Nick Saban

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has eight straight wins over LSU. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

There's one game this weekend that matters plenty … or does it?

Could the loser of LSU/Alabama still make the College Football Playoff? In the past, it didn't matter who lost, but this year, falling in this one could hurt significantly.

The Alabama/LSU loser is pretty much a lock not to make the SEC Championship Game, and while that hasn't hurt the Crimson Tide before (2011 and 2017), it could prove costly this year.

What if the Alabama/LSU winner falls to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game? If all three of those teams beat everyone else on their schedules, then that would put three league teams with one loss each.

The Big Ten champ (who likely will be unbeaten) and Clemson (who will be unbeaten) will make the playoff field. The SEC champion will make it, even with one loss. After that, who is the fourth team? One-loss SEC runner-up? One-loss Alabama/LSU loser? One-loss Oklahoma with a Big 12 championship trophy? One-loss Oregon or Utah with a Pac-12 trophy?

In 2011, both Alabama and LSU made what essentially was the two-team playoff format of the day. Both deserved their place in the national title game, although Alabama wouldn't have made it without some timely upsets from other parts of the country.

Unless the dominoes fall just right again -- and it's hard to count on that one happening more time -- the Alabama/LSU loser will get left out.

Anyway, let's move on to the picks:

No. 2 LSU (8-0) at No. 3 Alabama (8-0): There's every reason to pick LSU. The Tigers are rolling with the spread/option offense overseen by passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Joe Burrow looks like he's no fluke.

Alabama's defense just isn't what it's been the past decade for Nick Saban. It's questionable how dynamic Tua Tagovailoa will be after undergoing surgery less than three weeks ago for a severe high ankle sprain.

Still, Saban has won eight straight over LSU, and until Ed Orgeron's "Tig-ahs" prove otherwise, this is still Alabama's game to win. … Alabama 27, LSU 24.

Jacksonville State (6-4) at Tennessee Tech (5-4): JSU's John Grass says the Golden Eagles are the most improved team in the OVC. After last year, Tech had nowhere to go but up.

They truly are better, however, Tech is last in the conference in scoring defense and next-to-last in pass defense, while JSU's strength is throwing the ball. … JSU 30, Tennessee Tech 23.

Maryland (3-6) at No. 1 Ohio State (8-0): Even with a less-than-stellar schedule, a team still can prove its worth, and Ohio State is doing that. In the last seven games, OSU has scored 34 or more every time and never allowed more than 10.

The Sagarin ratings score Ohio State at 106.03. No. 2 is Alabama at 100.56. … Ohio State 52, Maryland 6.

No. 4 Penn State (8-0) at No. 17 Minnesota (8-0): Minnesota is exceptionally efficient, especially in throwing the ball, defending the pass and keeping control of the ball. Penn State, however, is better on the ground, ranking No. 2 this year against the run. … Penn State 20, Minnesota 13.

No. 18 Iowa (6-2) at No. 13 Wisconsin (6-2): Iowa really could screw up things for the Big Ten this year. (Again.) With a win over Wisconsin and another over Minnesota next week, the Hawkeyes could head to the league title game, likely against Ohio State. … Iowa 22, Wisconsin 20.

No. 5 Clemson (9-0) at North Carolina State (4-4): The Tigers haven't lost in nearly two years, and the College Football Playoff committee says they don't belong in the Final Four? Certainly, last year is last year and shouldn't count (much) toward this season, but if anybody deserves the benefit of the doubt from past performance, Clemson and Alabama are 1 and 1A.

Also, the Sagarin ratings have Clemson at No. 3 in the nation, just behind Ohio State and Alabama. LSU is No. 4. … Clemson 42, North Carolina State 10.

Tennessee (4-6) at Kentucky (4-4): The Vols are never going to live down that opening loss to Georgia State, but they really have played much better in recent weeks. They're 4-2 in their last six games, and the losses are to No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia and No. 10 Florida. ... Tennessee 24, Kentucky 23.

Missouri (5-3) at No. 6 Georgia (7-1): The recent sluggishness of the Georgia offense has distracted from a pretty good Kirby Smart defense, which has allowed more than 17 points only once this season — South Carolina had 20, but three of those came in overtime. ... Georgia 27, Missouri 10.

Vanderbilt (2-6) at No. 10 Florida (7-2): In his second year as Florida's head coach, Dan Mullen has resurrected the Gators. Then again, it isn't like they were that far down to begin with after just one bad year. … Florida 38, Vanderbilt 7.

Iowa State (5-3) at No. 9 Oklahoma (7-1): Jalen Hurts' Sooners could win all their remaining games, take the league title, and still get left out of the playoffs, which was never the case when he was at Alabama. … Oklahoma 42, Iowa State 31.

Last week: 10-0. Don't think that's happened in years.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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