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Zach Pekale | | December 17, 2020

The college football fan's guide to Week 16 games

College Football Playoff rankings: Breaking down the Week 16 top 25

Well, we made it. College football's Championship Week has arrived with some major postseason implications on the line. The College Football Playoff teams will be selected on Sunday, Dec. 20, and while there has yet to be any movement among the top four, a lot could change over the course of this week.

Here's a look at what's ahead.

Week 16 preview: Top championship games to watch

Oregon at No. 13 USC (Pac-12 Championship Game) | 8 p.m. Friday | FOX

Two of the past three Pac-12 champions square off in Los Angeles for the league's 2020 title. The conference's CFP drought is likely to continue, but a Trojans' win would all but secure a spot in a New Year's Six bowl game. Oregon will have a chance to defend its 2019 Pac-12 title despite not winning its division. The Ducks sub in for Washington here after the Huskies were unable to play due to COVID-19.


No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Northwestern (Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis) | 12 p.m. Saturday | FOX

Ohio State was nearly scratched from this game before the league reversed course on a minimum number of contests needed to be in the conference championship. Through the first six years of the CFP, only the SEC previously had a team crack the top four that did not play for a league title. The Buckeyes have been rolling offensively, winning by an average of 23.4 points per game. To have a shot at returning to the Playoff, they'll have to open up a Northwestern defense that only allows 14.6 points per game.

No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington) | 12 p.m. Saturday | ABC

A two-loss team has never made the Playoff in six years. Could the Big 12 be the first conference to do so? It's still unlikely but not completely out of the question. Iowa State and Oklahoma were both included in the initial CFP rankings and have only inched closer to the top four each week. The No. 6 Cyclones are in a better position at this moment and that includes a head-to-head win against Oklahoma. Beating the Sooners a second time could make things interesting come Sunday.

No. 19 Louisiana at No. 12 Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt Championship Game) | 3:30 p.m. Saturday | ESPN

Coastal Carolina has been one of the more fun turnarounds in college football. The Chanticleers were 5-7 a year ago and now have a chance to win a Sun Belt title. CCU edged Louisiana on a last-second field goal when the two met back in October. The rematch could be just as good and carries New Year's Six implications. Cincinnati leads both in the rankings for now but a dominant showing by either Coastal or Louisiana could shake things up.

Update: The 2020 Sun Belt Championship Game has been canceled due to COVID-19. Coastal Carolina and Louisiana will be honored as Sun Belt Co-Champions.

No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Clemson (ACC Championship Game in Charlotte) | 4 p.m. Saturday | ABC

Round 1 of Notre Dame-Clemson felt like a scene right out of Rocky with two heavyweight contenders exchanging one big blow after another. And that double-overtime thriller didn't even have Trevor Lawrence. Clemson gets its star signal-caller back for the rematch and will likely need to beat ND to stay in playoff contention. The Irish are a win away from their first-ever conference title. And yes, that sounds as strange to us as it probably does to you.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 7 Florida (SEC Championship Game in Atlanta) | 8 p.m. Saturday | CBS

Florida lost to unranked LSU a week ago, but that wasn't enough to shoo the Gators away from the CFP race. UF dropped one spot and still finds itself in a precarious predicament. No SEC champion has ever been left out of the playoff, though a two-loss team getting in would be a first. A win over top-ranked Alabama would likely be the ultimate eleventh-hour resume boost. It'd also make the jump from No. 7 into the top four much more manageable. On the other hand, only once has the No.1 spot changed hands in the CFP from the penultimate poll to the final rankings. And beating Alabama is still much easier said than done.

No. 23 Tulsa at No. 9 Cincinnati (AAC Championship Game) | 8 p.m. Saturday | ABC

This was supposed to be the second meeting in two weeks between these teams before COVID-19 canceled the first matchup. Cincinnati dropped a spot this week after not playing, which makes its path to the CFP that much more challenging. Even if the Bearcats don't break into the top four, a win over Tulsa should be enough to clinch a bid to a New Year's Six bowl. With the Sun Belt Championship game canceled, even a Golden Hurricane win might not be enough to keep Cincinnati from representing the Group of Five in a New Year's Six game. 

Week 16 preview: Big questions

The seven conference championship games above will all play some role in determining the CFP and New Year's Six bowl representatives. But there are two pressing questions that need to be addressed before the final rankings are revealed.

Is this the year a 2-loss champion breaks through?

The history of the college football playoff would tell you¬†no. Six years and 24 teams later, not one has played in a national semifinal with more than a loss on its record. Four teams in the top 10 have two losses and three could potentially win their conferences ‚ÄĒ No. 6 Iowa State, No. 7 Florida and No. 10 Oklahoma.

All three have a chance to pick up a win over a top 10 team on Saturday. While that might not necessarily be enough to sway the committee, those are the types of wins that come into play for the final rankings. Assistance would still likely be required to break through. For that, you should be keeping an eye on Ohio State and Clemson among the top four teams. The Buckeyes' abbreviated schedule has kept them at No. 4 since the first CFP rankings were released this season. A loss could be derailing. Clemson already has one loss to Notre Dame. Another, with Trevor Lawrence playing, would give them two and put them in a similar situation. And that's without taking Texas A&M into consideration, but speaking of which...

How does the CFP committee handle Texas A&M?

The Aggies have had a firm grip on the No. 5 ranking since November. Their only loss was a divisional matchup with Alabama, which kept them out of the SEC Championship Game. Keep in mind that loss was by 28 points.

A&M was idle a week ago but plays at Tennessee in Week 16, one more chance to get themselves in front of the committee. A loss to UT would deliver a blow to the Aggies' postseason hopes. A win could make for an interesting afternoon. The No. 5 team in the second-to-last rankings has jumped into the top four in four separate years (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018). 

College Football Playoff rankings: Top 25 for Week 16

Alabama (10-0)

Notre Dame (10-0)

Clemson (9-1)

Ohio State (5-0)

Texas A&M (7-1)

Iowa State (8-2)

Florida (8-2)
Georgia (7-2)
Cincinnati (8-0)
Oklahoma (7-2)
Indiana (7-2)
Coastal Carolina (11-0)
USC (5-0)
Northwestern (6-1)
North Carolina (8-3)
Iowa (6-2)
BYU (10-1)
Miami (8-2)
Louisiana (9-1)
Texas (6-3)
Oklahoma State (7-3)

NC State (8-3)

Tulsa (6-1)

San Jose State (6-0)

Colorado (4-1)

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