With three games matching teams in the selection committee’s top 10, the College Football Playoff race could become a lot clearer on Saturday.
Or more muddled.
Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson held their spots in the top four of the selection committee rankings Tuesday night, and unbeaten Miami moved up three spots to No. 7 before its showdown with the Fighting Irish.
Oklahoma remained fifth and TCU moved up to sixth. The Sooners and Horned Frogs play a key Big 12 game on Saturday, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the conference.
Notre Dame visits the Hurricanes on Saturday night, and Georgia is at Auburn, which came in 10th.
After Miami in the rankings, unbeaten Wisconsin was No. 8, the highest-ranked Big Ten team. The Hurricanes jumped over Wisconsin after beating Virginia Tech handily last Saturday. The Badgers pulled away late in a rout of Indiana.
Selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech’s athletic director, said the committee was impressed by the Hurricanes’ most convincing win of the season against a “solid” Virginia Tech team.
“That strengthened their resume more than, I would say, Wisconsin strengthened their resume with a win over a three-win Indiana team,” Hocutt said.
Washington, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, is ninth and Auburn is 10th.
No. 14 Penn State and No. 15 Ohio State fell out of the top 10 after losses last week.
UCF was 18th, the highest-ranked team from outside the Power Five conferences. The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five leagues is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s Six Bowls, and the American Athletic Conference is in prime position to grab that bid, likely to the Peach or Fiesta bowl.
UCF is unbeaten and leading the American’s East Division, and Memphis, ranked 22nd, is in the first in the AAC West. No other Group of Five conferences are represented in the selection committee’s rankings this week.
PATHS TO THE PLAYOFF
How each of the top teams get into the semifinals:
Georgia (9-0) and Alabama (9-0) — Win the Southeastern Conference. Both the Bulldogs and Tide can likely afford a loss before getting to Atlanta on Dec. 2 as long they win that day. If both are 12-0 going into the title game, the loser looks like a good bet to get in, too, depending on how that game goes. But it’s no guarantee.
Notre Dame (8-1) — The Fighting Irish should roll in with no issues if they win out and are probably out if they lose for a second time. Simple.
Clemson (8-1) — The Tigers have to like their chances if they win out, though they could use some help from their fellow Atlantic Coast Conference teams. Strong finishes by North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Boston College, as well as by their nonconference foes Auburn and South Carolina, would ensure a deep resume. That could also include beating an 11-0 or 10-1 Miami in the ACC title game. The one loss to Syracuse came with an injured QB. And being the defending national champ probably doesn’t hurt either.
Oklahoma (8-1) — As of right now, it looks like simply winning out won’t be good enough for the Sooners to be a lock. Hocutt noted they have probably the two best road victories of the season, at Ohio State and Oklahoma State. He also tried to downplay how much the committee would hold a defense ranked 88th in the country against the Sooners. The best-case scenario for OU would be beating TCU on Saturday and again in the Big 12 title game.
TCU (8-1) — Like the Sooners, the Horned Frogs don’t have a clear path. Two wins against Oklahoma, both away from home, would be nice. The Frogs do play defense, so they wouldn’t have that imbalance issue dogging them like OU does.
Miami (8-0) — Just win, baby. Running the table means adding victories against Notre Dame and Clemson, and with a perfect record the Hurricanes wouldn’t have to worry about one-loss teams. If they lose to Notre Dame but win the ACC at 11-1 — remember their game against Arkansas State was canceled by a hurricane — that resume is a little light.
Wisconsin (9-0) — A 13-0 Big Ten champion would seem like a lock to make the playoff, but the Badgers are going to need Michigan and whoever emerges as the Big Ten East champion to play well enough to give them the opportunities for the marquee victories their resume currently lacks.
Washington (8-1) — Win out. Win big. Hope about half the higher-ranked teams lose at least one more time.
Auburn (7-2) — Beat Georgia, Alabama and Georgia again and hope to become the first two-loss team to make the playoff.