The second College Football Playoff rankings featured an expected change at the top: LSU rose to No. 1, swapping spots with Ohio State, after Saturday’s 46-41 win at Alabama.
In the end, the debate over which team deserves to be No. 1 is weeks from being settled. LSU still has a matchup with Georgia to decide the SEC championship. No. 2 Ohio State faces No. 9 Penn State in two weeks and, with a win there, will take on the Big Ten West champion to decide the Big Ten.
The real debate in the second rankings came from which teams immediately followed the Tigers and Buckeyes, a group consisting of Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Utah and Minnesota. For now, Clemson is third and Georgia in fourth, followed by the Crimson Tide, Ducks, Utes and Golden Gophers.
Two weeks down, four to go. Here are the winners and losers from the latest playoff rankings:
The case for Ohio State remaining at No. 1 calls on the Buckeyes’ dominance of the Big Ten, which includes no conference win by fewer than 24 points. The Buckeyes’ 73 points against Maryland this past weekend was the program’s second-best scoring performance against a Big Ten opponent since 1936. Not to mention no team in the history of the playoff had fallen from No. 1 after a victory.
Overall, however, LSU holds the edge in quality of wins, including four in this week’s Top 25, and can tout the victory in Tuscaloosa as a marquee moment. Ohio State will have its opportunities, notably at home against the Nittany Lions, but the Buckeyes might not have the ammunition to retake the stop spot. Barring an upset, LSU will remain hold the top spot until meeting Georgia. An SEC championship would slot the Tigers into a friendly neutral-site environment at the Peach Bowl.
The top four would’ve been nice, but No. 8 will suffice. For one, it’s a nine-spot from last week, when the Golden Gophers were No. 17 in the debut rankings. In making that leap, Minnesota moved ahead of five two-loss teams, two one-loss teams and another unexpected Power Five unbeaten in Baylor. The main reason why being outside the top four doesn’t matter: Minnesota will easily play its way into the top four, perhaps even to No. 2, by running the table through its next four games. The opponents: No. 20 Iowa, Northwestern, No. 14 Wisconsin and either the Buckeyes or Penn State in the Big Ten championship game.
The good news first: No. 24 Kansas State remained in the rankings while Texas leaped to No. 19, giving the Big 12 five teams in the Top 25. That’s a sign of the respect the committee has for the conference as a whole. The bad news? With No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 13 Baylor both falling one spot due to Minnesota’s surge, the conference again finds itself last among Power Five leagues in securing a spot in the national semifinals. Not that either team did itself any favors this past weekend, with the Sooners barely escaping with their playoff hopes intact against Iowa State and Baylor needing multiple overtimes to sneak past TCU.
But the league is still lurking on the edges of the top four. Both can very likely reach the semifinals by winning out and getting help from the rest of the Pac-12; having one of Oregon and Utah lose once in November and then win the conference championship would essentially eliminate the league from playoff contention. The issue for Baylor, for example, is that beating Oklahoma this weekend won’t lead to a Minnesota-like climb up the rankings. Instead, should higher-ranked teams hold serve this weekend, climbing to 10-0 might move Baylor ahead of No. 11 Florida but won’t push the Bears into the top eight.
The chances of reaching the playoff are becoming increasingly remote for Alabama, with the committee’s decision to slot the Tide behind Georgia as the latest piece of evidence. Last week’s argument for having Alabama inside the top four centered on the committee’s belief that the Tide looked the part of one of the nation’s best teams despite a flimsy list of wins. LSU’s pulverizing of the Alabama defense no longer makes that a tenable talking point. Georgia has a decided edge with two wins against opponents in this week’s rankings, Florida and No. 16 Notre Dame, and five wins overall against teams with a non-losing record to Alabama’s three. Given that every contender around the Tide in this week’s top 10 will have the opportunity to play for their conference championship, you can see why Alabama’s playoff case is nearing a lost cause.
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