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AP photo by Sean Rayford / Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney high-fives fans on Saturday after his Tigers won their regular-season finale 38-3 at South Carolina.

Well, we're finally here. We've reached the week that will decide, once and for all, who will be in or out of the College Football Playoff when the sport's final four programs are announced next Sunday.

Barring some computer virus — or perhaps a human virus spreading through the CFP selection committee on the order of Mad Cash Cow Disease — Ohio State, LSU and Clemson should all be in the field, mostly because none of those teams, the top three in the most recent CFP rankings, should lose their conference championship games this week.

And it's doubtful even a loss would doom the Big Ten's Ohio State or the Southeastern Conference's LSU. As for all the squawking from Tiger Paws boss Dabo Swinney about how "(the committee) doesn't want us there anyway" regarding Clemson — well, he might have a point.

If Clemson loses to Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, though, he won't have a bid, nor should he. This isn't to criticize Swinney or Clemson, which is the reigning national champion, has won 27 straight games and held all 12 of its opponents during this regular season to less than 300 yards of offense, a phenomenal stat, especially in this day of wide-open, pinball offenses.

But check out The Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday. The Big Ten led with six teams in the rankings, with Ohio State No. 2. The SEC had five, with LSU No. 1. The ACC had two — No. 3 Clemson and No. 22 Virginia, which moved into the poll after beating Virginia Tech, which went from 23rd to not ranked.

That doesn't mean Clemson may not be one of the four best teams. It just means the Tigers' body of work won't be impressive enough to deliver it a spot in the playoff if, say, Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title game over Baylor, a team it defeated 34-31 on the road during the regular season.

It also shouldn't be enough to keep out Utah — which is 11-1, has an average margin of victory of 27 points in those wins and has held half of its 12 opponents to a touchdown or less — if it tops Oregon in Friday night's Pac-12 title game.

All of which brings us to the source of Swinney's frustration: Georgia.

The Bulldogs, No. 4 in the AP poll and the most recent CFP rankings, are also 11-1, and no one could seriously argue a team that has beaten Notre Dame, Florida and Auburn doesn't deserve a spot in the playoff if it surprises LSU inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

But what if the expected happens and this very good LSU team prevails to all but cement the Heisman Trophy for Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow — or as he was artfully dubbed this weekend, Joe Burreaux — and move to 12-0?

But then, Georgia's other loss is a shocking home loss in double overtime to South Carolina, which finished 4-8.

This same sort of embarrassing loss robbed Ohio State of a bid a year ago. It should be no less painful for the Dawgs if they fall to the Bayou Bengals.

Or as Swinney noted after his Tigers beat the rival Gamecocks 38-3 on Saturday, "We win, against the team that beat (Georgia), and it's, 'How do we get Clemson out?' It's the dadgummest thing."

The dadgummest thing might be to expand the field to eight, which would assure no one-loss team from a Power Five conference that wins its league is left out. Yes, it's pretty easy to say at this point that Ohio State, LSU and Clemson — yes, Clemson — deserve to be in the field.

But what if Oklahoma and Utah both win conference titles? One is going to be left out. The Sooners have the more tradition-rich name and they have Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, which could make him the only quarterback in the CFP's short history to appear in four national title games if Oklahoma advances that far.

Are we really so certain the Sooners are better than Utah, or vice versa? Go back to last week's AP poll. Oklahoma was one of three Big 12 teams ranked. Utah was one of three Pac-12 teams. They're pretty even, and one is guaranteed to stay home and perhaps both if Georgia tops LSU, which means two of the Power Five conferences will sit out the playoffs in addition to everybody else.

So what should we hope for? Perhaps nothing more than at least one of the three CFP games remotely lives up to this past Saturday's 48-45 victory by Auburn over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Crimson Tide supporters can be forgiven for lamenting why it is that Auburn can never seem to win one of these in routine fashion. Punt Bama Punt. Kick Six. The Cam Newton game. The "Butt Six," as some have called Saturday's 100-yard interception return by the Tigers that bounced off the behind of Bama running back Najee Harris.

And all those missed field goals by the Tide.

Is it too much to ask that Auburn merely be the better team — which the Tigers actually were two years ago — rather than one seemingly favored by the football gods?

Moreover, the SEC office should apologize for the field goal at the end of the first half, which obviously proved to be huge at the finish. Instant replay is fine to get a call right. And there should have been one second returned to the clock. But then the play should have unfolded as it would have if the official had downed the ball without replay, which, as one official reportedly told Saban before the snap, "They won't be able to get (the kick) off anyway."

No, the Tigers shouldn't have been able to get the kick off anyway. But they did. And because they did you could argue that the more deserving team — throwing two pick-sixes, being flagged 13 times and missing a 30-yard field goal that would have forced overtime, as Bama did, is no way to deserve to win a game — won.

Now the trick is to look a week from now at the fortunate four schools that will have made the CFP and believe they all deserve to be there.

some text Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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