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College Football Playoff Rankings: Michigan defies the odds and the expectations

With Rivalry Week in college football nearing a close, how do the Top 25 College Football Playoff rankings look following Week 13?

The 2021 college football season couldn’t end without a few fireworks. Here’s a look at our latest College Football Playoff rankings at PFN — headlined by a massive change in the Big Ten landscape. Who are the top four teams in college football as the time for selection nears?

College Football Playoff Rankings | 1-5

Which teams make up the top five of our Top 25 College Football Playoff rankings?

1) Georgia Bulldogs (–)

Georgia capped off a historically dominant regular season with a 45-0 outing against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs never allowed more than 17 points in a game this season and gave up just 83 total points all year. It comes as no surprise that Georgia remains atop our College Football Playoff rankings.

2) Alabama Crimson Tide (+1)

The Iron Bowl never disappoints. Alabama looked to be on the ropes late in the game against Auburn. But with the help of heroics from Bryce Young, the Crimson Tide forced overtime, then three more overtimes, then won the game on a final two-point conversion. With a sigh of relief, Alabama can look ahead to the postseason. Their security in our College Football Playoff rankings increased with that win.

3) Cincinnati Bearcats (+1)

There’s still a championship game to go against Houston. For now, however, the Cincinnati Bearcats are safely in the playoff conversation. They’ve taken care of business to this point, going 12-0 with a strong win over Notre Dame on their résumé.

But all it takes is a loss to the Cougars, and the Bearcats’ postseason hopes will be in jeopardy. Desmond Ridder must keep his hot streak going in December.

4) Michigan Wolverines (+2)

Ladies and gentlemen, your Big Ten East winners — the Michigan Wolverines. Behind a suffocating pass rush led by Aidan Hutchinson and an unstoppable ground game engineered by Hassan Haskins, the Wolverines are 11-1, with a head-to-head tiebreaker over the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes. Now, they have their sights set on the Big Ten Championship. After that? Georgia.

5) Ohio State Buckeyes (-3)

Just when we thought Ohio State was an essential lock for the College Football Playoff, college football had something else in mind. After losing to the Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State is all but out. They have a shot to play on New Year’s, but the tables have turned quickly for Ryan Day’s squad.

College Football Playoff Rankings | 6-15

Which teams make up the 6-15 range of our College Football Playoff rankings?

6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (–)

Stanford came into this game 3-8 with wins against Oregon and USC. Notre Dame did well to avoid the trap game, easily handling the Cardinal 45-14. Notre Dame doesn’t have a conference championship to increase its playoff stock, but depending on what happens, the Fighting Irish could be the beneficiaries of another outcome. Right now, they’re just outside the top four in our College Football Playoff rankings.

7) Oklahoma State Cowboys (+2)

College football took a step back into the 1980s on Saturday. Michigan beat Ohio State in an ugly run-first effort. Oklahoma State did the same to the Sooners, relying on a stout defense and the rushing duo of Jaylen Warren and Spencer Sanders to bring home the victory. The Cowboys’ win earns them a spot in the Big 12 Championship against Baylor. A win there could give them a shot in the playoff discussion.

8) Oregon Ducks (–)

Losses to Stanford and Utah likely push Oregon out of contention in our College Football Playoff rankings. But the Ducks managed to hold strong against Oregon State in Week 13, closing out the year at 10-2. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves against Utah in the Pac-12 title game. A playoff spot may be out of reach, but a win maximizes the possibilities.

9) Michigan State Spartans (+1)

It’s not the playoffs, but after the sputtering end of the Mark Dantonio era, the Michigan State Spartans will take a 10-2 regular-season record. That’s what they get after beating Penn State 30-27 in the final contest. Now, Kenneth Walker III and Company look ahead to what should be a New Year’s Bowl appearance.

10) Oklahoma Sooners (-3)

Once one of the last remaining undefeated teams in the nation, the Sooners are now 10-2 — with losses inconveniently against their two top competitors for the Big 12 championship. The loss to Baylor was affordable, but after losing to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma has been knocked out of the championship game.

11) Ole Miss Rebels (–)

The Rebels reached 10 wins with their regular-season-closing victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The offense scored 31 points, but the 2-sack effort by Sam Williams on defense helped cap the victory. The Rebels, at 10-2, remain in New Year’s Bowl contention.

12) Pittsburgh Panthers (–)

In the final game of the regular season, the Pitt Panthers held strong, beating the Syracuse Orange 31-14. Kenny Pickett had 4 touchdowns against the Orange defense, and the pass rush went off with 5 sacks as well. Pitt now has Wake Forest on deck in a game that will decide the ACC Champion. The winner will rise in our College Football Playoff rankings.

