After a wild weekend of action in college football, a much-expected shakeup happened in the latest rankings for the College Football Playoffs, including a new team at the top. Let’s dive into the rankings and try to make sense of them and provide some New Year’s bowl projections. Let’s start at the top with the new number one team in the eyes of the selection committee.
LSU rises to the top
You can make the argument that LSU should have already been at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings when the initial list came out last week. The Tigers already had wins against Florida and Auburn in conference play, as well as at Texas out of the conference. The reason LSU initially came in at number two was likely the committee did not favor the Texas win as much as we thought they would have. The Longhorns were not in the initial top 25, which would have hampered the Tigers a little.
Turn the page to Tuesday and Texas is now in the committee’s top 25 after their 27-24 win over then-number 16 Kansas State (who still come in at number 24 this week).
Of course, there’s the win over the Crimson Tide in Alabama on Saturday that really takes the cake for LSU. As many have noted, only four other teams have won in Tuscaloosa against a Nick Saban-coached Crimson Tide team. LSU absolutely deserves to be number one. The Tigers visit Ole Miss on Saturday.
Ohio State, Clemson solidly in
Ohio State’s stay at number 1 lasted all of one week in the College Football Playoff rankings, but it certainly wasn’t because of them. The Buckeyes left no doubt they are one of the top four teams by absolutely destroying Maryland, 73-14. The Buckeyes are likely headed for another breeze of a Saturday as they are already favored by more than 50 points against Rutgers. The big game comes the following week when Penn State comes to town. The winner of that one will head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship and the chance to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Clemson moved up to number three after wiping the floor with North Carolina State, 55-10. The win punched Clemson’s ticket to the ACC Championship Game. There was obviously some talk when the Tigers were initially ranked at number five by the committee, but make no mistake, Clemson is in if they finish undefeated. They have three more obstacles to clear: Wake Forest, South Carolina and whoever wins the Coastal Division in the ACC (as of this writing, that would be Virginia).
Georgia bests Alabama for the final College Football Playoffs spot…for now
The top three teams were a lock. There was no question LSU, Ohio State and Clemson would be currently in. The debate is who is fourth. Would Alabama still hang around after losing a close home game to LSU? The answer, at least for now, is no.
Georgia slots in at number four this week while Alabama is the first team out, sitting at number five.
Georgia is coming off a 27-0 shutout of Missouri, providing a strong case for the committee. Of course, everyone is pointing directly at the home loss to South Carolina on October 12 as what should be a black mark against the Bulldogs, while Alabama’s loss is to the current top team in the country.
While that is true, the committee has shown they reward teams that notch wins over other very good teams, namely top-25 teams. The committee clearly is favoring Georgia’s wins over Florida and Notre Dame, who come in at numbers 11 and 16, respectively, this week. Alabama’s best win is…Texas A&M? That really tells you what you need to know between those two teams, at least at this point in the college football season.
But it obviously is telling that the committee still slotted Alabama at number 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. What if Alabama runs the table, but misses the SEC Championship Game? What if Georgia proceeds to lose to LSU in that game? Would the committee put Alabama into the College Football Playoffs ahead of the PAC-12 champion? And speaking of the PAC-12…
PAC-12 is back as a legitimate playoff contender
After a few years where the PAC-12 was mostly an afterthought in the College Football Playoffs, the conference has two teams right on the doorstep of the playoffs in number 6 Oregon and number 7 Utah. The two teams look to be on a collision course for the conference championship game. In fact, an Oregon win over Arizona this week locks the Ducks into the title game. Utah has a little more work to do with USC and UCLA on their tails. The Utes get the Bruins this week and can remove them from the equation, but remember, USC defeated Utah earlier this year. The Trojans visit Arizona State Saturday.
If Oregon or Utah win the conference, they could have a shot at the College Football Playoffs if LSU goes on to win the SEC championship, as their PAC-12 title would give them more of a boost than an Alabama or Georgia without a conference title – especially if Georgia suffers a second loss in the championship game.
Minnesota on track, Penn State not out of picture
Minnesota scored one of the biggest victories in school history last week against Penn State. As a result, they catapulted from number 17 to number 8 in the playoff rankings, one spot ahead of the Nittany Lions. Another big test awaits the Gophers this week as they travel to Iowa.
