Winners and losers of latest College Football Playoff rankings

Some things are obvious following the release of the third College Football Playoff rankings:

Georgia is No. 1 and will remain No. 1 unless beaten in the SEC championship game. But either way, the Bulldogs are a playoff lock with one loss regardless of when that loss occurs.

The winner between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan is basically guaranteed to make the top four. Similar to Georgia, the victor is a lock even with one loss, should that defeat come this Saturday — the Buckeyes face Maryland and the Wolverines take on Illinois — and the winner rebound to win the rivalry and the conference championship.

No. 4 TCU is also assured a playoff berth should the Horned Frogs remain unbeaten. Through double-digit deficits and four-quarter battles, shootouts and defensive struggles, TCU has managed to reach 10-0 under first-year coach Sonny Dykes.

And we’re in a spot where as many as five teams could have a plausible case for No. 4 come early December. That’s Tennessee, even if the Volunteers won’t win the SEC East; LSU, should the Tigers win the conference championship; Southern California, if the Trojans win the Pac-12 with one loss; the loser of Michigan and Ohio State; and the one-loss ACC champion, whether that’s Clemson or North Carolina.

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Those teams still in the playoff mix after last weekend lead the winners and losers from Tuesday night’s rankings:



No. 5 Tennessee is patiently waiting just outside the top four, ready to pounce immediately after Ohio State and Michigan meet later this month. Should they stay at one loss through November, the Volunteers are guaranteed to replace the Buckeyes or Wolverines heading into the final Saturday of the regular season. But will they stay there? There are teams that could kick Tennessee out of the mix with a Power Five conference championship. But the Volunteers are a clear winner after No. 12 Oregon was knocked out of the mix, which removed what had been the stiffest competition for that fourth and final spot.


Up to No. 6 after barely sneaking past Arkansas, the Tigers are the only two-loss team still in playoff contention and a genuine contender for the semifinals in Brian Kelly’s first season. The path into the top four is easy to explain but would be very difficult to pull off: LSU has to beat Alabama-Birmingham and Texas A&M in November — pretty much a guarantee, unless the Aggies somehow discover a pulse — and then upset Georgia in the SEC championship game. Down the line, a win against the Bulldogs might force the committee to make a difficult decision between the Tigers and the Volunteers.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels rose two spots to No. 13 after hanging on to beat Wake Forest, continuing a baby-steps climb into playoff contention after being unranked deep into October. The road map is becoming clearer: UNC could conceivably land at No. 4 in the final rankings with a clean finish capped by a lopsided win against No. 9 Clemson to take home the program’s first ACC crown since 1980. While that possibility exists, closer scrutiny of the Tar Heels’ record might find fault with the six wins by a single possession and question what to make of a one-loss season in the uninspiring ACC. That we’re having the conversation at all makes UNC one of the winners from Tuesday night.



One week after three Pac-12 teams with one loss populated the top of the rankings, the league’s playoff hopes are now tied to just one contender, No. 7 USC. Oregon fell six spots after losing to No. 17 Washington. An ugly loss to Arizona docked UCLA four spots to No. 16. In a way, that the conference has six teams in the rankings — the Trojans, Ducks, Huskies, Bruins, No. 10 Utah and No. 23 Oregon State — paints a very clear picture of the league’s increased depth compared to the recent past. But the Pac-12 is one USC loss away from once again falling short of a playoff berth.


Saturday’s loss to No. 20 Central Florida doesn’t eliminate No. 21 Tulane from the Group of Five race; the Green Wave can still find a way back into the New Year’s Six by beating SMU, No. 25 Cincinnati and the Knights to finish the regular season as the two-loss American champion. But that second setback and the corresponding four-spot drop in the playoff rankings does open up the possibility that Tulane could win the conference but finish behind another Group of Five champion, possibly Coastal Carolina, Troy or South Alabama out of the Sun Belt.

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