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College Football Playoff Rankings: Ohio State and Cincinnati Move Up, a Path for the Big 12 and Other Takeaways

Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes

Ryan Day's Buckeyes moved up to the No. 2 spot in the latest College Football Playoff rankings

The College Football Playoff Committee released its fourth top 25 for the 2021 season on Tuesday night, and this week’s edition featured a couple of major changes at the top. Georgia remained No. 1 the fourth week in a row, but Ohio State passed Alabama for the No. 2 spot after its dominant victory against Michigan State. The Crimson Tide dropped one spot to No. 3, with Cincinnati moving up to No. 4. A huge slate of games is on tap for Week 13, and Championship Saturday is coming up in Week 14, so plenty of massive showdowns remain that could shake up the rankings.

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

Key Takeaways

Ohio State Moves to No. 2 and Alabama Drops to No. 3
The Buckeyes were No. 4 going into Week 12, but the committee moved coach Ryan Day’s squad to No. 2 after a 56-7 destruction of Michigan State. Ohio State’s jump of two spots was also influenced by Alabama’s seven-point victory over Arkansas and Oregon falling out of the top four after a loss at Utah. The Buckeyes still have tough matchups remaining at Michigan this Saturday, and with a win over the Wolverines, would play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Thanks to better play on defense, and a high-powered offense that's finding its stride at the right time, Ohio State looks like the No. 2 team in college football and the biggest threat to Georgia. Moving the Buckeyes ahead of Alabama was the right call by the committee.  

Cincinnati in the Driver’s Seat for a CFB Playoff Spot
Ohio State bumping Alabama for the No. 2 spot is a huge storyline, but the biggest takeaway from Tuesday night’s rankings has to be Cincinnati at No. 4. After a couple of uneven performances, coach Luke Fickell’s squad put together a complete effort in a 48-14 blowout of SMU. With remaining matchups against East Carolina (7-4) and Houston (10-1), the Bearcats have a chance to record two solid victories before the final selections. Several key matchups remain across every conference in the final two weeks of the season, so a lot can happen in front and behind Cincinnati in the rankings. However, assuming they finish with a 13-0 record, the Bearcats have the inside track to a spot in the top four.

Oklahoma State/Oklahoma Provides Intrigue
The Bedlam rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State never lacks for intrigue, but there’s added spice this season. Tuesday night’s ranking of Oklahoma State at No. 7 and Oklahoma at No. 10 shows the Big 12 isn’t out of the playoff mix just yet. The Cowboys have already clinched a trip to the conference title game and can prevent their biggest rival from going with a win on Saturday. If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma and defeats Baylor (can clinch a Big 12 title trip with a win over Texas Tech and an Oklahoma loss), that would give coach Mike Gundy’s squad two top-10 victories. If the committee is debating an 11-1 Notre Dame, an 11-2 Alabama, and a 12-1 Oklahoma State (with a Big 12 title) for a spot, then the Cowboys would seem to have a very viable path to the playoff. Oklahoma’s climb is steeper, but coach Lincoln Riley’s team can’t be eliminated from the playoff considering what’s left if it wins on Saturday night.

Can Notre Dame Reach the Top Four?
As mentioned above, a potential scenario looming for the committee to sort through after Championship Saturday: 11-1 Notre Dame versus 11-2 Alabama versus 12-1 Oklahoma State for the last spot. The Fighting Irish certainly aren’t out of the playoff picture, but it’s also hard to draw a clear path to the top four. Coach Brian Kelly’s team plays a struggling Stanford team this Saturday and won’t have a championship game to bolster its resume. Don’t write off the Fighting Irish from a CFB Playoff trip, but barring chaos, No. 5 or No. 6 might be its ceiling.

Quick Hitters

Teams Joining the Rankings: Clemson

Teams Dropping Out: Mississippi State

Oregon dropped eight spots after its loss to Utah. The Utes improved their ranking by four to No. 19 this week. If the Ducks beat Oregon State this Saturday, the two teams will have a rematch in the Pac-12 title game for a spot in the Rose Bowl.

Michigan State fell five spots after its loss at Ohio State. The Spartans need a win over Penn State on Saturday to keep their New Year’s Six bowl hopes alive.

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Don’t overlook BYU at No. 13. The Cougars need help, but coach Kalani Sitake’s team could reach a New Year’s Six bowl.

With Clemson joining the rankings, the ACC now has four teams ranked after Week 12. Pittsburgh is the highest (No. 17), with Wake Forest (No. 18) and NC State (No. 20) joining the Tigers (No. 23).

Top 25 CFB Playoff Rankings Third Release (Nov. 23)

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

Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame

Rose: Michigan vs. Oregon

Sugar: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss

Projected CFB Playoff

Orange: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

Cotton: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Alabama

Podcast: Week 13 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread