The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings Tuesday night, which will bring a little more clarity as to how the four semifinal spots are shaking out.
The CFP rankings are bound to undergo various changes over the next few weeks. This time last year, the Clemson Tigers, LSU Tigers, Ohio State Buckeyes and Alabama Crimson Tide made up the Top Four. When all was said and done, the Michigan State Spartans and Oklahoma Sooners moved into the semifinals in place of Ohio State and LSU.
Below is the latest AP Top 25 poll, followed by how those rankings would impact the six selection committee bowl games this winter.
AP Top 25 Poll
|CFP and Selection Committee Bowl Games|
|Fiesta Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 2 vs. No. 3||Michigan vs. Clemson|
|Peach Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 1 vs. No. 4||Alabama vs. Washington|
|Orange Bowl||Dec. 30||ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame||Louisville vs. Wisconsin|
|Cotton Bowl||Jan. 2||At-large vs. At-large||Western Michigan vs. Florida|
|Sugar Bowl||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. SEC||Baylor vs. Texas A&M|
|Rose Bowl||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. Pac-12||Ohio State vs. Utah|
Biggest Playoff Questions
How Many Surprises Are Still in Store?
College football fans can always count on a handful of upsets throughout a given season, and the 2016 campaign has been as unpredictable as ever. Below is the preseason Top 10 from the AP Top 25 and how each of the 10 teams has performed:
|Preseason Top 10—Where Are They Now?|
|Rank||Team||2016 Record||Week 10 Ranking|
|4||Florida State||5-3||No. 19|
|6||Ohio State||7-1||No. 6|
|Source: AP Top 25 Poll|
In terms of volume, no single stretch of days has provided the same kind of impactful results the opening of the 2016 season did.
But the weeks that look to be uneventful are often the ones that deliver the most shocking surprises. Week 8 largely played out as expected until the Penn State Nittany Lions upset then-undefeated Ohio State.
For the four playoff favorites, the road looks to be straightforward before the semifinals.
Alabama still has LSU and the Auburn Tigers ahead, but the Crimson Tide are far and away better than the rest of the country and should win both games.
Clemson cleared its biggest hurdle before the ACC championship with Saturday's win over the Florida State Seminoles.
Although the Washington State Cougars could be a tricky opponent in the final week, the Washington Huskies had a similarly big victory Saturday after beating the Utah Utes.
The Michigan Wolverines have by far the toughest game, with Ohio State in Columbus at the end of November. However, the Buckeyes offense hasn't looked great in any of their last three games. The Wolverines match up well with their hated rivals.
Right now, the playoff field is clear. Alabama is the obvious No. 1, with Michigan, Clemson and Washington the next three teams in some order. Based on how the 2016 season has unfolded, at least one of the four will have fallen off when the final rankings are unveiled.
Could One Conference Send Two Teams to the Playoff?
The Big 12 and Pac-12 are both in somewhat precarious positions when it comes to the playoff. The Pac-12 at least has Washington, while the Big 12 is pinning its hopes on a two-loss Oklahoma or a one-loss Baylor Bears or West Virginia Mountaineers.
Should the Huskies falter, the Big Ten or ACC would have a chance to get two teams into the College Football Playoff.
Losing to the Nittany Lions was a tough blow for the Buckeyes, but their national championship dreams didn't die in State College, Pennsylvania. Beating Michigan and winning the Big Ten title would undoubtedly be enough to get Ohio State a semifinal berth.
Similarly, Michigan might be able to sneak into the semifinals as well despite not winning the conference—or even its division. The Wolverines would have wins over Colorado, Wisconsin and Penn State. Losing a close road game to the Buckeyes wouldn't be a damning indictment of Michigan.
For LandOf10.com's Ben Axelrod, anything short of a Big Ten title-game appearance won't be enough to get Ohio State or Michigan into the playoff, though:
The Louisville Cardinals are also hoping for Washington to slip up between now and the end of the regular season. Assuming they win out, the Cardinals will have built a strong case. They boast arguably the best player in the nation, quarterback Lamar Jackson, and their only loss will have come against the Clemson Tigers.
USA Today's Dan Wolken noted one major problem for Louisville:
The Houston Cougars did Louisville no favors with their losses to the Navy Midshipmen and SMU Mustangs. Aside from Florida State, the Cardinals wouldn't have another signature win.
Considering the overall state of the Pac-12 and Big 12, it's still too early to eliminate the possibility of the Big Ten, ACC or even the SEC sending more than one team into the playoff. But the likelihood is looking thin.
Until the selection committee shows otherwise, conference champions will continue to get the advantage as long as their records don't disqualify them.