The third set of CFB playoff rankings have been revealed. Let’s break down some of the teams and their positions as well as updating our New Year’s Six bowl projections.
Top Seven Remain the Same
With the top teams all taking care of business last week, no changes were expected. Sure enough, the top seven teams all remained the same. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia all remained in the top four, with Alabama, Oregon and Utah right behind them.
Alabama was clearly not punished for the injury to Tua Tagovailoa, nor should they have been. They still took care of business against Mississippi State and the offense still looked fine with Mac Jones at quarterback. But these rankings continue to drive home the point that Alabama may be on the outside looking in with little chance to actually play in the SEC Championship Game. Their best hope is for LSU to beat Georgia in the title game and hope the committee considers them the best of the one-loss teams.
Georgia is holding strong at number four, but they may have to win out to actually take part in the playoffs. They host Texas A&M this week, which is not a guarantee, before visiting Georgia Tech. They win those two, then it’s likely a date with LSU in the SEC Championship, in what likely amounts to a win-and-in scenario for the Bulldogs. A win absolutely puts Georgia in. A loss means the South Carolina loss will be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Pac-12 in good shape, Big 12 is not
The Pac-12 has to like their chances based on the latest rankings. Oregon and Utah remained at six and seven, respectively, after their big wins over Arizona and UCLA. Oregon has already punched their ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game while Utah is in the driver’s seat to claim the South Division.
Oregon also has to be very happy to see USC in the top 25. The Ducks throttled the Trojans by 32 on November 2 and now that is a very quality win for Oregon.
Utah has been dominant all season and deserving of their high ranking. But the advantage Oregon has over Utah is their big win over USC while Utah’s lone loss came against the Trojans. Nonetheless, Utah can set themselves up for a date with Oregon and knock the Ducks out of the playoffs while putting themselves in a position to crash the playoff party.
While the Pac-12 has two playoff contenders, the Big 12 only has one and they’ll need a lot of help.
Oklahoma is coming off a huge comeback win over previously undefeated Baylor. That win moved them up just one spot this week to number nine, behind not only both Pac-12 teams, but also Penn State. The Sooners lost Texas as a top-25 win but did pick up Iowa State, who moved into the rankings at number 22 after their win Saturday over Texas.
Only moving up one spot after winning at Baylor cannot bode well for the Sooners and part of that was Minnesota dropping two spots after their loss at Iowa. The Sooners look like they need some chaos at the top to get in. Fortunately, they have a shot at a second win over Baylor, as it’s all but guaranteed the two will meet again in the Big 12 Championship.
Baylor likely saw its hope fade away with this loss. The Bears now sit at number 14 and while they do have a pair of top-25 wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State, their non-conference schedule is going to be a huge issue now that they are no longer undefeated. The biggest anchor is Rice sitting at 1-9, though the Owls did pick up their first win this past Saturday over Middle Tennessee. Even if Baylor wins the Big 12, they are now facing too big of a climb to make the playoffs.
Penn State Still Has Hope
As mentioned earlier, Penn State is now ahead of Minnesota. The Nittany Lions are at number eight, while the Golden Gophers sit at 10. While many are up in arms at Penn State being ahead of Minnesota despite the Gophers beating the Nittany Lions head to head, which is true, a closer look shows Penn State’s resume is actually better than Minnesota’s, as Rob Mullens alluded to in his interview with ESPN.
Penn State and Minnesota both played Iowa and Penn State defeated Iowa while Minnesota lost to the Hawkeyes. Penn State’s win over Michigan still resonates with the committee and Penn State has a good non-conference win over a Pittsburgh team that is now 7-3.
Despite all this, Minnesota still has a clear path to the playoffs, perhaps even clearer than Oklahoma’s. If Minnesota wins out, they would be a 12-1 Big Ten champion with either wins over Ohio State and Penn State or two wins over Penn State, depending on who they meet in the Big Ten Championship. This scenario would mean they’d also have a win over another top-15 team in Wisconsin. That would be a very tough profile to keep out of the playoffs.
Same story for Penn State. If they win out, they also would have a strong case with wins over Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and likely Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship.
Group of Five Update
We had a change in the race for the Group of Five spot for the New Year’s Six. The committee was clearly more impressed with Memphis’ 18-point victory at Houston than Cincinnati’s close three-point win at South Florida. Memphis stayed at number 18 while Cincinnati fell two spots to 19, putting the Tigers now as the top Group of Five team. Boise State dominated New Mexico and is right in the mix at number 20. Appalachian State easily took care of Georgia State and moved up to number 24 and SMU moved back into the top 25, essentially replacing Navy, who got whacked by Notre Dame, 52-20.
Cincinnati and Memphis meet on November 29 in Memphis, with the possibility of meeting again the following week in the American Championship, especially if Memphis wins the first round. Cincinnati can clinch a spot in the AAC title game with a win over Temple this week, while Memphis is in a three-way tie with SMU and Navy in the West Division.
Summing Up What Went Right, What Went Wrong
With not much change expected, the committee didn’t need to think too hard over the top of the list. So they were right to keep Georgia ahead of Alabama for the fourth spot in the latest rankings. The committee also was right to not penalize Alabama for the Tua Tagovailoa injury because they still beat up on Mississippi State.
The committee was right to move Penn State back ahead of Minnesota. With both teams having one loss, even with Penn State’s coming against Minnesota, you have to look at the entire body of work and Minnesota’s non-conference schedule included South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern. Penn State’s may not have been tremendously better, but Pittsburgh has been much better than expected, which is boosting Penn State’s stock.
Penn State has also played through a gauntlet in the Big Ten, while Minnesota was fortunate to avoid the top of the Big Ten East, only seeing Penn State while avoiding Ohio State and Michigan.
It was very interesting to see Oklahoma seemingly not rewarded as much for the win over Baylor. Did them getting down 28-3 play a factor in the decision? (Note to teams: don’t go up 28-3. It’s bad luck). It also doesn’t help that Kansas State has lost two straight, making Oklahoma’s loss to them look worse. However, by the eye test, Oklahoma is better than Penn State and perhaps Utah as well. You can certainly see Oklahoma in the top six or seven, but it comes down to profiles at the end of the day, and Penn State’s wins are more favorable in the committee’s eyes than Oklahoma’s.
New Year’s Six As of Today
Going off of the latest committee rankings, this is what the New Year’s Six bowls would likely look like.
Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Georgia
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Orange Bowl: Virginia vs. Minnesota
Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Utah
Here’s what the bowls could project to look like based on what could happen.
Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Rose Bowl: Minnesota vs. Utah
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Orange Bowl: Virginia vs. Georgia
Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Penn State