Winners and losers from the third College Football Playoff rankings

Every uneventful Saturday brings us one step closer to completing the dullest, most predictable, least chaotic, most yawn-inducing College Football Playoff debate in the format's seven-year history.

Maybe that's a good thing. Generations of college football fans have watched seasons come and go in clouds of mayhem and disorder. Are we due for something normal? It would be welcome in 2020, at least.

Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State round out the top four. These teams will be your national semifinalists should these steps occur:

►Alabama beats Florida to win the SEC, even if the Crimson Tide somehow manage to lose Saturday to Arkansas.

►Clemson beats Notre Dame to win the ACC, sending both into the postseason with one loss.

►And Ohio State manages to cobble together and win at least six and preferably seven games.

Here are the winners and losers from Tuesday's playoff rankings:



N.C. State debuts at No. 23, giving the ACC five teams in this week's playoff rankings, joining No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Clemson, No. 10 Miami (Florida) and No. 17 North Carolina. The ranking is N.C. State's reward for an under-the-radar success of a regular season (8-3), which came on the heels of a 4-8 mark in 2019 and increased pressure on coach Dave Doeren heading into his eighth year with the program.

Five teams in the Top 25 solidifies the ACC's case for putting the Tigers and Fighting Irish into the semifinals, should Clemson get the better of Notre Dame in a rematch to settle the ACC. Even should Clemson lose again and fall out of playoff contention, the strength of the conference bolsters Notre Dame's case for moving ahead of Alabama and securing the No. 1 seed going into the semifinals.

Iowa State

The selection committee is starting to catch on to Iowa State as one of the nation's best teams. No. 13 in the debut rankings two weeks ago, the Cyclones rose to No. 9 last Tuesday and to No. 7 in the latest Top 25, reflecting the program's surge to the top of the Big 12 standings. This is shaping up to be the best season in program history. 

But there is that feeling that ISU missed an opportunity to reach the top four. Where would the Cyclones rank had they not lost 31-14 to No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette in the season opener? Given where coach Matt Campbell's team stands at 8-2, Iowa State at 9-1 very likely would've been ranked fifth and ready to leap into the semifinals should one of the top four falter before Dec. 20. 

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Not that it's all positive: Louisiana-Lafayette remains a whopping 12 spots behind Iowa State despite having fewer losses (one to the Cyclones' two) and owning that 17-point win in September. Head-to-head results should matter. Now, the good news. The Ragin' Cajuns are up six spots after last week's 24-21 win against Appalachian State and, most crucially, are well ahead of No. 24 Tulsa.

Why that matters: Despite being docked a spot in the rankings, Cincinnati remains a lock for the Group of Five bid to the New Year's Six by beating Tulsa to win the American Athletic Conference championship. On the other hand, a Tulsa win would open the door to either Louisiana-Lafayette or No. 13 Coastal Carolina, which will meet next week for the Sun Belt title. Beating the Chanticleers would give the Cajuns two very impressive wins and would be enough to remain ahead of Tulsa and reach one of the major January bowls.

Coastal Carolina assistant coach Josh Miller celebrates with players after the Chanticleers defeated Brigham Young, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Conway, South Carolina.



The Bearcats' odds of reaching the semifinals have essentially hit zero after a rough start to the week. First, Saturday's scheduled matchup with No. 24 Tulsa was canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the Bearcats' program. That removed the opportunity to add two meaningful wins before the end of the regular season, which in turn made it extremely unlikely Cincinnati would have the resume needed to move ahead of the Power Five teams just on the outside of the top four.

Sliding back one spot to No. 8, behind Iowa State, makes this official. Cincinnati still managed to make history, as the first Group of Five team in playoff history to rise as high as No. 7. There's still a New Year's Six bowl in the cards with a win against Tulsa for the conference championship. But not even in this strange regular season could a Group of Five team achieve enough to crack the playoff code.

The selection committee

The committee's affection for No. 9 Georgia is confusingly consistent and seems to reflect more on the program's recent success under coach Kirby Smart than anything the Bulldogs have actually achieved during the regular season. The achievements themselves are thin: Georgia lost to Alabama and Florida by 17 and 16 points, respectively, and have six wins against opponents with a combined record of 15-36. (Auburn, 5-4, is the only opponent with a winning record.) That there are six SEC wins is admirable, sure, but is that a resume worthy of the top 10?

Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg