The top three teams are clear. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
LSU, Ohio State and Clemson: You can rank them any order you want, but it’s clear that these three undefeated teams have separated themselves from the pack.
If they each finish 13-0 and win their respective conferences, there won’t be any debate for the top three spots — unless you want to quibble with seeding.
The biggest discussion is around the No. 4 spot, which went to Georgia in the latest rankings.
The Bulldogs have the worst loss among any of the top 10 teams, falling to a 4-6 South Carolina team that was just beaten at home by Appalachian State. But they’ve also topped Notre Dame (No. 16 in CFP) and Florida (No. 11) and have looked dominant on defense. The offense remains the biggest question, since Georgia has scored more than 30 points against a Power 5 opponent just once this season, in a 43-14 win over Tennessee.
The loss to the Gamecocks eliminated any margin for error, so the Dawgs’ path is clear. Win out, win the SEC and a playoff spot is theirs. Easier said than done with No. 12 Auburn, Texas A&M and likely No. 1 LSU remaining, but at least Georgia knows it still has a shot at redemption.
A deep throw from Tua Tagovailo to DeVonta Smith — the same play that won Alabama the title two seasons ago — might have saved the Crimson Tide’s season.
That 85-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in Saturday’s loss to LSU made the final margin 46-41 after Bama trailed by as many as 20 points earlier in the game. It didn’t change the outcome, but it did show the committee that the Tide could fight back against what is now the No. 1 team in the country.
Barring an upset loss against Mississippi State or Auburn, Alabama will finish 11-1 and be smack in the middle of the playoff discussion alongside a potential 12-1 Pac-12 champ, a 12-1 Big Ten champ (or 12-1 Big Ten runner-up), 13-0 Big 12 champ Baylor or 12-1 Big 12 champ Oklahoma. They’d have the worst resume among that group, with potentially just one win over a team that finishes ranked in the Top 25 (Auburn), but would likely be favored over any of the other contenders on a neutral field.
There has never been a College Football Playoff without Alabama. You can’t count out the Tide until they suffer another loss.
The committee doesn’t know what to do with Baylor.
After beating TCU in triple overtime to move to 9-0 for the first time since 2013, the Bears … dropped a spot to No. 13?
Saturday’s win was Baylor’s fifth this season by one possession, including a 21-13 win in Week 3 over Rice, which rates as one of the 10 worst FBS teams. Needless to say, their 9-0 record isn’t that impressive.
Or is it?
Using ESPN’s strength of record, which determines how likely an average Top 25 team would go undefeated against the same schedule, Baylor ranks third in the country, behind LSU and Ohio State.
The Bears have actually beaten good teams. That leads us to ...
While the Big 12 lacks an elite team, it has serious depth.
It’s strange that the committee doesn’t appreciate Baylor’s wins, considering how highly it thinks of the Big 12.
In the latest rankings, the conference has five ranked teams, tied for the second most among the Power 5 with the SEC and just one fewer than the Big Ten. That includes three 6-3 teams in No. 19 Texas, No. 22 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Kansas State. Baylor beat the Cowboys and Wildcats, who weren’t ranked at the time but are now considered among the nation’s 25 best in the committee's eyes. Shouldn’t it get more credit for those wins?
It’s clear that the committee wants to see Baylor play a truly elite team before it considers it among the nation’s best, and rightfully so. Fortunately for the Bears, they host No. 10 Oklahoma and Texas in the next two weeks. If they get through that stretch 11-0, it will be fascinating to see where they fit in the rankings.
Say what you will about the Pac-12 and its struggles to promote itself, but Oregon and Utah are knocking on the door.
If both teams can make it to the conference championship game at 11-1 and be ranked in the top 10, the winner has a pretty good chance of cracking the top four.
What the conference needs, desperately, is for Oregon and Utah to avoid stumbling before heading to Santa Clara, California. It’s unlikely to happen — the Ducks have games remaining against Arizona (4-5), Arizona State (5-4) and Oregon State (4-5), while the Utes face UCLA (4-5), Arizona and Colorado (4-6) — but it’s college football. Upsets happen.
12-1 Oregon vs. 11-1 Alabama might become the defining argument of the season. The Ducks lost to a shared opponent, Auburn, but did so on a last-second touchdown pass way back in Week 1. If Alabama crushes the Tigers, that would be a point in its favor, but the Tide wouldn’t have as impressive a win as Oregon would have over potentially top-10 Utah in this scenario. It depends, too, on how strong both these teams look down the stretch.