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Road to Atlanta: Peach Bowl eager to learn its matchup

About 125 people affiliated with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl — volunteers, board members, staffers — will gather Sunday for a TV-viewing party to find out who’ll play in their game this season.

They’ll get no advance notice of the matchup before convening in a reserved area at Dave & Buster’s restaurant in Marietta to watch ESPN’s noon telecast of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s final rankings, which will determine the pairings for the national semifinals in the Peach and Fiesta bowls.

“We’ll find out at the same time as everyone else,” Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan said. “It should be a fun time.”

The top four teams in the committee’s final rankings will comprise the playoff field. In the current rankings, Alabama is No. 1, Ohio State No. 2, Clemson No. 3 and Washington No. 4.

If that pecking order holds up, Alabama would meet Washington in the Peach Bowl and Ohio State would face Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

But an upset or two in this weekend’s conference championship games could upend much of that.

And even without an upset, the playoff committee has the prerogative to change the top four in its final rankings.

Stokan said that in his view the next-to-last rankings “let us know Ohio State is in the playoff no matter what and obviously Alabama is in.” But Clemson and Washington have more tenuous holds on spots in the top four heading into their ACC and Pac-12 championship games against Virginia Tech and Colorado, respectively.

“If Clemson and Washington win, I think they’ll be in the playoff,” said Stokan, who has followed the playoff race closely as it heads toward his bowl. “If one of them loses, we could have two Big Ten teams in the final four — Ohio State and either Michigan or the Big Ten Championship game winner.

“If both Clemson and Washington lose, we could have three Big Ten teams in the final four.”

Under that chaotic scenario, he theorized, Michigan and the Big Ten champion could join Ohio State and Alabama in the playoff.

Although Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan are the highest ranked Big Ten teams, neither will be in the league title game Saturday. That game matches No. 6 Wisconsin of the West Division vs. No. 7 Penn State of the East Division. Penn State and Ohio State topped the East with 8-1 league records — one game ahead of Michigan’s 7-2 — and the Nittany Lions won the tiebreaker because of their victory over the Buckeyes.

“We look forward to having an additional opportunity to watch Penn State play this weekend,” selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said.

The committee also looks forward to another look at Washington, which Hocutt stressed is very narrowly ahead of Michigan in the current rankings.

“Don’t think I can emphasize enough the small margin of separation that the committee sees between those two teams,” he said. “It’s razor thin.”

Still, if Washington and Clemson win this week, the Selection Sunday show could be anticlimactic.

If they don’t, it will be dramatic.


No. 1 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 15 Florida (8-3) in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, 4 p.m. Saturday on CBS: Even if 24-point underdog Florida wins, Alabama seems secure in the top four and the playoff.

No. 3 Clemson (11-1) vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech (9-3) in the ACC Championship game in Orlando, 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC: If 10-point underdog Virginia Tech wins, Clemson would be at risk of falling out of the top four.

No. 4 Washington (11-1) vs. No. 8 Colorado (10-2) in the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, Calif, 9 p.m. Friday on Fox: The selection committee continues to express concern about the Huskies’ strength of schedule, signaling that a second loss would drop them out of the top four. Even with a win, Colorado would have to jump three other teams as well to make the playoff.

No. 6 Wisconsin (10-2) vs. No. 7 Penn State (10-2) in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, 8 p.m. Saturday on Fox: The winner, especially if it’s Penn State, could pose quite a dilemma for the committee.

No. 9 Oklahoma (9-2) at home vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-2) in a regular-season finale, 12:30 p.m. Saturday on Fox: The Big 12 appears shut out of the playoff.


Q: How big of a headache is it for the selection committee that neither Ohio State nor Michigan made the Big Ten title game?

A: “The selection committee stays focused on our charge, and that is to rank the best teams in college football,” Hocutt, the committee chairman, said. “When there’s very little to no separation between two teams, then (we) look at four metrics: conference champions, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups and outcomes against common opponents. But those metrics are in no particular order.”

Q: What weight does the committee give to Penn State beating Ohio State?

A: “We’re obviously as a selection committee aware of that win,” Hocutt said. “But it is not the distinguishing metric in the evaluation of these two teams.”

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