We've now seen two editions of the College Football Playoff Committee's rankings this season, and we're starting to have a good idea of who they view as true contenders and mere pretenders. There wasn't any change at or near the top this week, but even that can be telling, as the committee stood pat amidst some interesting results on the field, so let's dig into some winners and losers from this week's CFP rankings.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are in the driver's seat with just three games to go, only one of which is against ranked competition. They weren't convincingly the best team in the country this week, as Rutgers led at halftime and was a few mistakes away from making it a very different football game, but they hung onto the top spot even as Georgia pulled off the win against a very good Missouri team.
You could easily argue that positioning within the top four doesn't matter too much, since we've seen winners seeded as low as four plenty of times, but the key here is that Ohio State might have the leeway to lose at Michigan and still make a semifinal, as we saw last year. Falling from No. 1 to No. 4 after a competitive loss on the road at another top-four squad would not be unfathomable, and given the way they are clearly viewed by the committee, the Buckeyes would likely still be candidates if they finish 11-1.
4. Florida State
There is perhaps no greater distinction between the fourth and fifth spot in the CFP rankings. It carries the gravity of the No. 1/2 divide in the poll era, and the decision between No. 2 and No. 3 back in the BCS period. So every week, unless it's an absolutely clear-cut call, the fourth team in the committee's rankings is going to be a major winner.
Florida State is no exception. We'll get to the No. 5 squad in a moment, but as for the Seminoles, they've looked shaky time and time again but still hang onto this spot in the poll. They're just 12th in EPA per play and 15th in success rate, and could very easily be 7-2 or worse right now, but the message is clear; win the ACC and this team is going to a semifinal.
12. Oregon State
They don't have a great chance to make the playoff, or even a good one, but the fact that the Beavers are the highest ranked two-loss team in this week's top 25 is a testament to the respect the committee has for their challenging schedule. Oregon State has picked up some big wins, and with matchups remaining against top-six teams Washington and Oregon, they have a mathematical chance to sneak into the Pac-12 title game.
We've never seen a two-loss team make the playoff, but given the Beavers' high ranking, it's not impossible that they could make the jump if they win out. It's a tall task, but if they beat Washington, Oregon, and then presumably Washington once more in the conference championship game, they'd have a real case to be included, especially if typical chaos ensues in one or more other conferences.
It's hard to understand how Washington is still below Florida State in these rankings. The Huskies have a better best win than the Seminoles, their takedown of No. 6 Oregon compared to FSU's win over No. 19 LSU, and it could be argued that their next-best win is better as well; this week's resounding win at USC, compared to FSU's overtime escape at Clemson.
The message is pretty simple; to be a playoff lock, the Huskies need to win out. Of course, even if they finish the year with one loss and a conference title they have a good shot, but they would probably need some external help. This is an excellent team, one that deserves to make the playoff, but to control their own destiny and make a second appearance in a semifinal, they likely need to stay perfect.
As the lowest-ranked Power Five team with one loss, the Cardinals must feel disrespected by the committee. They have some really nice wins in their back pocket, such as a blowout of No. 20 Notre Dame, a shutout of Duke, and an absolute demolition of a Boston College squad that people are beginning to notice as an underrated ACC squad.
The Cardinals still control their destiny within the conference, and seem positioned well to make the ACC title game, presumably against Florida State. The only question is whether a win in that game would be enough to boost them to a semifinal. They don't have too many chances left to make a statement, as Miami and Kentucky are solid opponents but still unranked, so they would likely need one or two other conferences to go their way- they'll most certainly have their eyes on the Big 12, most importantly.
No matter what the committee said on Tuesday, Utah's hopes were probably dashed as a two-loss team without a particularly clear path to a conference championship game. But they can't be happy to be sitting five spots lower than they are in the AP poll; the difference between 13th and 18th is fringe contender with a chance to create some magic and total afterthought.
The Utes have the chance to make a big statement with road wins over No. 5 Washington and ranked Arizona, but they would need several miracles across the other conferences to sneak into this year's semifinals. It's another tough break for a team who have to be wondering what might have happened had quarterback Cameron Rising not missed the season, but we've seen Kyle Whittingham's squad push through adversity before and they'll surely fight to the end this season.
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