Forde's Fab Four: Final playoff spot up for grabs after rivalry week thins field

Every week, I will play Selection Committee member, take a look at the College Football Playoff picture and offer Forde’s Fab Four bracket as if today were Selection Sunday. Feel free to agree or disagree, starting with the renewed debate about which Big 12 team should replace Mississippi State.

No. 1 seed Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor in the Sugar Bowl

The Crimson Tide maintained the pole position with just a week to go until Selection Sunday thanks to a furious second-half rally to bury Auburn 55-44. In 18 minutes of game clock Saturday night, Alabama went from 12 points down to 12 points up. The Tide scored touchdowns on five straight second-half possessions, eventually embracing the shootout the Tigers forced them into. Not that ‘Bama needs much more résumé polish, but Mississippi provided it by knocking off Mississippi State, further enhancing the quality of the Tide’s lone defeat. The Sagarin Ratings rank Alabama and Ole Miss 1-2 in the nation. Stat: Alabama has scored more than 50 points three times this season. Last time that happened? Try 1945, when the undefeated Crimson Tide did it four times in 10 games. Next: Missouri in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The only major concern for the Tide should be a letdown – but given what’s at stake, that’s unlikely.

[Related: How Nick Saban adapted to help 'Bama get Iron Bowl revenge]

The Bears return to the Fab Four bracket – not because of anything spectacular they did on the field, but because of Mississippi State’s loss. Baylor’s lackluster 48-46 victory over 4-8 Texas Tech impressed no one, but it wasn’t demonstrably different from TCU’s wobbly victory over 3-9 Kansas on Nov. 15 or Ohio State plodding past 4-8 Indiana on Nov. 22. The margin between Baylor and TCU is razor-thin, but the deciding factor between teams with the same records still should be head-to-head result – the Bears beat the Horned Frogs. TCU looked great Thursday night in blowing out Texas, but the loss at Waco on Oct. 11 isn’t going away. As for Ohio State: The loss of quarterback J.T. Barrett is a definite factor – it’s impossible to see the Buckeyes being as strong a playoff team without a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback. The Buckeyes still merit watching closely Saturday with Cardale Jones at QB in the Big Ten championship game, of course. But no matter who the quarterback is, Ohio State’s résumé still is not as strong as that of either Big 12 front-runner. Baylor’s best victory (TCU) is better than Ohio State’s best victory (Michigan State); Baylor’s second-best victory (Oklahoma) is better than Ohio State’s second-best victory (Minnesota); and Baylor’s loss (at West Virginia) is better than Ohio State’s loss (home against Virginia Tech). Then there is this week: If both Baylor and Ohio State win Saturday – the Bears vs. Kansas State and the Buckeyes vs. Wisconsin – then Baylor’s top three victories all would trump Ohio State’s. TCU would win a similar comparison with the Buckeyes. Stat: Baylor has scored 45 or more points in every game but two – the 28-7 win at Texas and the 41-27 loss at West Virginia. Next: Kansas State, a major season-ending test. Especially if quarterback Bryce Petty cannot play after taking a shot to the head against the Red Raiders.

No. 2 seed Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl

Oregon's Marcus Mariota ripped Oregon State for six total TDs and this leaping Heisman moment on Saturday. (USAT)
Oregon's Marcus Mariota ripped Oregon State for six total TDs and this leaping Heisman moment on Saturday. (USAT)

The Ducks have played more consistently than anyone else in the playoff chase for the last two months, racking up seven straight double-digit victories and scoring a minimum of 42 points in all those games. The latest beatdown was of instate rival Oregon State, 47-19 in Corvallis. Oregon’s lone loss continues to gain respectability as well – Arizona is 10-2 and the champion of the Pac-12 South. Oregon has five victories over the Sagarin top 40, and every one of those victories is by double digits. Stat: Oregon’s average margin of victory in November is 29 points. Next: Arizona on Friday for the Pac-12 title. If Oregon wins and plays well, you could make an argument for the Ducks as the No. 1 seed over Alabama – though I wouldn’t necessarily buy it. Regardless, with a victory Oregon would be assured of a geographically friendly playoff semifinal game in Pasadena against an opponent who would have to travel farther and transition at least two time zones.

The Seminoles crept back up from fourth to third in the Fab Four by doing what they do: win unimpressively. But the key word there is “win,” something they’ve now done 27 times in a row. This time the opponent was rival Florida, which had a 9-0 lead in the second quarter and the ball inside the FSU 10-yard line when the offensively inept Gators served up a 94-yard pick six. Thus a potential 16-0 hole turned into a manageable 9-7 deficit, and Florida State went on to a 24-19 victory that also was aided by two missed Florida field goals. The Noles’ last three victories have come by a total of 12 points, against teams with a combined record of 19-16. Impressed yet? Stat: Quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions in Florida State’s past five games. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner threw for a career-low 125 yards and a career-high four interceptions against the Gators – two more reasons why he won’t be the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. Next: Georgia Tech on Saturday in the ACC championship game. You know it will be close, and Tech is both a problematic opponent due to style of play and because it's a team on a roll. But there is another key event this week for FSU: Winston’s student conduct hearing Tuesday.

Dropped out: Mississippi State.

Also considered: TCU, Ohio State, Arizona.