The University of Alabama stayed at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings before its Iron Bowl meeting with No. 15 Auburn. UA also stayed put as Oregon fell from No. 6 to No. 14 after the loss to Arizona State, making UA’s Playoff path a little more clear.
In the full top 25 released by the Selection Committee Tuesday night, the top of the rankings saw a change: Ohio State taking LSU’s spot at No. 1 and the Tigers falling down to No. 2. No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Georgia were also ahead of UA. Utah replaced Oregon at No. 6, with Oklahoma No. 7, Minnesota No. 8, Baylor No. 9 and Penn State No. 10.
Now, UA’s most likely path to Playoff begins with LSU, Ohio State and Clemson all going 13-0 and winning the SEC, Big 10 and ACC, LSU and Ohio State most likely eliminating Georgia and Minnesota from Playoff contention as they go (if Wisconsin doesn’t beat Minnesota this weekend and end that for the Gophers).
From there, Oregon’s second loss make it unlikely to get to the Playoff even if it beats Utah in the Pac 12 Championship Game, so UA would benefit from a Ducks win in that matchup.
Then, the lone wild card is Oklahoma. The 10-1 Sooners have a win over No. 9 Baylor on the road, and their one loss was by seven points on the road to a Kansas State team that has been ranked in the past. But the Committee has yet to reward the Sooners beyond their current No. 7 spot.
The chair of the Selection Committee, Rob Mullens, has said repeatedly through the weekly rankings that the Committee watches games and forms its opinions of teams and their quality of play that way. It benefited UA in the first rankings of the season, when UA — with no wins over ranked teams — was ranked ahead of Penn State, with two wins over then-ranked teams, a move that was justified by Alabama’s dominance of its schedule to that point.
Oklahoma has not shown itself to be a dominant team in recent weeks. Controversial officiating decisions played a role in both the 42-41 win over Iowa State and the 28-24 win over TCU last week; Oklahoma had to come back from a 28-3 deficit to beat Baylor.
Oklahoma does have two more chances against ranked opponents, this week against No. 21 Oklahoma State and a rematch with Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. Quality wins did impact Georgia’s standing at No. 4 — having wins over Florida, Auburn and Notre Dame — so two late additions in that column could sway things in favor of the Sooners.
Utah and Oklahoma also have something going for them in their pursuit to leapfrog Alabama: the potential for a conference championship.
The protocol set forth for the CFP Selection Committee lists championships won as the top criteria, ahead of strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and comparative outcomes of common opponents without incentivizing margin of victory.
That same protocol also specifies the Committee has, “discretion to select a non-champion or independent under circumstances where that particular non-champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.”
The word unequivocally came up when UA has been put in the Playoff ahead of Big 10 champion Ohio State in the past. The Committee’s estimation of the gap between UA, Utah and Oklahoma could play a major factor in UA’s Playoff hopes.
Mullens gave no indication to the size of that gap when asked about it on a teleconference.
“We spent considerable time talking about 4 through 6 and 4 through 9, and again, we’re paying attention to full resumes. There’s not a metric for closeness,” Mullens said. “Alabama has been dominant with the loss to LSU and we’re aware of the injuries, as I’ve mentioned.
“Utah, I think I’ve already mentioned on this call, only loss is on the road to a ranked opponent (No. 22 USC) with their running back (Zack Moss) out for the majority of the game.”
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Notre Dame
- Boise State
- Oklahoma State
- Southern Cal
- Iowa State
- Virginia Tech
- Appalachian State