Auburn and Georgia will enter their showdown in the SEC Championship game ranked Nos. 2 and 6, respectively, by the College Football Playoff selection committee.
In the committee’s latest rankings, released Tuesday night, Auburn moved up four spots after beating Alabama, while Georgia climbed one spot after beating Georgia Tech.
The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, with the new rankings seemingly setting the stage for the winner to claim one of the four berths in the playoff.
Defending national champion Clemson climbed to No. 1 in Tuesday’s rankings, reaching the committee’s top spot for the first time this season. Ranked No. 3 last week, Clemson benefited from losses by Alabama and Miami, last week’s top two teams.
Oklahoma and Wisconsin are ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, this week.
Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the selection committee, said it was “clear-cut” to the committee which teams should be in this week’s top four.
Alabama dropped from No. 1 to No. 5 after losing at Auburn, and Miami dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 after losing at Pittsburgh.
Auburn and undefeated Wisconsin reached the top four for the first time this season. Auburn has two losses, but it has beaten then-No. 1 teams twice in the past three weeks -- first Georgia and then Alabama.
The latest rankings underscore the importance of Saturday’s conference championship games in determining which teams will make the playoff. Title games in three leagues -- ACC, SEC and Big Ten -- will match teams ranked within the top eight.
“We’ve got some great matchups this weekend, some great championship games, and the selection committee looks forward to watching those games together,” Hocutt said on the ESPN show that unveiled Tuesday’s rankings.
The Auburn-Georgia rematch in the SEC Championship game and the Clemson-Miami matchup in the ACC Championship game appear to be playoff play-in games. Oklahoma and Wisconsin also are in line to clinch playoff berths if they beat TCU and Ohio State in the Big 12 and Big Ten title games, respectively.
But things will get complicated for the committee if Oklahoma and/or Wisconsin lose, potentially opening a door for Alabama to reach the playoff despite not reaching the SEC title game.
If Oklahoma wins and Wisconsin loses, the committee could be faced with a tough choice between Alabama and Ohio State for a playoff berth. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 this week.
The committee will release its final rankings of the season shortly after noon Sunday.
The teams ranked in the top four at that point will be placed in the national semifinals in the Rose and Sugar bowls, both to be played New Year’s Day. The winners will meet Jan. 8 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the national championship.
If Ohio State or Auburn makes the playoff, it would mark the first time in the event’s four-year existence that a two-loss team makes it. And if Alabama joins the SEC champion in the playoff, it would mark the first time one conference puts two teams in the field.
On the other hand, if Alabama doesn’t make the playoff, it would mark the first time the event has been held without the Crimson Tide.