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The Big 10: Making sense of the playoff picture, Alabama post-Tua and a Buckeyes gauntlet

LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia are the only four teams that truly control their own destinies. For a change, Alabama does not — yet it likely will get the most attention of any team the rest of the season.

Mac Jones is Alabama’s quarterback now.
Mac Jones is Alabama’s quarterback now.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

College football’s top four was solidified in Week 12. Not even the order of the teams is likely to change a bit when the playoff committee’s new rankings are released Tuesday.

LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia are the only four teams that truly control their own destinies.

For a change, Alabama — the only school that never has missed the playoff — does not. Yet it’s the Crimson Tide who likely will get the most attention of any team the rest of the season.

Interest in the performance of quarterback Mac Jones, who steps in with superstar Tua Tagovailoa suddenly lost for the season with a gruesome hip injury, will be enormous leading into the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 at Auburn.

And the health and football future of Tagovailoa, the highest-profile player in the country, will be a major ongoing story. Will he recover fully? How far will he fall as an NFL prospect? Should he have been on the field at Mississippi State, given his already-injured ankle and the Tide’s four-touchdown lead?

And what I think of every time I see images of Tagovailoa in agony from his hip and bleeding from his nose: Here’s a player who absolutely deserves to be able to benefit from his name, image and likeness.

On to the rest of the ‘‘Big 10’’ (where 10 actually means 10):

2. Alabama and the playoff: Why, though, are so many people asking how Tagovailoa’s injury will affect the Tide’s chances? This isn’t complicated: They’re not getting in and weren’t going to anyway.

Unbeaten LSU could lose a game and still would get in before Alabama. The only realistic way the Southeastern Conference gets a second team in is if Georgia beats unbeaten LSU in the league title game, in which case both the Bulldogs and Tigers would be in.

From outside the current top four, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah and Penn State all have clearer paths to get in than Alabama. If the Tide win the Iron Bowl, four-loss Auburn will be their best victory of the season. Not that compelling, right?

3. Who’s got next? Let’s say LSU, Ohio State and Clemson all get through conference championship weekend unscathed. Who’s the likeliest No. 4?

If Oklahoma and either Oregon or Utah are standing at 12-1, then it’s going to be a colossally contested debate between the Big 12 and Pac-12. Right now, my money is on the Pac-12. Sorry, Sooners.

4. Bet on the Buckeyes? No team has higher hurdles to clear than Ohio State, which has Penn State next, then a trip to Michigan and, if all goes well, a matchup against Minnesota or Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

The way Michigan is toying with opponents lately, ‘‘The Game’’ is shaping up to be a classic. The Wolverines are a far more dangerous team than they were a month ago.

5. Best in the West: If Minnesota and Wisconsin take care of business against lowly Northwestern and Purdue, respectively, in Week 13, it’ll set the stage for a winner-take-all matchup between the Gophers and Badgers in Minneapolis. It’ll be one of the biggest games in the most-played rivalry in FBS history.

Great stuff, provided we’re lucky enough to get it.

6. John Rhys Plumlee, your table is ready: The Ole Miss freshman quarterback rushed for 212 yards and four touchdowns in a loss Saturday to LSU. In only seven starts, he has rushed for 936 yards and 11 touchdowns. Maybe he’s not Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he’s as entertaining a runner as there is — counting running backs — in the college game this season.

7. Juuust a bit outside: Nice 52-20 victory for Notre Dame against Navy. Care to guess who picked the Irish to lose to the Middies in his picks column last week?

Please don’t tell anybody.

8. Spoiler alert? Northwestern, 2-8 after blowing out impossibly bad UMass, at least should be highly motivated for its final two games, at home against hotshot Minnesota and at rival Illinois. The Wildcats might make a bit of noise yet.

9. That’s what he said: ‘‘We’re playing our best football.’’

That was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the Tigers crushed Wake Forest to move to 11-0. Not the sexiest quote, sure, but try to read between the lines: Everybody else is in big ol’ trouble. If this team finds its highest gear, as it did in the playoff last season, it might be unbeatable.

10. And another thing: If Iowa plays as well against Illinois in Week 13 as it did in beating Minnesota in Week 12, the Illini’s four-game winning streak will be blown to bits. But maybe the Hawkeyes will lower their guards a bit, as young athletes tend to do.