13) Baylor Bears (–)

The Baylor Bears edged out Texas Tech 27-24 to move to 10-2 on the year. Dave Aranda’s swarming defense has been the starring factor, but big plays from Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner helped seal the deal in Week 13. Baylor moves up in our latest College Football Playoff rankings.

14) Houston Cougars (+1)

With the help of a 301-yard, 4-touchdown outing by quarterback Clayton Tune, the Houston Cougars crushed UConn, improving to 11-1 on the season.

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The Cougars now have a chance to play spoiler against Cincinnati in the AAC Championship. A win would vault them up our College Football Playoff rankings.

15) Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+1)

It could’ve been a story, but there was nothing storybook about Wake Forest’s 41-10 obliteration of Boston College in their final regular-season game. It wasn’t just 4 total TDs by Sam Hartman, as the defenses corralled 2 picks to lift the Deacons over their opponent. They’ve now clinched the ACC Atlantic division. Next up: Pittsburgh in the conference championship.

College Football Playoff Rankings | 16-25

Who closes out our Week 13 College Football Playoff rankings?

16) Utah Utes (+4)

The Utah Utes are the runaway winners of the Pac-12 South division, with a conference record of 8-1. The next best divisional team was 5-3. Utah’s stifling defense — led by Devin Lloyd — has always been a problem. But lately, the offense has been firing on all cylinders as well. In a rematch with Oregon for the Pac-12 title, Utah might have the advantage.

17) Iowa Hawkeyes (+2)

The Iowa Hawkeyes got in their own way more than once this season — but luckily for them, the entire Big Ten West shared that affliction. After Wisconsin’s loss to Minnesota, Iowa is officially the winner of the West at 10-2. They can celebrate, but not for long. In the Big Ten Championship, they’ll play a Michigan squad hell-bent on reaching the playoffs.

18) NC State Wolfpack (+3)

The duo of Devin Leary and Emeka Emezie helped lead NC State on an epic comeback against North Carolina, beating their in-state rival in legendary fashion. Unfortunately for NC State, Wake Forest beat Boston College and clinched the Atlantic division. But for the 9-3 Wolfpack, there’s a good bowl game to look forward to.

19) Texas A&M Aggies (-5)

Texas A&M has too many good wins to exit the Top 25 College Football Playoff rankings, but a fourth defeat late in the season does move the Aggies down a bit. Texas A&M doesn’t have a terrible loss this year. LSU and Mississippi State have been fairly competitive against opposing teams all year, and Arkansas remains a fringe Top 25 squad. 8-4 is disappointing, given the expectations for A&M — but it makes sense.

20) Purdue Boilermakers (+3)

Jeff Brohm capped off his most successful season as Purdue’s head coach with a 44-7 victory over the ailing Indiana Hoosiers. The Boilermakers are now 8-4, and in position to score a nice bowl game later in December. They lost one too many times to be in play for the Big Ten Championship, but there’s still plenty to be proud of in Lafayette.

21) BYU Cougars (+1)

With the help of the explosive duo of Jaren Hall and Tyler Allgeier, the BYU Cougars managed to outlast an upset-minded USC squad in Week 13. BYU won 35-31, closing out the regular season with a record of 10-2. They proved that they’re here to stay in the College Football Playoff rankings, even without star QB Zach Wilson this year. That’s an impressive feat.

22) Wisconsin Badgers (-4)

A win would have won Wisconsin the West. But as has been the case so often this year, the Badgers fall short in a crucial outing. They lost 23-13 to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, falling to 6-3 in conference play. They remain in our College Football Playoff rankings but only by a thread.

23) UTSA Roadrunners (-6)

The UTSA Roadrunners went undefeated through their first 11 games — only to lose 45-23 to North Texas in the final game. The victory makes North Texas bowl eligible, but it ruins a potentially perfect season for Jeff Traylor’s squad.

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A season worth of wins keeps them in our College Football Playoff rankings, but the strength of schedule can’t be ignored.

24) Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (–)

Sure, it was 21-16 against the UL Monroe Warhawks. Even if it’s ugly or uninspiring, however, Louisiana just keeps on winning under Billy Napier. They finished the regular season 11-1, and remain one of the best Group of Five teams in the nation.

25) San Diego State Aztecs (N/A)

Closing out the year with a strong win against Boise State, San Diego State sneaks back into our College Football Playoff rankings. At 11-1, the Aztecs boast an imposing defense led by Cameron Thomas and Trenton Thompson. That unit alone has caused plenty of problems for opposing teams in 2021.

Moving Out

  • Mississippi State Bulldogs

Closing In

  • Arkansas Razorbacks
  • Clemson Tigers
  • Kentucky Wildcats
  • Appalachian State Mountaineers
  • Nevada Wolfpack
  • Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.

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