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Here are the College Football Playoff committee’s next-to-last rankings and what they mean

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The Playoff picture is clear. With one or two upsets, it gets so very messy. The full top 25 is below.

The College Football Playoff committee’s updated top 25 entering conference championship weekend is released below. It contains one small surprise up top, but all the intrigue of the season’s final weekend is now officially in place.

The ACC and SEC title games are basically Playoff quarterfinals, while the Big Ten and Big 12 games have one true contender each, and one team hoping for chaos each. The Pac-12 and the non-powers are essentially out. The AAC title game is officially for a New Year’s Six bid. And we can see who’s within range of New Year’s Six games (this year, the final top 12 or top 11 plus the AAC champ).

Notes on a couple of things about this week and the committee’s general process are below these rankings.

Updated College Football Playoff rankings

  1. Clemson (11-1, No. 3 last week, vs. Miami this week)
  2. Auburn (10-2, 6, Georgia)
  3. Oklahoma (11-1, 4, TCU)
  4. Wisconsin (12-0, 5, Ohio State)
  5. Alabama (11-1, 1, Off)
  6. Georgia (11-1, 7, Auburn)
  7. Miami (10-1, 2, Clemson)
  8. Ohio State (10-2, 9, Wisconsin)
  9. Penn State (10-2, 10, Off)
  10. USC (10-2, 11, Stanford)
  11. TCU (10-2, 12, Oklahoma)
  12. Stanford (9-3, 21, USC)
  13. Washington (10-2, 17, Off)
  14. UCF (11-0, 15, Memphis)
  15. Notre Dame (9-3, 8, Off)
  16. Michigan State (9-3, 16, Off)
  17. LSU (9-3, 18, Off)
  18. Washington State (9-3, 13, Off)
  19. Oklahoma State (9-3, 19, Off)
  20. Memphis (10-1, 20, UCF)
  21. Northwestern (9-3, 22, Off)
  22. Virginia Tech (9-3, 25, Off)
  23. Mississippi State (8-4, 14, Off)
  24. NC State (8-4, unranked, Off)
  25. Fresno State (9-3, unranked, Boise State)

Here’s the state of the race, from Monday’s predictions post (which had Auburn around No. 3, rather than No. 2, but otherwise holds up fine):

Clemson and Oklahoma:

Clemson was already ahead and then added a win at 8-4 South Carolina while OU beat 7-5 West Virginia, but I think Oklahoma’s a slightly better choice. Either has a fine case for No. 1 in a year without a clear-cut top team.

Auburn’s rise means Clemson now has the highest-ranked win of any contender. The committee likes the Tigers’ long list of decent wins and partly forgives its bad loss.

Oklahoma’s beaten three teams in the top 20 by multiple scores each, including Ohio State in Columbus, arguably a better win than Clemson beating Auburn at home by a TD. But the committee — a group composed largely of old-schoolers — has griped about OU’s shootout wins.

Both are win-and-in.

Auburn and Wisconsin:

Auburn has two close road losses to top-20 teams, but also two top-10 beatdown wins.

Wisconsin has no losses, but its best win is by 9 over Northwestern.

Take your pick. Both are win-and-in.


Does Bama’s resume look a lot like undefeated Wisconsin’s, minus the “undefeated” part? It certainly does. The committee loved Bama up until eight days before Selection Sunday, though.

Many of the numbers still do. The Tide outrank UW in Bill Connelly’s forward-looking S&P+ and backward-looking Resume S&P+. The same goes for ESPN’s Game Control quality stat ... but no longer its Strength of Record resume stat. CPI, a transparent stat more similar to what the committee uses, also has Bama ahead of UW.

Face it. Zombie Bama is lurching toward the Playoff. We’ll see if it gets there.

Georgia and Miami:

Georgia’s win-and-in.

If Miami beats the likely near-final No. 1 to finish 11-1, that also completes a Playoff resume, period.

Ohio State:

Ohio State will need to beat Wisconsin and also jump these teams:

The ACC Championship loser

The SEC Championship loser

Idle Alabama

If Wisconsin’s No. 3, that’s a great sign for Ohio State’s hopes. Knocking off No. 3 would clearly earn a lot of committee favor.

If only one spot were open, it’d all come down to Buckeyes vs. Tide for spot No. 4. Right now, I think Bama would be the extremely slightly less embarrassing choice for the committee.

Or Wisconsin could just stay unbeaten and make this an easy call.

There are probably no other contenders.

The committee tries to rank teams by how it perceives their quality over the full season.

What do a bunch of athletic directors know about quality football that the rest of us don’t? Who knows!

This is the stuff the committee rep gets made fun of for trying to explain in 90 seconds on ESPN during the rankings show. Game control! Body clocks! Number of dramatic wins!

The committee does use stats during its deliberations. To try and grade team strength beyond just my own opinions, I first turn to Bill Connely’s S&P+. Committee metrics are a bit cruder, such as an offense’s performance compared to what its opponents usually allow, but probably suggest similar teams. We have no way of knowing for sure, lol.

When there’s a tie, the committee breaks it with strength of schedule, head-to-head, conference titles, and common opponents.

Based on three years, here are the schedule benchmarks for Playoff contention:

  • Finish with one or fewer losses (100 percent of Playoff teams have done this).
  • Beat at least three teams ranked in the committee’s Dec. 3 top 25 (100 percent).
  • Win a Power 5 conference (92 percent).
  • Beat at least six teams that have .500-plus records on Dec. 3 (100 percent).

Going above and beyond is advisable, though your schedule might not cooperate.

If you want a schedule math thing that correlates pretty well to committee rankings, I recommend the transparent CPI, ESPN’s more advanced Strength of Record, and Bill’s even more advanced Resume S&P+.