Five questions the next CFP rankings to answer

Five questions the next CFP rankings to answer

© Matt Bush, USA TODAY Sports Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III runs the ball while being defended by Mississippi State cornerback Tyler Williams during their game at Davis Wade Stadium.

There will be no drama at the top of this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. The top four shouldn’t budge: LSU will remain No. 1 despite Saturday’s distressing defensive performance against Ole Miss, followed by Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia.

That both LSU and Georgia will remain inside the top four does little to settle the eventual makeup of the national semifinals, since the Tigers and Bulldogs will face off in early December to decide the SEC championship. A loss by Georgia would eliminate the Bulldogs. An LSU loss would make things complicated, locking Georgia into the top three while entering the Tigers into the scramble for No. 4.

Just three weekends remain until the committee makes the final call, with the first Friday and Saturday of December set to decide which teams emerge from the Power Five conferences. Here are five questions the committee are set to address with Tuesday’s rankings:

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How will the committee view Alabama?

The Crimson Tide should stick at No. 5 after Saturday’s 38-7 win at Mississippi State, a victory defined by the season-ending hip injury suffered by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa late in the first half. Tagovailoa’s absence is an issue the committee needs to evaluate at some point this month, if not this week then certainly after the Tide meet Auburn to end the regular season. One of the five principles listed among the committee’s selection protocol deals directly with injuries: members will consider key injuries that “likely will affect” a team’s postseason performance. 

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Where will Oklahoma land after Saturday’s comeback win?

The Sooners should rise from No. 10, though the logjam of one-loss Power Five teams means that climb could fall anywhere from one to three spots. Oregon is fairly locked in at No. 6, but Oklahoma could have a case to leap past those three teams just ahead in last week’s rankings — Utah, Minnesota and Penn State. There are two factors to consider. One is the whether the committee takes a positive stance on the Oklahoma defense, which has made great strides since last season but still represents the weaker link compared to the Sooners’ explosive offense. And the other is whether the reputation of the Big 12 as a whole will take a hit after losses from Texas and Kansas State.

How far will Baylor fall?

There’s some weight to the idea that Baylor was validated by Saturday’s narrow loss to Oklahoma. From the committee’s perspective, there was little merit to be found in the Bears’ unbeaten push through a schedule packed with borderline bowl teams, even if those wins against Oklahoma State and Iowa State should prove that Baylor was doing more than just taking advantage of a weak schedule. But the loss to Oklahoma provides a real takeaway for the committee: Baylor dominated the first quarter-plus, led by 21 points at halftime and only lost after the Sooners pulled off an epic comeback.

In other words, Baylor has a case for treading water at No. 13, especially if the Sooners move to No. 7. At the same time, keeping Baylor in the same spot — or even entertaining the idea of moving the Bears up to No. 12 to replace Auburn, which suffered its third loss — would ignore teams such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Notre Dame. All three have a case for moving up into the top 12.

Who will lead the Group of Five race?

No. 17 last week, Cincinnati has led the Group of Five chase in the first two rankings. There’s reason to think that could change: Cincinnati has struggled on the road in November, sandwiching an easy win at home against Connecticut with a 46-43 win at East Carolina and Saturday’s 20-17 escape against South Florida. The Bearcats’ relative struggles — Luke Fickell’s team does keep winning, which counts — might open a window for one of Memphis, Boise State and Appalachian State to rise in this week’s rankings.

Memphis has a good case. The Tigers have one loss, by two points to Temple, along with a Power Five win against Ole Miss and two wins against teams in last week’s Top 25 in SMU and Navy. (The Midshipmen will fall out of the rankings after losing to Notre Dame.) Boise State’s lone loss is at Brigham Young, which is bowl eligible, and the Broncos are helped by Florida State’s upswing in the past two weeks. Finally, the Mountaineers have rebounded from a loss to Georgia Southern on Nov. 1 to post solid wins against South Carolina and Georgia State.

How to handle Minnesota and Penn State?

Minnesota was No. 8 last week, one spot ahead of Penn State, after pulling off a 31-26 win at home against the Nittany Lions. The Golden Gophers then lost 23-19 at Iowa while Penn State posted a 34-27 win against Indiana. (The Hoosiers easily qualify as a quality win.) Will the committee keep Minnesota ahead of Penn State due to the head-to-head tiebreaker? Is the team’s first loss give the committee an excuse to penalize the Gophers while keeping the Nittany Lions inside the top 10? It’s a tricky situation for the committee, since these two Big Ten teams seemed joined at at the hip, but it should only last one week: Penn State has a winner-take-all date with Ohio State this weekend to decide the Big Ten East.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Five questions the third College Football Playoff rankings will answer


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