve played well this last month, and if we can keep November rolling and play well, it’s important for our program. I mean, playoffs are wonderful, but what I’m worried about is what’s going on at A&M.” 

    Both the AP and coaches’ polls moved Texas A&M into their rankings at No. 24 this week. The playoff committee left the Aggies out, assigning the Nos. 24 and 25 spots in its  rankings to Appalachian State and SMU. Still, two of the leading playoff contenders must go through the Aggies. 

    Could LSU reach the playoff if it loses to Texas A&M and then beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game? Yes, although if that scenario caused the exclusion from the playoff of a one-loss champion of the Pac-12 or Big 12, there would be a lot of protest  outside the SEC. 

    Could Georgia reach the playoff if it loses to A&M and goes on to win the SEC Championship game with an 11-2 record? Improbable, given that no two-loss team has reached the playoff in the event’s five-year history. And a team with a home loss to South Carolina would be a hard sell to buck that trend.

    The selection committee won’t weigh in on such scenarios now, because it refuses to engage in hypotheticals. At this point, LSU is No. 1 because of its “powerful offense” and “three wins against teams in the top 25,” committee chair Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, said. And Georgia is No. 4, Mullens said, because last week’s win over “a tough Auburn team on the road” enhanced a resume that already included victories over Notre Dame and Florida.

    Now on to the rest of our weekly update on college football’s road to the playoff … 

    KEEP AN EYE ON … 

    In a game with considerable implications both for the playoff and Big Ten races, No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) hosts No. 8 Penn State (9-1) at noon Saturday. It is this week’s only game matching two CFP-ranked teams.

    If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will clinch the Big Ten East Division title and a berth in the conference championship game against, in all likelihood, Minnesota or Wisconsin. If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions would rise in the CFP rankings and would need only a win next week against Rutgers to clinch the Big Ten East.

    “Of the games that are still left on the regular-season schedule, to me Ohio State against Penn State and Ohio State against Michigan (Nov. 30) are the two that really stand out that will have the biggest impact, I think,” said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan, a close observer of the playoff selection process. One of the playoff semifinals will be played in the Peach Bowl, the other in the Fiesta Bowl. 

    The playoff committee’s top-ranked team, LSU, is a 43-point favorite at home Saturday against Arkansas. With a win, LSU will clinch a berth in the SEC Championship game against Georgia. The committee’s No. 3 team, Clemson, is off this week. 

    ASKED AND ANSWERED 

    Q. Alabama remained No. 5 in the playoff committee’s rankings this week, just ahead of Oregon. What did the committee have to say during its deliberations about the season-ending injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? 

    A: “Well, obviously we spent considerable time talking about it,” said Mullens, the committee chairman. “Glad he’s on his way to recovering, but Alabama had a convincing win at the end of the day … so it didn’t impact the rankings this week.” 

    Q: Was there talk in the committee room about how Alabama will be evaluated moving forward, knowing  Tagovailoa is out? 

    A: “No, we do not project. We do not look forward,” Mullens said. “We are aware of who’s available in what games, and we make an evaluation based on watching the games and the results.”

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