In an expanded College Football Playoff, this week's massive No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Tennessee showdown might be for seeding. Same thing for No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 10 LSU. And it would be wonderful.
As fans, we are conditioned for resolution, finality: My team beat your team. But with more noses under the tent in the new 12-team playoff, the drama will be distributed a different way. Think of less "Games of the Century" and more lingering spectacles.
"It's going to be really good for college football," Tennessee athletic director Danny White told CBS Sports this week. "I've been a proponent for a while. I think about the NFL late in the season when they're playing for potentially getting a wild card. People are watching high-level games that, in college, they wouldn't care about. Teams would have no chance of making a four-team playoff."
The FBS commissioners continue to discuss when the expanded playoff will begin. Meanwhile, there are critics that mourn the loss of do-or-die weeks like this. Alabama's season is at stake in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The winner of Georgia-Tennessee will have the inside track to the SEC Championship Game.
In an expanded playoff, there would instead be downstream impact. For example: Schools in playoff contention who played these teams would get a boost (or not) from the result. Plus, there will still be a chase for the top four spots with byes going to the highest-ranked conference champions. The expanded playoff has been structured so it remains important who wins their conferences.
So, yes, Georgia-Tennessee would still be important. But so would Oregon State-Washington this week as both are 6-2. AAC contenders No. 19 Tulane, No. 25 UCF and Cincinnati would still be in contention for a CFP berth.
Former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told us as much. Early during the expansion process, he said 25-30 schools would be competition for slots in a 12-team bracket at the beginning of November. He wasn't that far off.
While the list of contenders might not be 25-30, it's certainly around 20 if you look at the first CFP Rankings. That list basically includes every two-loss team that still has a shot at a conference title.
"I hope [an expanded playoff] happens here sooner rather than later," White said. "Games like this weekend for us, you're right, seeding would matter. But there's probably a dozen other games this weekend that would be hugely important in an expanded playoff."
So, while Georgia-Tennessee wouldn't necessarily be an elimination game in the future, it would still be plenty important. Coaches who otherwise might be on the hot seat will get raises for at least hanging a playoff banner. Nine-win underachievers at certain schools would suddenly be playing for a national championship.
"There are division races that now matter," White said of an expanded playoff. "It's a better student-athlete experience. It's a better opportunity to evaluate coaches. So many teams kind of forfeit the season at the halfway mark. You lose a couple of games … it might be hard going out there to compete."
While we will get some resolution from Saturday's two mega-games, it won't be complete. The loser of Georgia-Tennessee could still make the playoff. Alabama's season is on the brink, but in the expanded 12-team playoff, it would be comfortably in (as of now).
We love the way the college football season plays out. It is a series of chapters that reveal themselves. There is a story arc that starts with introduction (Week 0), a first act (beginning of the league play), conflict (upsets) and resolution.
What will played out Saturday will be game-of-the-year type stuff as Georgia and Tennessee meet in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week (3:30 p.m. ET). But the drama of it all in the future is about to be stretched out like a runner straining for the goal line.
Remember, in an expanded playoff, two-loss -- even three-loss -- teams will make it into the bracket. That's a big reason Texas and Oklahoma moved to the SEC. Strength of schedule will matter. OU at 10-2 is more likely to get to the playoff in the SEC than the Big 12.
Alabama (7-1) could absorb a second loss in an expanded playoff. LSU (6-2) might be able to take a third.
One possible downside: Say goodbye to the old "Game of the Century" label. It was applied for Nebraska-Oklahoma in 1971. It fit for Alabama-LSU I in 2011. But other than that, the term is overused.
This is the 25th game all-time between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the AP Top 25. It's big. It's huge. But it might not be the biggest game of the season given the loser could conceivably still make the CFP. By the time it rolls around later this month, No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Michigan might be bigger.
But that's not the point. Whether it's for a playoff berth or for seeding in a larger playoff, these games will remain wonderful.
More on Georgia-Tennessee
Look for Kirby Smart to "mug up" the Tennessee wide receivers. There isn't much difference in the rules between the NFL and college in defending receivers. In the pros, defenders aren't allowed contact beyond 5 yards. In college, contact is allowed beyond 5 yards. That's a huge opportunity for the Georgia secondary. No one has really slowed down Tennessee. There is a blueprint out there to do it.
In Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots coach Bill Belichick took the rules to the edge of the cliff, then pushed them off. The Pats played a nickel defense for basically the entire game, daring the pass-heavy St. Louis Rams to run the ball. They didn't, at least not enough. Instead, the Pats got physical with the Rams receivers -- bumping, grinding, pushing, playing beyond the whistle.
The Rams whined about the physical approach for years, but guess who got the ring? Smart is an old defensive back. You better believe he has something waiting for the Volunteers receivers they haven't seen this season.
The loss of Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith (torn pec) is huge. A lot of folks think he is the Bulldogs' best defender and top professional prospect on that side of the line. Smith was so certain of his talents, he bet on himself before the season. Will Smith's absence be offset by the return of defensive line stopper Jalen Carter? Projected as a top-five pick, Carter played 20 snaps against Florida in his first game back from an MCL sprain. The 300-pounder is a home wrecker who can collapse an offensive line on his own. That's good news for Georgia, which is one of only 17 teams to have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed this season.
Statistically, Georgia's defense is actually better in some ways than the generational unit last year that sported five first-round draft picks. The Dawgs are allowing 5.4 fewer yards per game and only 10.5 points per game compared to 10.2 points last season.
The case for Saturday's loser remaining in the playoff hunt? First, if the game is close, say 3-7 points. Then the loser wins out to finish 11-1 and runner up in the SEC East. For Georgia, Oregon winning out and capturing the Pac-12 title wouldn't hurt. The Ducks' only loss being in the season opener to the Dawgs would play. For Tennessee, Alabama winning out to claim the SEC would be key. The Vols would have handed the Crimson Tide their only loss.
Red alert for the Tide
If you haven't realized it already, Alabama's season is on the line at LSU. It wouldn't be just a second loss for Bama, it would be a landmark. Bama would be out of the CFP race. A second loss on Nov. 5 would be its earliest such defeat since Saban's first season in 2007. That was a get-your-feet-wet 7-6 campaign that included a loss to ULM.
A loss to the Tigers will be met with similar disdain. The Tide have shown a weakness on the road lately (a pedestrian 4-2 in the last six) and for a while against dual-threat quarterbacks. LSU's Jayden Daniels is having a career year.
An LSU win puts the Tigers in control in the SEC West. When was the last time Bama didn't control everything in November? Look for the Tigers to play a bit of bully ball, running it to try to keep Alabama quarterback Bryce Young off the field with the SEC's No. 3 offense in time of possession.
Don't forget the Rebels: An LSU win over Bama also unlocks a hidden CFP nugget. In that event, No. 11 Ole Miss (off this week) would control its path to the playoff. All it would take is winning out against Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State and either Georgia or Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. Not likely but not impossible. The biggest obstacle in that scenario might be figuring out how to keep Auburn from poaching Lane Kiffin in the middle of a playoff run.
Pac-12 after dark … or afterthought?
The Pac-12 marketing arm needs a tutorial. You'd never know this was the conference's best season football season in five years. The league has been busy just staying solvent since USC and UCLA left. Then there was the emergence of a Pac-12 staple -- bad officiating -- that hijacked attention away from the games last weekend.
But the league heads into November with five teams in the CFP Rankings, including four in the top 14. The Big Ten has only two in the top 14. No. 8 Oregon, No. 9 USC and No. 12 UCLA are playoff contenders. The last time the league was this deep entering November was 2017.
There were five ranked teams in that CFP: No. 12 Washington, No. 17 USC, No. 21 Stanford, No. 23 Arizona and No. 25 Washington State. Washington came out of that group to be the last Pac-12 playoff team in 2017.
Beginning this week, we'll see if the CFP Selection Committee holds the Georgia loss against Oregon (at Colorado). The Ducks still might have the league's best playoff resume. USC (vs. Cal) has to hope No. 14 Utah (vs. Arizona) keeps winning. UCLA (at Arizona State) needs to win out and hope Oregon loses twice.
Right now, the league should be marketing one of its biggest weekends in years. On Nov. 19, USC is at UCLA and Utah is at Oregon.