Four Saturdays remain until conference championships officially decide the makeup of this year’s College Football Playoff.
Every weekend will have multiple games with postseason implications, especially in the two Power Five leagues set to dominate November headlines. The SEC has Alabama and Georgia at the top of the playoff rankings. The Big Ten has three teams in the mix: Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Four of the Power Five leagues and multiple Group of Five leagues will factor into how the four-team field is built. These are the games that will define November:
No. 6 Michigan State at No. 5 Ohio State (Nov. 20)
The biggest game of the regular season carries enormous stakes. Ohio State is eliminated from Big Ten and national championship contention with a loss but will likely surge into the top four of the ensuing playoff rankings with a win. If they’re able to get past Purdue and Maryland, the Spartans will head to Columbus with an opportunity to lock down the Big Ten East and book a spot in the conference championship game.
No. 5 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan (Nov. 27)
OSU topping the Spartans could also create a winner-take-all matchup for the division with only a few analogs in the storied history of this rivalry. (If the Wolverines take care of business against Indiana, Penn State and Maryland, that is.) Even if the Buckeyes lose on the previous Saturday, Michigan could be playing for an at-large playoff bid should undefeated MSU win the Big Ten and enough chaos ensue to place a one-loss, non-division champion in contention for the top four.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 14 Auburn (Nov. 27)
Wild and wacky under normal circumstances — if such circumstances ever exist in this rivalry — this year’s Iron Bowl would take on an even more fevered pitch should the Crimson Tide and Tigers meet to decide the SEC West. For that to be a reality, Auburn would need to get past two ranked opponents in Texas A&M and Mississippi State.
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State (Nov. 27)
This is last of three tough November games for Oklahoma, with two coming against teams currently ranked in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. But don’t overlook what this could mean for Oklahoma State, which gets West Virginia, TCU and Texas Tech — the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders are now led by interim coaches — before hosting Bedlam. While tough to nail down on a weekly basis, the Cowboys have an above-average chance of entering Nov. 27 at 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the Big 12,
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor (Nov. 13)
Ranked eighth in the debut playoff rankings, Oklahoma’s clearest path to the top four entails remaining perfect against a much tougher caliber of competition. Even then, there is a chance, though slim, that an unbeaten Power Five champion gets left out of the semifinals for the first time in the playoff format. So it’s not just about winning at Baylor; the Sooners could use a smooth and stylish win to offset those lingering concerns about close games against Kansas, Nebraska and others.
SMU at No. 2 Cincinnati (Nov. 20)
The chief complaint about Cincinnati’s playoff chances from the selection committee centered on the Bearcats’ strength of schedule, though that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: The committee doesn’t rank one-loss SMU or Houston and then doesn’t give Cincinnati due credit for beating either team. (The Bearcats could meet Houston for the American championship.) SMU is by far the Bearcats’ toughest test of the conference season.
No. 7 Oregon at Utah (Nov. 20)
The Ducks can’t afford any setbacks as they look to build off September’s win at Ohio State and return to the playoff for the first time since 2014. The November schedule isn’t easy — all four opponents could or even should end up in bowl play — but is devoid of the sort of marquee opponent to draw attention away from the Big Ten and SEC. Winning big at Utah could influence the committee, however.
No. 14 Auburn at No. 12 Texas A&M (Nov. 6)
Saturday’s biggest game in the Power Five will at the very least have a deep impact on the New Year’s Six slate, with the winner in very good position to finish second in the SEC West and land in one of the premier bowl games. As with Auburn, the Aggies could also use this win to claim the division thanks to that earlier victory against Alabama. The scenario for that isn’t complicated: A&M wins out and Auburn wins out after Saturday.
Minnesota at No. 16 Iowa (Nov. 13)
This is an important matchup for settling which of three Big Ten West contenders — with Wisconsin the other — will meet the East champion to decide the conference. While the winner of the East is close to a lock to finish in the top four, beating a solidly ranked opponent in early December could influence seeding and matchups in the semifinals. On a roll since an ugly loss to Bowling Green in late September, Minnesota is looking to snap a six-game losing streak in the rivalry with the Hawkeyes.
No. 18 Texas-San Antonio at UTEP (Nov. 6)
Dismissed by the playoff committee in the first rankings, UTSA can only start stacking wins and hope for chaos in the America and Mountain West. Getting to December undefeated means handling the two teams just behind in the Conference USA West standings: UTEP, at 6-2 one of the top Group of Five success stories, and Alabama-Birmingham, the three-time defending division champions.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: Big Ten, SEC lead a slate of huge November games