From Ohio State’s deserved spot at No. 1 to the fascinating scenarios surrounding the Rose, Orange and Cotton bowl bids, here’s five things we learned from Tuesday night’s latest College Football Playoff rankings.
Ohio State probably clinched the No. 1 seed — and that’s big.
Despite looking mortal for the first time this season, beating Penn State, 28-17, after the Nittany Lions cut the deficit to four late in the game, Ohio State jumped LSU for the top spot.
For all the questions about resume and strength of schedule, the reasoning seems fairly simple: Ohio State is the better team, ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s SP+, Sagarin and the Massey Composite.
In fact, the resumes are pretty similar. The win over Penn State, which dropped to No. 10, was the Buckeyes’ third over a team currently ranked in the Top 25, joining No. 19 Cincinnati and No. 12 Wisconsin. LSU has also beaten three current Top 25 teams (No. 11 Florida, No. 15 Auburn and No. 5 Alabama), though its victory over the Crimson Tide is probably the most impressive of any team this season.
So why does it matter who’s No. 1? It likely means avoiding the defending national champions in the semifinals.
There’s still a chance LSU overtakes Ohio State for the top spot, considering the Tigers still have to play Texas A&M and No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship game. If LSU beats both of those teams handily, it will be hard to deny the Tigers’ entire body of work. However, Ohio State can add wins over No. 13 Michigan and either top-10 Wisconsin or Minnesota in the Big Ten title game to its resume, which would solidify the Buckeyes as the No. 1 team.
Whoever gets the No. 4 seed — with Alabama, Oklahoma, Baylor and Utah looming as the strongest candidates — will be the most flawed of any of the playoff participants. For the first time in a while, the debate over who’s No. 1 matters.
The Big 12 championship game might be for a playoff spot.
Oregon’s loss to Arizona State not only knocked the Ducks out of the playoff race, but it damaged Utah’s chances as well.
The Pac-12 needed its top two teams to meet for the conference title game each at 11-1 and ranked in the top 10 to give the winner a shot at making the playoff. With Oregon slipping to No. 14 after suffering its second loss, it’s no longer a marquee matchup.
The Big 12 might be the biggest winner from Saturday night’s shocking upset in Tempe. No. 9 Baylor rose five spots after beating Texas, while Oklahoma climbed to No. 7 after holding off TCU, setting up a huge conference title game in Arlington, Texas. If the Bears (at Kansas) and Sooners (at No. 21 Oklahoma State) can survive this weekend, the winner of the rematch will have a strong shot at a playoff spot as a 12-1 Power 5 champion.
To leapfrog Alabama and the Big 12 champ, Utah needs to destroy Colorado and Oregon.
To be ranked No. 6 without a win over a current Top 25 team shows just how good Utah has looked this season. But to sneak into the No. 4 spot, they’ll need some help.
The clearest path for the Utes is to win the Pac-12 and finish 12-1 while Ohio State and LSU win out, Alabama loses to Auburn, Georgia loses to LSU in the SEC title and the Big 12 champion finishes 11-2.
Here’s where it gets interesting: If Utah goes 12-1 and wins the Pac-12, Alabama finishes 11-1 and the Big 12 champ finishes 12-1, who gets in?
Utah would have the worst resume of that trio, but the committee has shown that it respects how dominant the Utes have been. They’ve allowed seven points or fewer in five of their past six games while outscoring opponents 225-48 over that span, all while Oklahoma and Baylor have been struggling to survive each week. If Utah wallops Colorado (5-6) in prime time Saturday night and dominates Oregon to claim a Power 5 conference crown, that’d be a strong case for inclusion ― especially if Alabama struggles to beat Auburn and the Big 12 title game comes down to the wire.
Who goes to the Rose, Orange and Cotton bowls remain fascinating questions.
Penn State remaining in the top 10 offers some interesting prospects for the Nittany Lions, who could find themselves in one of several New Year’s Six bowls. By staying ahead of No. 11 Florida, Penn State remains in position to be the top-ranked at-large team, which could have them land in either the Cotton or Orange.
With Ohio State likely headed to the playoff, the Rose Bowl committee will be left to decide between Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State to represent the Big Ten against a Pac-12 opponent. The No. 8 Golden Gophers and No. 12 Badgers play each other this weekend, which likely eliminates one team from the discussion. If Minnesota wins Saturday and then loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, 11-2 division champ Minnesota vs. 10-2 non-champ Penn State would be an interesting discussion.
At stake in the Virginia vs. Virginia Tech rivalry on Black Friday is not only a trip to the ACC title game, but likely a trip to the Orange Bowl. Wake Forest will likely finish 9-3 with a win over Syracuse this weekend, but a loss to Clemson in the ACC title game probably wouldn’t knock the Commonwealth Cup winner out of the Orange Bowl slot.
Then there’s the race for the Group of 5 bid to the Cotton Bowl. No. 18 Memphis remains in the driver’s seat, but the Tigers host No. 19 Cincinnati this weekend. Even if the Tigers win, they’ll have to turn around and face the Bearcats again the following week in the American Athletic Conference title game. If Memphis loses the rematch, that opens the door for Cincinnati, No. 20 Boise State and No. 25 Appalachian State to get the G5 nod.
Georgia can start a new round of playoff expansion talk if it wins out.
The Bulldogs offense might not be glamorous, but they keep winning. And until they lose again, they’re in the playoff.
That loss is likely to come against LSU in the SEC title game, but what if Georgia’s defense shuts down Heisman Trophy front-runner Joe Burrow and Co.?
Considering how well LSU has played and its number of quality wins this season, a loss to Georgia probably won’t eliminate the Tigers. It would, however, bump the Pac-12 and Big 12 champs out of the discussion, and ignite more talk about expanding the playoff field.
Until the playoff expands to allow every Power 5 champion into the mix, at least one conference is going to be disappointed every year. Having two teams from the same conference in the field isn’t unprecedented (it happened in 2017, when Georgia and Alabama got in), but a one-loss Power 5 champ has only been left out twice (12-1 Ohio State in 2018 and Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU, both 11-1, in 2014).
That number could double this season if the Bulldogs win the SEC.