From the wait-and-see approach with Alabama to the new Group of 5 front-runner to the ACC’s confusing Orange Bowl bid, here are five things we learned from the latest College Football Playoff rankings:
The committee is taking a wait-and-see approach with Alabama after Tua Tagovailoa's injury … but the Tide need too much help to get in, anyway.
Alabama remains No. 5 after losing its star quarterback to a season-ending hip injury, but it might not be there much longer.
The Tide should have no problem beating Western Carolina this weekend, but how will they fare against No. 15 Auburn in the Iron Bowl with backup Mac Jones at quarterback? That’s what the committee is waiting to see. The problem is, there are few opportunities left for Bama to prove it’s worthy of a playoff spot.
Even if the Tide win out and finish 11-1, their biggest win would be over Auburn. Unless Texas A&M finishes strong, that victory over the Tigers would be Bama’s only one over a team that finishes in the Top 25. If the Pac-12 champion (Oregon or Utah) and/or Big 12 champ (Oklahoma or Baylor) finish 12-1, they’d likely leapfrog the Tide for the final playoff spot. Even if Ohio State, Clemson or LSU suffer a loss, either before or in their conference title game, they’d likely get in over Bama.
The only way for the Tide, a nonchampion, to remain in the conversation is to play so undeniably great without Tagovailoa that they can’t be denied. That would mean pasting Auburn by 40 points or more, similar to how Ohio State crushed Wisconsin, 59-0, in the 2014 Big Ten championship game with third-string QB Cardale Jones en route to a national title.
However, that win by the Buckeyes was for a conference crown and came over a previously two-loss team. The Iron Bowl doesn’t hold as much weight, and Auburn, while respected by the committee, might finish 8-4.
USC’s ranking is huge for Oregon and Utah.
With the race for the final playoff spot shaping up to be between the Pac-12 champion and Big 12 champion (assuming LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game and Ohio State beats Penn State and then the Big Ten West champ in the Big Ten title game), the committee’s view of USC will be a key factor in the decision.
Put simply: With their No. 23 ranking, the Trojans become a Top-25 win for Oregon, and a Top-25 loss for Utah. That boosts the Ducks’ resume while turning the Utes’ loss from damaging to merely disappointing.
If either Oregon or Utah wins the Pac-12 at 12-1, its resume would be superior to a 12-1 Oklahoma team that lost to Kansas State or a 12-1 Baylor team that struggled to beat some of its weakest opponents.
If the Pac-12 finally gets back in the playoff, conference commissioner Larry Scott might want to send Clay Helton a gift basket.
Oklahoma still has more work to do ... but at least the Big 12 is getting some love.
The Sooners moved up just one spot to No. 9 after storming back to beat Baylor. With Oklahoma trailing by as many as 25 points and 31-10 at halftime in Waco, it’s easy to see why the committee still has questions about the Big 12’s top team.
Like Alabama, Oklahoma needs help to get into the playoff discussion. The Sooners not only need to win out against TCU and No. 21 Oklahoma State (preferably in dominant fashion) and beat Baylor in a rematch for the conference title, but also hope Georgia loses the SEC title game to LSU, the Pac-12 champion finishes with two losses and Alabama isn’t impressive with Jones at quarterback.
Fortunately for OU, the committee has looked favorably at the top of the conference, only dropping Baylor one spot to No. 14 for its loss, moving Oklahoma State up to No. 21 and putting Iowa State back in the Top 25 at No. 22 despite its four losses. The Big 12 ranks third among the Power 5 conferences with four ranked teams, equal to the number the Pac-12 (three) and ACC (one) have combined.
Memphis is the new G5 front-runner … but the race is far from over.
Down in the bottom third of the rankings, a small but significant change was made. With Cincinnati struggling to beat South Florida on Saturday two weeks after nearly losing to East Carolina, the Bearcats dropped to No. 19 while Memphis, a 45-27 winner over Houston, remained at No. 18.
That puts the Tigers in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5 bid to the Cotton Bowl, which is determined by the committee's final rankings.
But there’s plenty left to sort out in the American Athletic Conference, particularly when it comes to these two teams. Memphis hosts Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, and it’s looking likely that the two will meet a week later in the conference title game. Whoever sweeps that quick series will be the unquestioned G5 representative, but what happens if they split?
No. 20 Boise State (Mountain West) and No. 24 Appalachian State (Sun Belt) loom as potential one-loss G5 champs, and they could grab that bid if there’s chaos in the AAC.
Given how well the AAC is performing as a whole this season (it’s ranked above the ACC in several metrics, and rates much closer to the rest of the P5 when 2-8 UConn is eliminated as a statistical outlier), a two-loss AAC champ might be viewed more favorably by the committee than a one-loss Mountain West or Sun Belt champ.
The ACC’s Orange Bowl bid is still anyone’s guess.
With No. 3 Clemson looking like a lock to make the playoff field, the next highest-ranked ACC team would receive the conference’s automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. But there’s just one problem: The ACC doesn’t have a second ranked team.
If that continues until Selection Sunday, the duty would fall to the Orange Bowl directors to choose an ACC representative. It might be as easy as picking the ACC Coastal champion that likely loses to Clemson in the conference title game, but right now there are four seven-win teams (Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech) and three six-win teams (Louisville, Florida State and Miami) in the ACC. The Coastal might even finish in a three-way tie. If two or more teams finish with eight wins, then what?
Miami might stand to benefit the most from the jumbled mess. By being mathematically eliminated from winning the Coastal, the Hurricanes can finish 8-4 and avoid a likely blowout loss to Clemson. Would an 8-4 Miami team with a close loss to Florida and wins over Florida State, Pittsburgh and Louisville get the Orange Bowl nod over an 8-5 Coastal champ that gets dominated by Clemson during championship weekend? It’s possible.