A new set of College Football Playoff rankings is out, and we’re looking at more of the same up top.
New College Football Playoff rankings!
— NCAA Football (@NCAAFootball) November 23, 2016
Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson remain as the schools ranked one through four; Louisville, which lost to Houston, dropped out of the top 10. As a result, every squad previously ranked below the Cardinals (who were slotted at No. 5 last week) moved up a notch.
The above graphic is emblematic of the Playoff picture as it currently lies; though teams eight through 10 are longshots, all have viable paths to the semifinals.
These rankings will look different next week. Ohio State and Michigan are set to do battle on Saturday, and the loser will likely drop to the lower half of the top 10. The key question is this: who’s primed to fill that vacancy?
Washington appears to have the inside track, but the Huskies will have to win the Apple Cup on the road to hold onto their top-five billing. That’s no easy task – and if Washington wins against Wazzu, it will face either Colorado or a red-hot USC squad in the conference championship game. The Huskies deserve to make the Playoff if they win out, but that’s far from a certainty.
Next on the pecking order is the Penn State-Wisconsin Big Ten duo. Each has a chance to win what’s arguably the best conference in college football this year; the Badgers are the favorite to represent the Big Ten West in the league championship game, and Penn State needs a win and a Michigan loss to represent the East.
Would the winner of that (hypothetical) game jump a one-loss Pac-12 champion in Washington? Or ACC champion Clemson? Doubtful. But if the Nittany Lions or the Badgers win the Big Ten and the Huskies or the Tigers falter, the former combo is next in line.
More dominoes would need to fall in order for Oklahoma, Colorado or Oklahoma State to reach the festivities, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The Bedlam winner would have to hope for a Michigan win this weekend against OSU; a two-loss Big 12 champion isn’t leaping a two-loss Big Ten champion. Tonight’s rankings prove that. The Buffaloes would need to beat Washington in the Pac-12 title game, root for the Wolverines to beat the Buckeyes and the Cowboys to beat the Sooners. You get all of that?
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Playoff scenarios grow to be complicated at this time of year; after Saturday, we should have a better idea of the four we’re going to see. Then again, while there’s no evidence to support this, it just feels like at least one more major shakeup is on the horizon.
Could Wazzu take the Apple Cup? That doesn’t seem very far-fetched at all, when you think about it. Does South Carolina have any shot against Clemson? Unlikely, but Pitt was a longshot too. What if Michigan wins against Ohio State but loses to Wisconsin the Big Ten title game? Then what?
The committee catches flack at times, but its job is undeniably difficult. Someone is always going to wind up disappointed, but for the four teams selected, there is no sweeter feeling than vying for the national championship.