While Minnesota’s path to the playoffs is quite clear, Penn State is not out of the picture yet, either. Penn State can still win out and get to 12-1. Doing so would mean they would win the Big Ten championship and have wins over Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and either Minnesota or Wisconsin, all of whom are ranked in the top 20. Four such wins and a conference title would make a very compelling case for Penn State, even when compared to potential one-loss champions from the Big 12 and Pac-12. But the Lions cannot lose again, plain and simple. They host Indiana this week before the big trip to the Horseshoe to face Ohio State.
Big 12’s playoff hopes
The Big 12 is currently buried in the College Football Playoff rankings. Oklahoma is the highest-ranked team at number 12 and undefeated Baylor is at 13. The two meet in Waco on Saturday, so we may see one of them move up a few spots. Baylor is trying to overcome a very weak non-conference schedule that included Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio, and Rice, who is sitting at 0-9.
Either way, this could be the first of two meetings between the teams as this could also very well be the Big 12 title game. Texas is the only other team with less than three losses and Oklahoma has already taken care of the Longhorns, while Baylor sees them next week. You have to think Baylor is in if they can run the table, defeating Oklahoma twice in the process. If not, then Oklahoma becomes the Big 12’s only hope at the playoffs. They have TCU and Oklahoma State remaining before the conference championship game.
Group of Five Watch
The race for the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Six has been a fascinating one for a while. Five teams sit in the current top 25, led by number 17 Cincinnati. But they don’t have a lot of room for error. Memphis is right behind them coming off a bye following a win over previously unbeaten SMU. The Bearcats and Tigers meet in Memphis on November 29. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the New Year’s Six spot. Also in the mix are Boise State (21), Navy (23), and Appalachian State (25).
Current New Year’s Bowl Projections
Using the latest rankings, this is what the New Year’s Six could look like if the season ended today.
Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU vs No. 4 Georgia
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
This would be actually be an interesting thought as to where to send LSU if they were to play Georgia. The committee tries to keep the top seed to the closer bowl, which in this case would be the Peach Bowl. But the Peach Bowl is in Atlanta, so would the committee consider sending the pair to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl if this game were to actually come about?
Rose: Oregon vs Minnesota
Sugar: Alabama vs Oklahoma
Orange: Virginia vs Penn State
Cotton: Utah vs Cincinnati
The Rose and Sugar Bowls are the easiest to fill here. The Rose Bowl will be the Big Ten against the Pac-12. Oregon and Minnesota are the top teams from those conferences available at the moment with Ohio State in the playoffs.
The Sugar Bowl pits the Big 12 against the SEC. So Oklahoma gets in the Big 12, while Alabama gets the SEC spot with LSU and Georgia currently in the top four.
The Orange Bowl takes an ACC team. Clemson is the only ACC team in the top 25 but would still take another team from there. In this case, two-loss Wake Forest right now would probably get the nod over three-loss Virginia. But Wake Forest has Clemson this week and Virginia currently has the inside track to play in the ACC Championship Game. So when all is said and done, if Clemson makes the playoffs, Virginia is likely headed to the Orange Bowl.
Penn State right now would be the highest team among the group of Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame. But don’t expect them to stay there. The Orange Bowl may choose an SEC team, either Georgia or Alabama if both miss the playoffs. Both would likely finish higher than Penn State in the final rankings and the SEC is still in line for at least two more appearances in the Orange Bowl under the current agreement with the conferences, while the Big Ten has already appeared three times. Not that the Big Ten can’t appear anymore in the game, but the Orange Bowl probably wants the SEC to catch up a bit.
And as for the Cotton Bowl, the current rankings leave Utah and Cincinnati as the last two teams in the New Year’s Six. Utah is the highest-ranked team still available and Cincinnati has the Group of Five spot. Utah can actually still move into the playoffs, or the Rose at the very least, if Oregon makes the playoffs.
If we’re projecting out to the end, the bowls could look something like this.
Peach: No. 1 LSU vs No. 4 Oregon
Fiesta: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
Rose: Minnesota vs Utah
Sugar: Alabama vs Oklahoma
Orange: Virginia vs Georgia
Cotton: Cincinnati vs Florida