Heather DinichESPN Senior Writer
The SEC championship on Saturday will feature a matchup of top-four teams, as No. 1 Alabama will face No. 4 Georgia, whose promotion from the fifth spot on Tuesday night marked the first change to the College Football Playoff selection committee’s semifinal spots in four weeks.
Georgia replaced Michigan, which sank to No. 7 after losing to rival Ohio State in embarrassing fashion on Saturday. In spite of the Buckeyes’ 62-39 dismantling of Michigan, they remain behind No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 6, which is a significant boost from the No. 10 spot Ohio State has been stuck in the past four rankings.
Tonight’s pecking order shows that the Buckeyes have finally closed the gap with the Sooners, which is extremely important heading into Selection Day on Sunday. Seeing as somebody in the top four is guaranteed to lose this weekend in the SEC title game, the final decision for No. 4 will likely boil down to Big 12 champion Oklahoma or Big Ten champion Ohio State — unless the SEC loser happens to be Alabama. Then there would be three teams in the hunt for the fourth spot.
It’s also worth noting that while No. 8 UCF stayed in the top 10, and even moved up a spot despite the devastating injury to quarterback McKenzie Milton, the two-loss Wolverines are still ahead of the undefeated Knights.
At No. 11, Washington is now the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team following its win over Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Here’s how the bracket would look today:
No. 1 Alabama would face No. 4 Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic because the committee won’t put the No. 1 seed at any geographic disadvantage, and though marginal, Arlington is slightly closer than Miami, where No. 2 Clemson would face No. 3 Notre Dame in the other College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl.
The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual is a contract bowl and historically guarantees the Big Ten champ against the Pac-12 champ. Since No. 6 Ohio State is the projected Big Ten champion in this ranking, the Buckeyes would face projected Pac-12 champ No. 11 Washington.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl is also a contract bowl, which is guaranteed the Big 12 champ and the SEC champ. Since the SEC champion, in this case No. 1 Alabama, is in a semifinal, along with runner-up No. 4 Georgia, the Sugar Bowl would get the next highest-ranked SEC team, which is No. 9 Florida. The Gators would play No. 5 Oklahoma, which is the projected Big 12 champion in this ranking.
No. 8 UCF would likely head to the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl as the highest-ranked champion from a Group of Five conference, which is guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, because it played in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last year. The Knights would face No. 7 Michigan, based on fan interest and matchup.
The Peach Bowl would then have No. 10 LSU and No. 12 Penn State, as they are the highest-ranked remaining teams, and they would be chosen based on fan interest, geography and matchup.
(All games can be seen on ESPN and the ESPN App)
Saturday, Dec. 29
Noon ET: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 10 LSU vs. No. 12 Penn State (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
4 or 8 p.m. ET: College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
4 or 8 p.m. ET: College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)
Tuesday, Jan. 1
1 p.m. ET: PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 8 UCF (State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)
5 p.m. ET: Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Washington (Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)
8:45 p.m. ET: Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Florida (Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)