A year ago, Georgia was an unbeaten No. 1 in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings. That would stand only two weeks – the Bulldogs lost 49-17 at Auburn on Nov. 11 – but they were able to override that loss by whipping those same Tigers for the SEC title. There’s no wiggle room this time.
If Georgia, which was No. 6 in the CFP ranking Tuesday night, loses another game before Dec. 2, which is college football’s Selection Sunday, it won’t crack the field of four. If it doesn’t lose again, it could be the No. 2 seed. (Assuming Clemson stays unbeaten.) One-loss conference champs make it every year. Two-loss conference non-champs never make it.
If anything, the Bulldogs are fortunate to be this high. They have one win over a CFP Top 25 team – against No. 11 Florida on a neutral field. Kentucky, rated No. 9, beat Florida in Gainesville and No. 18 Mississippi State by three touchdowns. Kentucky’s loss was to No. 20 Texas A&M, that coming in College Station in overtime; Georgia’s loss came at No. 3 LSU by 20 points. (This is, we concede, something of a moot observation: The Bulldogs and Wildcats will sort out the SEC East this Saturday in Lexington.)
Surprises? Well, there are five ACC teams in top 25, Florida State and Virginia Tech and Miami not among them. The flagship university of the state of Ohio is one spot lower than the flagship university of the commonwealth of Kentucky. (Those two share a border, as you might know.)
With Michigan State, Michigan and the possibility of a Big Ten championship game ahead, Ohio State has the potential to make its usual late move, but the Buckeyes’ victory over TCU has been devalued – the Horned Frogs are 1-4 in Big 12 play – and the only reason Urban Meyer’s team is No. 10 is due to a one-point comeback win over No. 14 Penn State.
Washington State, coached by the pirate Mike Leach, is the wild card. It’s No. 7, having beaten Utah, which is No. 15, and Oregon and Stanford, which with six losses between them aren’t ranked. The rest of the Cougars’ schedule: Cal, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and maybe another date with Utah for the Pac-12 title. Would that be enough to hoist Washington State – as a one-loss conference champ of the conference the committee usually gives the shortest shrift – into the playoff?
Notre Dame is No. 4. So long as the Irish stay unbeaten, the number of playoff berths available to Power 5 champs shrinks from four to three. That’s a major, no pun intended, consideration. Figure the SEC titlist makes it, and Clemson from the ACC, and then … who? The Big Ten champ over the Big 12 winner? Ohio State over Oklahoma? Whoa, Nellie.
(Oh, and UCF, undefeated last season and again this time, at No. 12? If the committee wasn’t clear enough last season, it just spoke louder: If you want to make our tournament, you really do have to play somebody.)
But enough speculatin’. If the four previous CFP installments have taught us anything, it’s that these rankings are fabulously fluid. Georgia fell from No. 1 to No. 7 after losing to Auburn last year, and it made the playoff as a No. 3 seed. Handicapping in October what’s apt to happen come December is great fun, but at this point nobody knows anything, and nobody will for a while.
Except for this: No matter what, Alabama will make the playoff. It always has. There’s a chance it always will.