It all comes down to this.
Four, well, three spots in the College Football Playoff will be on the line in the final weekend of the regular season. The reason it is only three spots is because No. 1 Georgia is going to make the field regardless of its result against No. 2 Alabama in the SEC title game. The probable path for the Crimson Tide is beating the Bulldogs in the first 1 vs. 2 matchup outside of the playoff and BCS title game since 2009. Otherwise, the defending champions probably will miss the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Cincinnati appear to have control of their destiny in their respective conference championship games. The Wolverines meet No. 12 Iowa for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis, one week after their memorable defeat of Ohio State earned them their first division crown. The unbeaten Bearcats get the advantage of hosting No. 16 Houston as they attempt to win the American Athletic championship and clinch the first berth by a Group of Five school.
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Waiting in the wings is No. 5 Oklahoma State, which needs to repeat its regular-season defeat of No. 9 Baylor and get some help. Winning their first championship game would be a nice consolation prize if the Cowboys get left out.
In other conference title games that will only resolve New Year's Six spots, No. 10 Oregon and No. 17 Utah play for the Pac-12's place in the Rose Bowl and No. 15 Pittsburgh and No. 18 Wake Forest clash for the ACC championship.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts on what we'll be shocked by this weekend.
After Georgia dispatches Alabama to clinch its spot in the College Football Playoff and make Bryce Young look like every other quarterback the Bulldogs have faced this season, the Heisman voters are going to have to really come up with candidates to send to New York. Of course, if Young performs well, this is a moot point. None of the other 10 teams in the Power Five conferences that are playing for league titles have a viable candidate that would justify casting a vote for, so look for an outsider, possibly Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis or Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, to garner significant support in the next week.
Saying Georgia, the top-ranked team in the land, should beat Alabama in the SEC championship game should not be a bold prediction. But it’s so easy to talk yourself into the Crimson Tide here based on the recent history of this rivalry and the aura of Nick Saban. Let’s not overthink things, though. Alabama has fought its way to 11-1, but this isn’t a dominant Crimson Tide team. In fact, they haven’t beaten a Power Five team by more than seven points since downing Tennessee on Oct. 23. Meanwhile, Georgia is fielding the best college defense we’ve seen since the Alabama teams of the early 2010s – units that Georgia head coach Kirby Smart oversaw. It’s finally time for Smart to fully step out of Saban’s shadow, and I think this is the stage he does it on. The Bulldogs will remind us they are the best team in college football this year and will beat the Crimson Tide by at least two touchdowns.
Baylor upsets Oklahoma State and opens a way for 11-1 Notre Dame or 11-2 Alabama (with a loss to Georgia in the SEC championship game) to reach the playoff. That the Bears would score the upset isn’t too hard to believe given the two teams played a close game in the regular season and how coach Dave Aranda might be able to game plan a defense to slow down Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys. The win would make it very complicated on the selection committee as it weighs a Notre Dame team playing without coach Brian Kelly against a two-loss, non-conference champion. Maybe Baylor could land at No. 4 instead?
How do you handle the emotional fallout from winning the biggest game in your program's last 10 years with another huge game the following week? That is the challenge facing Michigan following its cathartic defeat of Ohio State that probably has Wolverines fans celebrating with a semi-permanent smile on their faces. The assumption is that Michigan just strolls to the Big Ten title game and takes down Iowa for its first College Football Playoff berth. It's not going to be that easy. The Hawkeyes are much better prepared than Ohio State to handle the Wolverines running game. They're ninth in scoring defense and third in turnover margin. They don't make mistakes and will force Michigan to play error-free. Their games are usually close and go down to the fourth quarter. This one won't be any different, and with the pressure on the Wolverines, don't be surprised if there is a big upset.
The underdog card isn’t usually in Alabama’s hand. That doesn’t mean Nick Saban doesn’t try to play it on occasion, but usually when he does it’s really just a joker that completes his hand of aces. But the Crimson Tide are in the somewhat unique position of not being favored heading into the SEC championship game against No. 1 Georgia, and the recent on-field performances of both teams more than justify that perception. But perhaps the most powerful item in the Crimson Tide’s deck is the head-to-head ownership card. Georgia has won an SEC title in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but that came against Auburn. The Bulldogs met the Tide a month later in the same building and, well, we all know how that one came out. Alabama got the best of Georgia in the SEC final the next season as well. The Bulldogs need to find the exorcism of demons card that Michigan and Oklahoma State discovered last week to vanquish their long-time nemeses. Can they do it? The thinking here is yes, they will, but it certainly won’t be easy.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 14