Road to the CFP: There’s a ‘logjam’ behind Georgia in rankings

A weekly update on the College Football Playoff race

The College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled its second set of rankings of the season this week, reiterating its stance that Georgia is the clear No. 1 team, at least for now, but also underscoring that much remains to be sorted out before the four-team field is set.

Is this the year a two-loss team reaches the playoff for the first time, perhaps current No. 2 Alabama if it loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship game? Can No. 3 Oregon avoid a second loss? Which of three one-loss Big Ten East teams – No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan or No. 7 Michigan State – will win that division? Will No. 5 Cincinnati remain outside the top four even if it remains undefeated? Can No. 8 Oklahoma stay unbeaten and rise steadily?

All of those questions are very much in play with four more sets of rankings to be compiled before the playoff field is set Dec. 5.

“To me, it’s probably one of the more interesting years we’ve had in college football,” said Gary Stokan, CEO of Peach Bowl Inc. and a close observer of the playoff selection process. “Other than Georgia, which I think has been the most dominant team in everybody’s eyes, parity has ruled the day.”

The selection committee concurs. The group “just didn’t see a separation” in the teams it ranked Nos. 2 through 6 this week, committee chairman Gary Barta said on a conference call. “The logjam … is still in place.”

An example of how the committee is struggling to put teams in a logical order behind Georgia: It honored head-to-head results in ranking 8-1 Oregon ahead of 8-1 Ohio State, but did not do so in ranking 8-1 Michigan State behind 8-1 Michigan.

How the logjam is sorted out depends in part on whether two SEC teams remain in the top four.

Georgia, which already has clinched a berth in the SEC Championship game, has three regular-season games remaining -- against Tennessee, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Provided it wins those games, “I can’t imagine Georgia not getting in the playoff” even if it were to lose the SEC title game, Stokan said.

As for Alabama, which hasn’t clinched an SEC Championship game berth, wins in its three remaining regular-season games against New Mexico State, No. 25 Arkansas and at No. 17 Auburn would keep it in position to potentially make the playoff even with a “close” loss to Georgia, Stokan theorized. “I think this could be the year you see a two-loss team in the playoff,” he said.

Other variables are what happens over the next few weeks in the Big Ten, where both Michigan and Michigan State have games remaining against Ohio State; the Big 12, where Oklahoma has a chance to remedy its lack of a “signature” win with games at No. 13 Baylor and at No. 10 Oklahoma State; the Pac-12, where Oregon’s high ranking could be tested by No. 24 Utah; and the American Athletic Conference, where 9-0 Cincinnati, which won at No. 9 Notre Dame last month, is seeking to become the first team from a “Group of Five” league to reach the playoff.

“What I really like is that we have these huge play-in type games during the rest of the regular season,” Stokan said, “and then you’ve got the conference championship games. It’s going to be an exciting and potentially dramatic (road to the playoff).”

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Some of Saturday’s games that could have a bearing on the playoff race:

No. 1 Georgia (9-0) at Tennessee (5-4): Assuming the Bulldogs keep rolling, their No. 1 ranking is secure. “Georgia just continues to dominate in all areas, both sides of the ball,” said Barta, Iowa’s athletic director.

No. 4 Ohio State (8-1) at home vs. No. 19 Purdue (6-3): The Boilermakers are tied for the lead in the Big Ten West and upset previously unbeaten Michigan State last week.

No. 6 Michigan (8-1) at Penn State (6-3): Although the Nittany Lions are unranked by the CFP committee, “they’re in the conversation” for a spot in the Top 25, Barta said. “The committee sees them as a very good team, a tough team to play.”

No. 8 Oklahoma (9-0) at No. 13 Baylor (7-2): The Sooners are ranked lower than you’d typically find an undefeated team from a “Power Five” conference. “Their best wins are against Kansas (State) and Texas Tech,” Barta said. “But there’s a lot of football to be played. ... We’ll see, starting this weekend.”

No. 11 Texas A&M (7-2) at No. 15 Ole Miss (7-2): If Texas A&M beats Ole Miss and LSU, and if Alabama loses to Arkansas or Auburn, the Aggies would represent the SEC West in the conference championship game.

ADVANCE BILLING

The current CFP rankings reflect well on one of next season’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff games: Georgia and Oregon will meet Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It could be a rematch of a CFP semifinal or championship game,” said Stokan, whose Peach Bowl organization operates the Kickoff event. “That would be unique.”

The schools signed contracts for the 2022 matchup in August 2018.

ASKED AND ANSWERED

Q: Why is Michigan State ranked behind Michigan despite having the same record and winning a head-to-head matchup two weeks ago?

A: “It went back to the feeling or the sense of the (committee) ... that Michigan just looks to have a more complete team on both sides of the ball,” Barta said. “Still giving credit to Michigan State for winning head-to-head, but Michigan won this past week (over Indiana) and Michigan State lost (at Purdue). And so, for this week, the committee put Michigan at 6, Michigan State at 7, and I’m guessing that debate will continue, depending on what both of those teams do going forward.”