No. 3 Washington is in, No. 7 Texas makes emphatic case as crowded CFP race comes to dramatic end

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian celebrates after his team won the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian celebrates after his team won the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

No. 3 Washington is in and No. 7 Texas did all it could to make a case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff on championship weekend.

Even the Big 12 commissioner -- while being drowned out by boos and "S-E-C" chants from Texas fans at AT&T Stadium -- endorsed the Longhorns, who are leaving for the Southeastern Conference next year.

"Texas certainly deserves to be in the CFP," Brett Yormark said Saturday after the 'Horns routed No. 19 Oklahoma State 49-21 in the Big 12 title game.

The Longhorns still needed some help, but hard to say how much and from whom as an unusually crowded College Football Playoff race came to a close. The last four-team field before the CFP expands to 12 next year will be set Sunday and it could be a tough call for the selection committee.

No. 8 Alabama was the to key to chaos. The Crimson Tide (11-1) faced No. 1 Georgia (12-0) in the SEC championship.

If the two-time defending champion Bulldogs win, they're in, most likely as the top seed as they seek to become the first team in major college football's poll era to three-peat.

If the Crimson Tide pull off an upset -- much like they did in the 2021 SEC title game against the Bulldogs -- the likelihood that there will be more deserving teams than available spots is high.

Could that box out the SEC for the first time in the 10-year history of the CFP?

"That's not the real world of college football," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey dismissively said of that possibility during an appearance on ESPN's "College GameDay."

Washington got to sleep without worry after becoming the first team to go 13-0 since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 in 2011.

The Huskies and Oregon -- both Big Ten-bound -- gave the beleaguered conference a thrilling and ironic sendoff in Las Vegas on Friday night with one of the best games in the 105-year history of Pac-12 football.

Michael Penix Jr.'s clutch play and Dillon Johnson's hard running gave the Huskies their third straight three-point victory in the rivalry.

The Pac-12's playoff drought will end after six years -- in the final season of the conference as we know it -- by its last school to reach the CFP.

It took a while, but Texas finally has a team too good for the Big 12. The Longhorns haven't been in the national championship conversation since they lost the 2009 BCS title game against Alabama.

The Longhorns looked the part Saturday against Oklahoma State. Quinn Ewers tossed four touchdown passes in the first half.

"I think the intent of the College Football Playoff is putting the four best teams in that playoff. Do we think we're one of those? For sure we do," coach Steve Sarkisian said.

No. 2 Michigan (12-0) was a 21 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, against No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Coach Jim Harbaugh returns to the Michigan sideline to try to secure the Wolverines' third consecutive trip to the CFP.

No. 4 Florida State (12-0) would usually be looking at a win-and-in situation in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night against No. 15 Louisville, but quarterback injuries have complicated the Seminoles' status.

First, they lost Heisman Trophy contender Jordan Travis to the broken lower leg two weeks ago. Then the status of backup Tate Rodemaker (concussion) became uncertain. Freshman Brock Glenn could be forced into action.

A loss by Florida State would benefit the Longhorns. But without Travis, Texas can claim that it should be in over the 'Noles even if they win.

Sankey already was making the case for his teams, hours before the Tide and Bulldogs kicked off.

"The criteria is not to put the undefeated teams in the four-team playoff," he said.

An Alabama victory presumably helps Texas, which beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa in September, by boosting the Longhorns' resume. Enough to keep out both SEC schools?

"That was a huge night. Should that game be scheduled? Take that game off Alabama's schedule and what does this look like right now?" Sankey said. "You have to reward people for winning those games, absolutely. You just can't ultimately penalize them. It's not a one-week analysis; it's a full-season analysis."

And it comes down to the final day.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here

------

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

photo Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. celebrates with his MVP trophy after Washington defeated Oregon in the Pac-12 championship NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

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