Oregon took Ole Miss’ spot in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, but a handful of teams may be gaining on a spot in the semifinals.
No. 4 Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn allowed the next three teams to move up a spot in the second top 25. The top three of Mississippi State followed by Florida State and Auburn stood pat at their spots from last week.
Those moves followed standard operating procedure for the traditional polls in which winning teams continue to move up as long as teams ahead of them lose.
Yet in other spots — most notably Arizona State’s move up the rankings — the committee appeared to follow its promise to start with “a clean sheet” each week.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
Oregon moves into the top four
With No. 4 Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn, some team was likely to move into the top four spots. The next three teams from last week’s rankings (Oregon, Alabama and TCU) all moved up a spot. The Ducks’ thrashing of Stanford’s defense for a 45-16 win helped, but selection committee chair Jeff Long noted wins over No. 8 Michigan State and No 18 UCLA helping Oregon’s cause.
Alabama “very close”
No. 5 Alabama may be the impact team for the final weeks of the season. The top three of Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn were solidly in place, Long said, but the placement of the Tide, Oregon and TCU was a matter of question. Where Oregon’s quality wins gave the Ducks the edge for the No. 4 spot, Long said the selection committee used film study to give Alabama an edge this week over TCU. The Tide have one top 25 win (West Virginia) combined to TCU’s two (Oklahoma, West Virginia).
On a conference call with reporters after ESPN’s rankings show, Long clarified a comment that “misrepresented” that the committee evaluated game film as a group. Long said the committee evaluated film prior to meeting, not during the rankings meeting this week in Dallas.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
TCU, Kansas State and Baylor
The No. 6 Horned Frogs and No. 7 Wildcats meet this week in a critical game that could vault the winner closer to the playoff mix. Both teams could claim a better signature win than Alabama (Oklahoma for both) but continued to lag behind the Tide. Long reiterated that conference champions would play a role in the final selection. Only one SEC West team can win the division, much less the conference. That leaves the Big 12’s three one-loss teams feeling like they control their own destiny.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
Just before facing Notre Dame this week, the Sun Devils enjoyed a major jump from No. 14 to No. 9, leapfrogging the Irish. That’s good news for Arizona State, but some of Long’s reasoning was puzzling. He noted a common opponent for Arizona State and Notre Dame (Stanford). Arizona State beat Stanford 26-10 and Notre Dame beat the Cardinal 17-14 on its final possession of the game. But both of those games were weeks ago. Arizona State needed overtime to defeat Utah, which stood pat at No. 17.
Who Should Worry:
Group of 5 teams
With East Carolina’s loss to Temple, the two-loss Pirates slipped out of the top 25. That left the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt out of the top 25. One of the champions of those leagues is guaranteed a spot in the major New Year’s holiday bowls, but there’s no indication of the leader at this point. The contenders may be undefeated Marshall, Colorado State, Boise State or even a two-loss ECU.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Oregon
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Auburn
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 6 TCU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Fiesta: No. 7 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Arizona State
Orange: No. 21 Clemson^ vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 5 Alabama
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl