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College Football Playoff Rankings: Michigan-Michigan State Controversy, Cincinnati Rises and Other Takeaways

Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State Spartans

The College Football Playoff Committee released its second top 25 for the 2021 season on Tuesday night, and there were a few surprises to go with the expected teams at the top. Georgia retained its No. 1 ranking after an easy win over Missouri, with Alabama remaining at No. 2 following a 20-14 victory against LSU. Oregon, Ohio State and Cincinnati round out the top four, followed by Michigan and Michigan State.

With four weeks of games remaining, a lot can (and will) change in the world of college football. What are the biggest takeaways from the second release? Here are a couple of things of note:

Key Takeaways

Michigan and Michigan State Provide Controversy in the Top Seven
Georgia and Alabama in the top two was expected, but the committee provided a curveball by placing Michigan at No. 6 and Michigan State at No. 7. After all, the Spartans and Wolverines have the same record (8-1), and Michigan State just won the head-to-head battle in East Lansing. Head-to-head matchups aren’t the only data point to consider when evaluating teams, but it’s surprising the committee placed Michigan State behind Michigan with the matchup nearly two weeks ago. Also, the Spartans’ ranking contradicts what the committee continues to do with Oregon and Ohio State in the top four. If the Ducks are ahead of the Buckeyes, why isn’t Michigan State ahead of Michigan?

The Michigan State-Michigan debate will get sorted out on the field with both teams still having tough games remaining. However, the committee got it wrong by having the Spartans ranked one spot behind a team they beat on Oct. 30.

Cincinnati is Still in Great Shape
As we mentioned last week, there’s no need for Cincinnati to panic about its ranking. The Bearcats had a so-so win over Tulsa but climbed one spot in the top 25 to No. 5 this week. Coach Luke Fickell’s squad has tough games remaining against SMU and a likely matchup versus Houston in the AAC title game. However, if Cincinnati keeps winning, considering the matchups remaining around the other teams in the top eight, this program will be in good shape for the CFB Playoff.

Oklahoma’s Path to the CFB Playoff
The Sooners were off last Saturday, so it was no surprise coach Lincoln Riley’s team didn’t move from its No. 8 ranking going into Week 11. There’s work to do for Oklahoma, but according to ESPN’s College Football Power Index, the remaining schedule ranks the sixth toughest in the nation. Up next is Baylor (No. 13), then Iowa State, followed by a road trek to Oklahoma State (No. 10) to close out the regular season. Also, the Sooners will likely see one of these three teams in the Big 12 title game. If Oklahoma wins out, accumulating three top-25 wins should be enough for this program to jump into the top four.

UTSA Joins the Top 25
UTSA is one of the best storylines of the 2021 college football season, and the committee rewarded coach Jeff Traylor’s squad with a No. 23 ranking this week. That’s the first appearance in the playoff rankings for the Roadrunners. While the resume is a little light, UTSA deserved a spot for going 9-0.

Quick Hitters

Teams Joining the Rankings: UTSA, Purdue, Arkansas and Utah
Teams Dropping Out: Minnesota, Mississippi State, Fresno State and Kentucky

Purdue joins the rankings after last week’s upset over Michigan State. The Boilermakers play at Ohio State this Saturday and already have wins over Iowa and Michigan State.

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Penn State and Houston are two teams that should be ranked.

Pittsburgh moved up four spots after a win at Duke.

Keep an eye on Utah. The Utes are closing in on a trip to the Pac-12 title game and still have a home date against Oregon on Nov. 20.

Top 25 CFB Playoff Rankings Second Release (Nov. 9)

1. Georgia
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. Ohio State
5. Cincinnati
6. Michigan
7. Michigan State
8. Oklahoma
9. Notre Dame
10. Oklahoma State
11. Texas A&M
12. Wake Forest
13. Baylor
14. BYU
15. Ole Miss
16. NC State
17. Auburn
18. Wisconsin
19. Purdue
20. Iowa
21. Pitt
22. San Diego State
23. UTSA
24. Utah
25. Arkansas

Projected New Year’s Six Bowls

Using the CFB Playoff Committee’s rankings, this is how the New Year’s Six and CFB Playoff semifinals would look today:

Chick-fil-A Peach: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

Fiesta: Cincinnati vs. Michigan State

Rose: Michigan vs. Utah

Sugar: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

Projected CFB Playoff

Orange: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Cotton: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oregon