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Washington climbs back into top four of playoff rankings

The Washington Huskies replaced the Michigan Wolverines in the top four of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s next-to-last rankings of the season Tuesday night.

Washington rose from No. 5 to No. 4 after winning in a rout at Washington State on Saturday, while Michigan dropped from No. 3 to No. 5 after losing in double overtime at Ohio State.

Alabama and Ohio State remained Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Clemson moved up one spot to No. 3.

The committee will issue its final rankings Sunday, and the top four teams at that point will comprise the field for the playoff and will be placed in the semifinals in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Arizona’s PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

If Tuesday’s rankings hold up, Alabama (currently 12-0) would play Washington (11-1) in the Peach Bowl, while Ohio State (11-1) and Clemson (11-1) would meet in the Fiesta.

But there are other teams with realistic hopes of altering that lineup by cracking the top four, especially if Clemson and/or Washington were to lose their conference championship games this week.

Wisconsin, ranked No. 6 by the playoff committee Tuesday, and Penn State, ranked No. 7, meet Saturday in the Big Ten Championship game. Penn State, rather than Ohio State, is representing the Big Ten East in that game because both teams have 8-1 conference records, and the Nittany Lions claimed the tiebreaker on the basis of their October victory over the Buckeyes.

If Penn State (10-2 overall) wins the Big Ten title game, it could make a compelling argument for a spot in the playoff as a conference champion that defeated Ohio State.

But selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said last week and reiterated Tuesday night on ESPN that based on the season to date Ohio State and Penn State “are not close” in the committee’s eyes.

He declined to speculate on how the committee might view Penn State if it wins the Big Ten championship.

“We’ve seen some crazy things happen in this college football season,” Hocutt said. “We’ve seen a weekend where three of our top four teams got beat. … So it’s hard to project what can happen with so many games on this final weekend ahead of us.”

Behind Penn State in this week’s rankings, three teams with two losses apiece round out the top 10: No. 8 Colorado, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State.

The biggest development in the latest rankings was Washington’s return to the top four. The Huskies, who dropped from No. 4 to No. 6 after losing to USC on Nov. 12, regained one spot last week and another spot this week.

Washington will face Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game Friday. On Saturday, Alabama will face No. 15 Florida (8-3) in the SEC Championship game and Clemson will take on No. 23 Virginia Tech (9-3) in the ACC Championship game.

A loss by Washington or Clemson could possibly open a spot in the top four for a second Big Ten team.

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