Big Game Hunting: Who will join Georgia and Michigan in college’s fab four after Saturday?

Does TCU have to win the Big 12 title to stay in?

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Iowa State v TCU

Max Duggan and TCU just keep coming through.

Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

One game. Maybe two.

That’s how many conference championship matchups this year actually matter in regard to which four teams make the College Football Playoff.

One of those was the Pac-12 title game Friday, in which No. 4 USC lost 47-24 to Utah in Las Vegas to likely play its way out of the playoff. As for the Saturday slate, the Big 12 game between No. 3 TCU and Kansas State holds all the intrigue. If the unbeaten Horned Frogs lose — and lose badly — are they out? If they lose a close one, are they still in, warts and all? Of course, if they beat the Wildcats for a second time this season, they get to kiss the princess and start packing for Glendale, Arizona, or Atlanta.

But with news that playoff expansion is coming in 2024 — the field expanding to 12 — it’s hard not to get sidetracked imagining what the weekend might have looked like.

The new format will reward the six league champs ranked highest by the selection committee (the top four of which get first-round byes) and the six highest-ranked teams not among them. If the format were in play now, Utah would have a chance to win and put two Pac-12 teams in the field. Same with Kansas State in the Big 12. An LSU upset of Georgia in the SEC potentially would put four teams from that powerhouse league in the field. A Purdue upset of Michigan would put three or four in from the Big Ten. Clemson-North Carolina in the ACC and Tulane-UCF in the American would be play-in games. Non-champs Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee and Penn State, meanwhile, would be licking their chops in anticipation of the first-round pairings.

So much excitement and chaos . . . just not yet. This year and next, we’ve got what we’ve got. It’ll have to do.

SATURDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

Big 12: No. 3 TCU (-2½) vs. No. 10 Kansas State (11 a.m., Ch. 7, Arlington, Texas): K-State led 28-17 at the half — at TCU — the first time these teams squared off. The Frogs ended up getting it done, but they’ve come through in close games all season. Against the Big 12’s No. 1 defensive team, is it finally their time to blow one? K-State can run the ball, and its coach, Chris Klieman, is a postseason master, having won four FCS national titles at North Dakota State. But the Frogs still get overlooked in funny ways, such as ESPN’s silly Power Index still having them behind Texas, even though they won in Austin and are unbeaten. Come on, man. TCU, 34-31.

Mid-American: Ohio (+3) vs. Toledo (11 a.m., ESPN, Detroit): Toledo last won this thing in 2017. Ohio has made four title games and lost them all, which hardly seems fair. Northern Illinois lost by seven at Ohio but got bombed at home by 20 by Toledo, and you know what that means — absolutely nothing. Bobcats in a bit of an upset.

Sun Belt: Coastal Carolina (+8½) at Troy (2:30 p.m., ESPN): Troy’s defense is as good as it gets at this level, a tireless unit that plays angry and really can run. Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell, meanwhile, reportedly has one foot out the door to Liberty, which can’t be good for his current squad, can it? Trojans protect their house, 27-14.

SEC: No. 1 Georgia (-17½) vs. No. 14 LSU (3 p.m., Ch. 2, Atlanta): The embarrassment of a pathetic showing last weekend at Texas A&M fueled LSU’s preparation for Georgia, for whatever that’s worth. But are the ’Dogs really going to lose this game for the second consecutive year? Not a chance. Still, knowing they’re in the playoff no matter what is bound to take the edge off a bit. ’Dogs win, Tigers cover.

Tulane v USF

Tulane seeks a giant “W” in the American.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

American: No. 22 UCF (+4) at No. 18 Tulane (3 p.m., Ch. 7): We saw these very same teams play three weeks ago at the very same New Orleans stadium, and UCF won 38-31. Why else would Tulane be favored, right? Green Wave flip the script, 38-31.

Mountain West: Fresno State (+3) at Boise State (3 p.m., Fox-32): We saw these very same teams play eight weeks ago at the very same Boise stadium, and the visitors lost 40-20. But it was a closer game than that score indicates and — more important — terrific senior QB Jake Haener was out with an injury. Led by Haener, the Bulldogs get some payback.

Big Ten: No. 2 Michigan (-17) vs. Purdue (7 p.m., Fox-32, Indianapolis): A letdown for the Wolverines after a glorious victory against Ohio State? That’s what many of us asked a year ago, then they stormed the field in Indy and obliterated Iowa 42-3. Figure they’ll leave a bit more in the tank for the playoff this time. Blake Corum, Michigan’s superstar running back, has been shut down, but that’s OK. Backup Donovan Edwards hits paydirt three times in a 34-19 victory.

ACC: No. 9 Clemson (-7½) vs. No. 23 North Carolina (7 p.m., Ch. 7, Charlotte, North Carolina): Can UNC’s passing attack, powered by QB Drake Maye and top target Josh Downs, keep up with Clemson’s scoring? Because even Dabo Swinney’s up-and-down offense is sure to put up big numbers against Mack Brown’s terrible defense. Tigers 38, Tar Heels 34.

Last week: 5-3 straight up, 3-4-1 against the spread.

Season to date: 71-41 straight up, 56-55-1 against the spread.

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