Football

College Football: TCU, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor seek to ace auditions on Saturday

Hot reads

1. The Final Four: Saturday morning will provide more clarity, as we’ll know whether Oregon locked up a spot by winning Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship game or lost and created an opening for others.

The message to contenders playing Saturday afternoon and evening is: Win. Win big. The final interview is the time to seal deals, not expose flaws. Alabama (and Oregon) are in with wins, no matter the margin. TCU, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor have to impress to have a chance. The committee has preached body of work throughout the process, but it’s naive to think Saturday doesn’t matter more than September.

2. Regarding Baylor, TCU: Baylor beat TCU. So why is TCU ranked No. 3 and Baylor No. 6? There is a significant gap between the two, even with their identical 10-1 records and both in position to share the Big 12 title.

Playoff chairman Jeff Long has repeatedly said that the committee looks weekly at each team’s “body of work” to that point.

“The committee is increasingly impressed by TCU’s resume,” Long, the Arkansas AD, said.

TCU has won six in a row since that loss at Baylor on Oct. 11, when the Frogs blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. Baylor lost by two touchdowns at West Virginia the following week, but has won its past four.

TCU is 4-1 against AP Top 25 teams, the lone loss to Baylor. Baylor is 2-0 against ranked teams, but those are the only teams with a winning record it has faced.

“That’s certainly discussed. That’s part of their strength of schedule,” Long said. “It’s part of their body of work, and the committee is certainly aware that (the Bears) have two top-20 victories, and those are the only teams that they’ve beaten with winning records.”

Much has been made of Baylor’s nonconference schedule, but TCU also had a lopsided shutout against winless SMU and beat an FCS team.

The difference is TCU’s 30-7 win against Minnesota, a Big Ten team with eight wins. Baylor won 63-21 at Buffalo, a Mid-American team that finished 5-6 and changed coaches.

3. A reminder: Everyone. Could. Lose. Heather Dinich wrote that, and she’s right. Bama has one loss but could have three. You can see Georgia Tech and Wisconsin grounding out tough wins over FSU and Ohio State. No way TCU loses to Iowa State, but they could still lose ground.

Tracking the College Football Playoffs Top 25

Saturday’s games comments where deserving.

SEC Championship game

No. 1 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 16 Missouri (10-2), 4 p.m.: Alabama is one win from making the first College Football Playoffs. The Tide still could be among the top four teams even with a close loss, but it doesn’t want to leave that to chance. The Tigers are seeking their first conference title since sharing the Big 8 championship with Nebraska in 1969. The key is Alabama’s offensive line versus Missouri’s defensive front. The Crimson Tide has allowed a league-low 11 sacks but hasn’t faced a defense that’s better at getting to opposing quarterbacks. Missouri leads the SEC with 40 sacks and DE Shane Ray has racked up 13.5, which also is tops in the league.

ACC Championship game

No. 4 Florida State (12-0) vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (10-2), 8 p.m.: With a win, Florida State will push its streak to 29 games and almost assuredly clinch a spot in the Final Four. (Almost because it’s clear the committee isn’t terribly impressed with the undefeated ’Noles and their lack of dominant wins. How impressed would they be with, say, a 24-21 win over a Georgia Tech team that beat Georgia Southern by 4 and lost to UNC and Duke?) It would also be the Seminoles’ third straight ACC Championship. A loss all but guarantees the Seminoles won’t get a chance to defend their national championship. The key is how well FSU’s front seven can control Georgia Tech’s run game. Georgia Tech B-Backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days combined for 234 yards on 42 carries in a win over then-No. 9 Georgia last week. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 333.8 yards per game on the ground. The Seminoles defense is allowing 145.8 yards rushing per game, so something has to give.

Big Ten Championship game

No. 5 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2), 8:17 p.m.: The committee said Tuesday it would re-evaluate Ohio State, now working with its third-string quarterback, after the title game. The Buckeyes might beat Wisconsin with Cardale Jones (6-5, 250) running the show, but how about Alabama? That’s a question the committee will consider. While the pregame focus will be on Jones, the key, however, is OSU’s defense. Can it slow down the Badgers’ run game? It’s a dangerous combination: Melvin Gordon burst into the Heisman race and leads the nation with 2,260 rushing yards, and Ohio State is allowing 4.03 yards per carry.

Also:

No. 3 TCU (10-1) vs. Iowa State (2-9), noon: The timing certainly doesn’t help the Horned Frogs’ “body of work to that point” case to stay in the Final Four. The Horned Frogs are favored by five touchdowns, and anything short of that will incite calls for them to be kicked out. Should it? No. 1 Alabama’s resume includes wins over against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, a pair of 3-9 teams. No. 2 Oregon beat up on a 2-10 Colorado team two weeks ago (after beating 2-10 South Dakota and 4-8 Wyoming in the opening weeks). No. 4 FSU beat a 3-9 Syracuse team and a 5-7 Citadel team. Ohio State took out a 2-9 Kent State team. If the committee is looking at the body of work, every team has a game (or several) like this. TCU’s hope is that hanging 50 or more on Iowa State will be enough to hold on.

No. 6 Baylor (10-1) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (9-2), 7:45 p.m.: Baylor needs to win, perhaps impressively, to jump into the playoff. But a quality opponent – the best any of Saturday’s contenders will face – provides an opportunity to quiet the strength of schedule critics.

Number to know

10-17, 118 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs

Career stats for Ohio State QB Cardale Jones, making his first career start in the Big Ten Championship game.

Final Word

“Perception, it is driven home out there. It’s amazing how you can brainwash somebody. If you’re not careful in this country, you won’t think for yourself. ... I’ll say this as much as anybody: I’ve been in both leagues. I’ve been in both leagues for an extensive number of years, at the top levels of both leagues. Again, the top teams in both leagues are very similar. Top to bottom, I mean, I think we stack up.” – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the perception of SEC dominance

Compiled by Chris Wright, with help from The Associated Press, ESPN.com and various team websites

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