The top three in the College Football Playoff rankings are set in stone and not likely to budge any time soon — until Ohio State and Michigan meet later this month, at least.
Georgia is the most rock-solid No. 1 since, well, the Bulldogs of last season. After topping Tennessee, the defending national champions are in position to coast all the way into the national semifinals as the top overall seed.
Who the Bulldogs would face remains very much for debate.
In the second playoff rankings, No. 4 went to TCU, the last of the four Bowl Subdivision unbeatens. The Horned Frogs inched ahead of Tennessee, which lost a crucial SEC East matchup against Georgia but remains right on the cusp of the top four.
The second playoff rankings were also notable for two notable absences near the top: No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Clemson were both ranked outside the top six for the first time in the history of the postseason format.
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For only falling three spots after suffering a second loss, the Crimson Tide lead the list of winners and losers from Tuesday’s rankings:
Optimists will point that Alabama is only a few plays away from being undefeated. Pessimists will highlight how the Crimson Tide are only a few plays away from holding four losses, not just two — games against No. 18 Texas and Texas A&M could’ve easily gone the other way. Realists will keep it simple: Alabama has not looked the part of a national champion since the season opener and does not have the resume to come in ahead of multiple one-loss Power Five teams. The Crimson Tide have earned the benefit of the doubt nearly without exception during the program’s run under Nick Saban; this time, they haven’t resembled a team worthy of the ranking. That they’re still in the mix makes the Crimson Tide one of the biggest winners of the evening.
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Simply moving up from last week’s No. 7 ranking is a huge positive for TCU, which even in fifth would’ve been very optimistic about eventually landing in the semifinals as the undefeated Big 12 champions. Already tucked inside the top four with No. 18 Texas, Baylor, Iowa State and the conference championship to come, the Horned Frogs are in wonderful position to finish No. 3 or even No. 2 in the final rankings should they run the table. Of course, there’s the catch: TCU is in if perfect, out if not.
Landing in fourth would’ve made a major statement about the Volunteers’ playoff candidacy despite falling short in the SEC East. Still, coming in at No. 5 suggests that one-loss Tennessee would be one of the small handful of teams in competition for the semifinals coming out of conference championship weekend. The Volunteers are boosted by two factors: one, the very deep collection of quality wins, and two, a relatively competitive performance against Georgia compared to the Bulldogs’ destruction of No. 6 Oregon in the opener.
The Tigers have fewer losses and a stronger overall collection of wins than Alabama. Clemson’s best win, against No. 16 North Carolina State, is better than the Crimson Tide’s best win, against Texas. Clemson’s second-best win, whether that’s Florida State, Syracuse or Wake Forest, equals or trumps the Tide’s second-best win, against Mississippi State. While nightmarish, the Tigers’ loss to Notre Dame resulted in the Fighting Irish climbing to No. 20 in the playoff rankings. You could say the selection committee admires Clemson’s best win, respects Clemson’s lone loss but doesn’t think very highly of the Tigers themselves. And don’t even begin to compare resumes between Clemson and No. 8 Southern California — the Trojans also have one loss to a team in this week’s rankings and have zero wins of any meaning or consequence.
The committee also has no admiration for No. 12 UCLA, which has two wins against teams in the rankings: No. 14 Utah and No. 25 Washington. Admittedly, the Bruins have just two road wins, both against Pac-12 afterthoughts in Colorado and Arizona State. But UCLA has four wins against teams with a winning record; USC has three. The Bruins have two wins against ranked teams to the Trojans’ none. UCLA leads the Pac-12 in yards per play, besting Oregon and USC, and ranks second in the conference in yards allowed per play, just decimal points behind Washington State.