The latest set of College Football Playoff rankings was revealed on Tuesday night, and there were some changes in the top four. Ohio State jumped Alabama into the No. 2 spot after the Buckeyes throttled No. 12 Michigan State, while Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team in history to be ranked in the top four when it chimed in at the No. 4 spot.
We are headed into rivalry weekend with plenty of intrigue around the country, and there is bound to be more chaos between now and Selection Sunday on Dec. 5. Let’s break down the rankings and judge a few of the winners and losers.
It’s a big, big, big deal that the Bearcats chimed in at No. 4. They have to get through East Carolina to close out their regular season, but if the Bearcats squad that beat SMU last week shows up in Greenville, North Carolina, they’ll set up a massive AAC Championship Game for the ages. The committee respects No. 24 Houston and its 10-game winning streak, which would be another quality win for Cincinnati in the AAC title game while serving as a solid closing argument if it polishes off an unblemished season. It’ll be hard to knock them out of the top four assuming that it wins out. Hard, but not impossible. The Bearcats still have to be concerned about Alabama if it beats Georgia and the potential of a one-loss Big 12 champion. But it’s in a good spot with two games left on the docket.
The Fighting Irish are still sitting behind Michigan, which is a big problem based on several factors. One, they won’t play on championship weekend, and even if they throttle Stanford in the finale this weekend, it’s not like that’ll be a signature win. A second factor is the fact that Cincinnati and Michigan are ahead of Notre Dame. If Michigan beats Ohio State and wins the Big Ten, there’s no way that Notre Dame can jump the Wolverines. More importantly, even if Cincinnati loses to Houston, that’ll be considered a “good loss” and probably won’t be enough to nullify the head-to-head tiebreaker that the Bearcats hold over the Fighting Irish. The last one is that Oklahoma State is nipping on its heels in the No. 7 spot. It’s a virtual certainty that the Cowboys will jump Notre Dame if the Pokes win out, and the same can likely be said for No. 10 Oklahoma.
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Let’s get this out of the way: a two-loss Baylor Big 12 champion won’t get in. A one-loss Oklahoma or Oklahoma State team, however, would be a virtual lock. If No. 10 Oklahoma beats No. 7 Oklahoma State this weekend, and again in the Big 12 Championship Game, those two quality wins will vault them into the top four. The same can be said for Oklahoma State, whether they beat Oklahoma twice or Oklahoma once and No. 8 Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. It seemed like the Big 12 was left for dead a few weeks ago when Baylor beat Oklahoma, but the tables have turned. A one-loss Big 12 champion will get into the College Football Playoff.
The path for Alabama is pretty clear. Win, and the Crimson Tide will stay in the top four. If they lose a close one to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they’ll hang on. It would take mass chaos, actually. I’m talking about East Carolina beating Cincinnati, the Big 12 cannibalizing itself, Stanford beating Notre Dame and other tomfoolery that is completely unexpected. Is it that big of a deal for the Crimson Tide that they dropped from No. 2 to No. 3? Not really. The path for Alabama remains unchanged. But this has been a wild year in college football, and a two-loss Alabama team that plays Georgia close would still have a good resume if more chaos ensues.