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3 things we learned from the updated College Football Playoff rankings

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The picture is taking shape, but don't get too comfortable, with a monster Saturday peering over the horizon.

The second edition of the 2014 College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday night, and while the Playoff picture remains as murky as ever, we're able to pull a few new things from the latest rankings.

1. Not all wins and losses are created equal

The rankings stratify fairly evenly, at least in the upper half of the one-loss teams. A loss will almost certainly bring you down a peg, and a win can bump you up, but the distance traveled can vary widely depending on that team's showing.

Arizona State jumped from 14th to ninth in one week based on a tough overtime win over Utah. It wasn't the blowout that most traditional pollsters would use to justify a big jump over teams with the same record, but a close win over a good team like the Utes can go a long way in this system.

On the flipside of this coin: Utah. The Utes actually held steady at 17th, despite losing to ASU. In tight games in which both teams give a good account of themselves, it's good to see the losing team not getting punished and sent to the back of the line just because it was the most recent team to lose. In this case, Utah didn't move at all.

Then again, Ole Miss lost a close one to No. 3 Auburn and dropped from No. 4 to No. 11.

2. There won't always be a mid-major presence

With former No. 23 East Carolina's loss to Temple on Saturday, the Pirates bid adieu to the rankings. Their absence means that there are now zero non-power conference teams in the top 25. Marshall is still out there at 8-0 and ranked in both major human polls, but the Herd are nowhere to be found in the Playoff rankings.

The rise of Boise State and TCU in the mid-2000s gave many a rallying cry around the college football world. "The system isn't fair!" "Give them a chance!" The Broncos and Horned Frogs ultimately fell short of getting into the BCS title game from outside the power conferences, but they did appear in several BCS games.

Things have changed, though. The Broncos have fallen back to earth (though they could still end up taking the non-power New Year's spot), TCU bolted for the greener pastures of the Big 12 and became part of the establishment, and no one has stepped up to fill the vacuum yet.

Simply put, no mid-major program is at a level where it deserves to be part of the Playoff conversation. Marshall is a fun team and is very good, but these rankings are about determining who gets into the Playoff, not for rewarding nice stories. It sounds callous, and honestly the author isn't sure he's happy about this development.

3. The SEC will almost certainly not get two teams in

With one month before the end of the regular season, the chances of one conference getting more than one representative into the Playoff is looking incredibly slim. The only conference with a chance worth discussing is the SEC, and the chances of it coming to pass are dwindling by the week.

Georgia's loss to Florida in the Cocktail Party has removed it from consideration, and that's the wrench in the works for the SEC. Had the Bulldogs gone 11-1 and either won the SEC Championship or succumbed in a heroic loss to an undefeated Mississippi State, it's possible both Bulldogs could've gotten into the Playoff.

The only realistic chance for the SEC to get two teams into the Playoff lies in two teams from the West. This is where things get tricky.

As of Week 10, Mississippi State is alone in first place at 5-0, and Alabama and Auburn are in second at 4-1. The Bulldogs still have to play at Alabama and at Ole Miss. Alabama plays at LSU, then hosts Mississippi State and Auburn. Auburn goes to Georgia and Alabama. The possibility for a three-way tie for the SEC West title is likely off the table barring everyone falling to two losses, but that scenario is not worth pondering until it arrives at our doorstep in a flaming paper bag.

Right now, there's really only one scenario that could mean two SEC teams in the Playoff:

  • If Mississippi State wins the SEC West while going 12-0 or 11-1 and Auburn finishes 11-1 (MSU has the head-to-head tiebreaker), the Tigers could potentially grab a Playoff spot if teams in other conferences pick up additional losses. They do still have a win over No. 7 Kansas State.
  • If Alabama wins out, it will win the division over Mississippi State by virtue of a head-to-head win. This scenario would be a tougher sell -- a non-champion Mississippi State would not have a quality out-of-division win to point to, and Auburn would have two losses.
  • And if Auburn wins out, Alabama would have two losses and MSU's weak non-conference schedule comes into play.

Without knowing how much credence the committee will give to conference championships, it's tough to get too good of a feel on this. But then again, the SEC East winner could upset whoever wins the SEC West. Then we'd have a real mess on our hands.