GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Following the conclusion of the Big Ten and ACC conference championship games on Saturday night, the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee moved from where it was watching the games into the adjacent room deemed "Selection Central" to begin its discussions and cast its votes.
They debated past midnight and will again begin at 8:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, as the decision for No. 4 is more difficult than an otherwise predictable season might have indicated.
Though No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame likely solidified their spots, the group has to decide if Big 12 champion Oklahoma, Big Ten champion Ohio State or two-loss SEC runner-up Georgia deserves the fourth spot. In making that determination, the committee and everyone watching will learn how much this particular committee, with its six new members, values a conference championship game.
"When you look at the protocol, it's very clear that when teams are comparable at the margins, there are four things to look at: obviously, head-to-head; comparable opponents; strength of schedule; then the one you mentioned, conference championship," committee chair Rob Mullens said. "It is the one data point that becomes available at the end of the season that's not available during."
That's not good news for Georgia, whose schedule strength will certainly be scrutinized by the committee. The Bulldogs' nonconference schedule includes Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass, and it doesn't have the conference championship to fall back on.
While Ohio State (2016) and Alabama (2017) both have finished in the top four in the past without even winning their divisions, remember that 14 of the past 16 semifinalists were conference champions.
If the tiebreakers eliminate Georgia, it boils down to No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 Ohio State -- which is what many had expected would happen. The question then becomes whether or not Ohio State did enough in its win against Northwestern to leapfrog an Oklahoma team that had been ranked ahead of it all season. The Buckeyes' performance was a microcosm of its inconsistent season, as they both dominated and looked pedestrian. They had nine penalties and two turnovers, but quarterback Dwayne Haskins had another strong performance.
"It's about the full body of work," Mullens said. "That's why we watch the games. That's why we discuss it. That's why we look at the data."
Oklahoma, meanwhile, avenged its only loss of the season by beating Texas to win the Big 12.
"Well, obviously, we watch the games, then we look at the résumé. We also look at the statistics. When you look at the numbers, while their defense has been a challenge, their offense has been superior," Mullens said. "They find a way to win the games based on the talent that they have."
All of the coaches in contention began to unabashedly lobby for a spot in the top four following their games, but the committee wasn't listening.
The statements were already made.
No. 1 Alabama 35, No. 4 Georgia 28
An Alabama win was supposed to make things easier, but considering how well Georgia played in the loss, the Bulldogs opened the door for the committee to consider a two-loss team that didn't even win its conference championship. Now that would be a first. The committee's job is to pick the four best teams, period, and there could be people in the room who think that in spite of the two losses (to No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 LSU), Georgia is still one of the four best. There will also be people in the room who value a conference championship and will argue on behalf of Oklahoma and/or Ohio State. How Ohio State fares in the Big Ten championship game just became even more important, and the committee's job far more difficult. Alabama, meanwhile, has almost assuredly clinched the top seed in the CFP.
No. 5 Oklahoma 39, No. 14 Texas 27
Oklahoma avenged its regular-season loss to Texas when it mattered most -- with the entire selection committee watching the Big 12 championship game. The one-loss Sooners' fate in the playoff now hinges on how Ohio State performs in the Big Ten championship game -- and who wins the SEC. Oklahoma's defense made some eye-popping plays, including its first safety since 2013, and the Sooners held an opponent to under 40 points for the first time in five games. Oklahoma took care of business -- but now it's watching the scoreboard. The Sooners should be rooting for Alabama and Northwestern to win, which would all but guarantee them the No. 4 spot. If Alabama loses and Ohio State wins, the Sooners will be in a three-team debate.
American Athletic Conference
No. 8 UCF 56, Memphis 41
With Darriel Mack Jr. leading the offense in place of injured starter McKenzie Milton, UCF kept its second undefeated season intact and will earn a bid to a New Year's Six bowl for the second straight season after defeating Memphis to win the AAC. The Knights will likely head to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, because the selection committee would probably avoid sending them to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl again. That will likely be the ceiling for the undefeated Knights, as both Georgia and Alabama simultaneously put on a show in the SEC championship game, and Oklahoma also made a case by beating Texas to win the Big 12 championship. It was certainly a statement win, though, for UCF, which played an inspired game without Milton. Mack became the second AAC player this season with two passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns in a single game. The other? Milton, against FAU.
No. 2 Clemson 42, No. 24 Pittsburgh 10
Clemson avoided any threat of an upset against Pitt and should lock up the No. 2 spot on Sunday with its ACC title. The Tigers will likely face No. 3 Notre Dame in a semifinal, assuming their places stay the same. Whether or not they go to the Orange Bowl, though, depends on who earns the No. 4 spot. If No. 1 Alabama faces Oklahoma, the selection committee would likely send the Tide to Miami and Clemson would instead go to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas.
No. 6 Ohio State 45, No. 21 Northwestern 24
Ohio State won the Big Ten title, but it might not be enough to leapfrog No. 5 Oklahoma and finish in the top four on Sunday. There is no question the one-loss Buckeyes will be considered, but with a sloppy first half, Ohio State wasn't as impressive or as dominant as it was in the regular-season finale against Michigan. On a night when Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma punctuated their résumés in impressive fashion, and even Georgia made a statement in defeat, Ohio State left some doubts.
Pac-12: Washington clinches Rose Bowl appearance
With Washington's win over Utah on Friday night, the Huskies earned a trip to the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, where they are expected to be an underdog against the Big Ten's representative, most likely No. 6 Ohio State or No. 7 Michigan. The Pac-12 will miss the playoff for the third time in four years, as Washington finished with three losses.