Two the biggest brands in American sports are going head-to-head right now in a Grapevine, Texas, resort conference room. Somehow, that makes sense this crazy season: Alabama and Ohio State, being broken down into nano-bits by the 13-member College Football Selection Committee.

In one corner is Alabama, an existing dynasty -- maybe the best ever in the sport -- just slightly off its game this year. In the other, Big Ten champion Ohio State with a stain on its record so big it stretches from Columbus to Iowa. Cheap shot? Hey, a double nickel is a double nickel (Iowa 55, Ohio State 24 on Nov. 5).

Welcome to the most mind-numbing high-stakes finish in the four-year history of the College Football Playoff. In some order, Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia are safely in -- all winners of their conference championship games. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Bama are essentially contending for the last spot in the bracket. That is, unless you include Pac-12 champion USC, which you absolutely should.

For now, Alabama at 11-1 thinks it should be in for the same reason Ohio State was in last year. Despite finishing second in their own division, the Tide want to be considered one of the four best teams in the country. Last year, Ohio State got in ahead of Big Ten champion Penn State, a team it lost to and finished second behind in the Big Ten East. On Saturday, the Buckeyes knocked out previously unbeaten Wisconsin to set up a committee conundrum.

Does it want a nice, (sort of) tidy set of four conference champions (Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State), or do you want to allow Alabama in?

Does the committee go with one-loss Alabama or two-loss Ohio State? USATSI

With Bama, two teams from the same conference (SEC) would be in the Football Four for the first time. The Buckeyes would be the first two-loss team in 10 years and probably second two-loss team ever to have a chance to play for a national championship.

In Alabama's favor: One loss and the fact it was ranked No. 1 for most of the season. In Ohio State's favor: It won the Big Ten knocking off Wisconsin, the only remaining undefeated Power Five.

Start the debate. Alabama lost only to Auburn, which lost by three touchdowns Saturday night to Georgia in the SEC title game. Ohio State, 11-2, lost two games by a combined 46 points to Oklahoma and Iowa. (Worth noting: In the previous three-year history of the CFP, the entire field -- nine one-loss teams -- had fallen by a total of 57 points.)

The committee is assured of inviting the wrath of a loud, powerful, only sometimes-rationale fan base whose team will be left out. Now might be a good time, fellas, to change your cell phone numbers. Yeah, it could be that bad.

Let's hope the Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel and Convention Center has enough security.

Or have I already revealed too much?

Here's how our College Football Playoff and bowls expert Jerry Palm has the top four projected. Palm has gone 12-for-12 predicting every CFP team in its correct slot through three years of the playoff.

College Football Playoff projection


Jan. 8

National Championship

8 p.m.

Title game Semifinal winners

Jan. 1

Rose Bowl
Pasadena, Calif.

5 p.m.


(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Georgia

Jan. 1

Sugar Bowl
New Orleans

8:45 p.m.


(1) Clemson vs. (4) Ohio State

College Football Playoff expert picks

Explaining ourselves

Why we have Clemson slotted No. 1: For as great as Oklahoma has looked offensively, it allows you to score on it aplenty. Clemson does not. The Tigers have given up 11.4 points per game to ranked opponents not named NC State and still only 14.7 points per game when including the Wolfpack. Oh yeah, all of those were victories. Clemson has four top-15 wins and six top-25 wins this season. It has scored 24 points or more in all but one game (home vs. Auburn) and allowed 27 points or fewer in all but one game (at NC State). Say it with me: The Tigers are best team in the country. Again. -- Adam Silverstein

Why I have Georgia slotted No. 1: Georgia has to be the top team in the country because, quite simply, it has a better loss than any of the other College Football Playoff contenders and avenged that loss when it dominated Auburn 28-7 in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs beat every team on their schedule and did so with a true freshman stepping in at quarterback in Game 1 prior to a tough road trip to Notre Dame. They are as complete as any team in the country. UGA runs the ball effectively, plays great defense and knows how to make the passing game click after backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel get cooking. Clemson lost to a bad Syracuse team due to its defensive line forgetting to get off the bus, not the absence of quarterback Kelly Bryant. Oklahoma barely knows what defense means. Georgia has brought it against every opponent on its schedule -- it just took a sequel against Auburn to prove it. -- Barrett Sallee

Why I have Oklahoma slotted No. 1: I suspect the committee will choose between Clemson and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot. Frankly, I don't think there's much of a difference between the two, nor is it that big of a deal. Clemson has signature wins against Auburn, at Louisville, at Virginia Tech and Miami. Oklahoma beat TCU twice, plus Ohio State and Oklahoma State on the road. Parse through those if you will, but they're all good. To me, it comes down to each team's lone loss. Clemson's loss to Syracuse can be explained -- short week, road game, inspired opponent, injured QB -- but it's a bad loss all the same. Oklahoma's loss to Iowa State wasn't great, either, but at least the Cyclones are a quality bowl team. That's the difference for me. -- Ben Kercheval 

Why I have Alabama in at No. 4: The CFP Selection Committee is tasked with picking the best four teams in college football. It's not tasked with picking the best four conference champions. I'm confident in saying Alabama is among the four best teams in college football. I'm not confident in making the same proclamation about Ohio State. Alabama has one loss, a road game to a rival that was playing as well as anyone in the country and who will likely finish in the top 10. Ohio State has two losses: one was a double digit loss at home to Oklahoma, while the other was a 31-point loss on the road to a 7-5 Iowa team. That loss disqualifies the Buckeyes. I would be saying the same thing about the Tide had they been dominated by the likes of Ole Miss or Texas A&M. But that would never happen, and that's why Alabama should be in. -- Barton Simmons

Why we have Ohio State in at No. 4: You have to believe me when I say that I loathe the idea of Ohio State -- a team that lost to Iowa by 31 points -- being in the playoff, but there are a few things the Buckeyes have going for them that Alabama doesn't. First of all, Ohio State won its conference. Alabama did not. The Buckeyes also have victories against No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 9 Penn State. Alabama's best victory is No. 17 LSU followed by No. 23 Mississippi State. While the Tide don't have a horrible loss, the committee has always shown it values your best wins over your worst losses, which is precisely why Ohio State got in last year despite not winning the Big Ten. -- Tom Fornelli