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Teams will make their final case to be in College Football Playoff

Saturday's conference championship games will help decide who makes the four-team College Football Playoff

Baylor Coach Art Briles took the high road this week, choosing not to lobby for his sixth-ranked team's inclusion in the four-team College Football Playoff.

Briles had that luxury. His university was already on the job, as was the Big 12 Conference.

Baylor's game against No. 9 Kansas State is ground zero on a Saturday when the top teams in the nation will state their final case for a spot in one of the semifinals on New Year's Day.

Fans in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Eugene, Ore., probably slept soundly this week, knowing Alabama and Oregon, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, controlled their situations. Meantime, fans in Tallahassee, Fla., might have mused whether No. 4 Florida State could win and drop in the ranking again, but a win over Georgia Tech on Saturday should lock up a playoff spot.

Elsewhere, there was reason for real concern.

Does the injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett hurt the No. 5 Buckeyes' chances? Would a win over Iowa State on Saturday be enough for No. 3 Texas Christian? Would a Baylor win over a strong Kansas State team prompt the committee to overlook a nonconference schedule that had more tomato cans than a Hunt's factory.

Jeff Long, chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, sent a let's-see-what-happens message this week, saying, "We're waiting for teams to complete their body of work."

That could be good news for Baylor, which plays Kansas State, a top-10 opponent. The bad news for the Bears was that TCU sits three spots ahead in the ranking even though Baylor defeated TCU this season.

Briles refused to stump for his team, at least for now. "I wish I could say something, I really do," he said, adding that he might weigh in after Saturday's game. "Anything prior to that is all talking in vapor."

His school was talking for him.

Baylor hired a public relations firm to be "an extra resource on the media relations front," said Kevin Sullivan, the firm's founder. It's doubtful that means keeping game stats.

Meanwhile, Big 12 officials ruled that victories by Baylor and TCU would mean co-champions, even though the Bears won the head-to-head meeting — that's the first tiebreaker in any other conference.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that the decision on co-champions was an "important distinction" because the committee's "charge is not to select the most deserving teams" but "the four best teams."

Translation: Should they both win Saturday, the Big 12 wants both Baylor and TCU in the playoff.

A look at Saturday's key conference championship games:

Big Ten

The last time so much was riding on a guy from Ohio, John Glenn was in a Mercury capsule.

Ohio State was on the rise before quarterback Barrett suffered a broken ankle last week. So all eyes will be on Cardale Jones, a third-year sophomore from Cleveland, when the Buckeyes line up against No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

"We're going to be watching how he plays and how he leads that team," Long said.

Ohio State fans have an in-state reference for how this could play out. In 2000, Cincinnati was the nation's top-ranked basketball team until star forward Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the first game of the Conference USA tournament. The Bearcats went into the NCAA tournament as one of four No. 2-seeded teams.

 

SEC

If Alabama defeats Missouri, all will be well in the Southeastern Conference universe. If not, the nation's best football conference could get shut out of the playoff.

That wouldn't sit well with Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who stated his case for the SEC this week when he said: "I would think that somebody in our league qualifies to be one of the better four teams in the country based on the quality of the league, the good teams that we all have to play."

People in Indiana will be happy to learn they had a good team this season. The 4-8 Hoosiers defeated Missouri in Columbia, Mo., early this season.

Even with a win over Alabama on Saturday, it's doubtful the No. 16 Tigers can make the leap into playoff contention, so an Alabama loss could leave the SEC without a team in the championship game for the first time since 2005.

Atlantic Coast

Florida State has slipped from No. 2 to No. 4 in recent weeks despite a 28-game winning streak. A loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday would knock the Seminoles out of the playoff.

Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher said people, himself included, had been "brainwashed" into thinking the ACC was a weak football conference. Georgia Tech's victory over Georgia last week was evidence to the contrary.

Meantime, the university's code of conduct hearing to determine the fate of quarterback Jameis Winston ended Wednesday. That verdict is expected to come sometime after the selection committee renders its decision on the playoff teams.

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