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Will Cincinnati or Michigan replace Oregon in top four?


Two intriguing if ultimately meaningless decisions will inevitably define this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, as members of the selection committee weigh the answer to these questions:

One option is Ohio State, which just decimated Michigan State in one of the marquee games of the regular season. The other is Alabama, which may not have drawn the same number of eyeballs later on Saturday afternoon but still defeated a high-quality opponent in Arkansas.

The easy answer is Cincinnati, which remained unbeaten in a lopsided win against SMU. But these things are rarely easy, especially given the track record of cynicism and disrespect paid to Group of Five teams in the history of the playoff format.

There’s a reason these questions will draw interest but lack staying power: Another do-or-die Saturday will answer any lingering unknowns in the Big Ten, and the first Saturday in December will decide once and for all which teams round out the top four.

Here’s how the top 10 should look in Tuesday night’s playoff rankings:

1. Georgia (11-0)

Defensive tackle Jordan Davis will get his share of Heisman Trophy love after adding a short touchdown run to his long list of credentials. But he’s a very, very unlikely winner given how Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has blossomed in conference play and the way Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has been a steadying force for an offense that has lacked consistency elsewhere.

2. Alabama (10-1)

Look for the Crimson Tide to stay inches in front of the Buckeyes based on the committee’s well-deserved affection for Arkansas, which hung tight late into the fourth quarter in a one-possession loss. Conspiracy theorists may suggest that keeping Alabama at No. 2 would let the committee keep the Tide in the top four with a close loss to Georgia in the SEC championship game, but that may entail a level of foresight and critical thinking beyond the reach of this group.

3. Ohio State (10-1)

It’s impossible not to be impressed by what OSU did to Michigan State, and you’d think impossible to argue against the Buckeyes rising two spots from No. 4 in this week’s rankings. (Never doubt the ability for these rankings to cause outrage.) The 49-point win does put Stroud into a slight lead for the Heisman while giving all three top OSU receivers — Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba — another argument for All-America accolades.

4. Cincinnati (11-0)

This would be a memorable moment in program, playoff and overall college football history: A team from the Group of Five finally cracking the top four and moving in line to reach the semifinals. Look for the committee to debate the merits of placing Michigan in this spot but ultimately land on the Bearcats after a 48-14 win against the 8-3 Mustangs.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder accounted for five touchdowns in Cincinnati's 48-14 win over SMU on Saturday.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder accounted for five touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 48-14 win over SMU on Saturday.

5. Michigan (10-1)

The Wolverines are rolling into Saturday’s game against Ohio State behind a run of strong games from quarterback Cade McNamara. While not putting up numbers anywhere in Stroud’s ballpark, McNamara has avoided mistakes and played his role in a system that takes a more plodding approach to wearing down defenses: Michigan ranks 14th nationally in time of possession to Ohio State’s 78th.

6. Notre Dame (10-1)

The Irish are lurking and looming behind this top group after beating Georgia Tech, 55-0, the team’s sixth win in a row. A seventh is coming against Stanford, but then that’s it: Notre Dame will be done at 11-1 while others — most importantly, at least two teams lower in the rankings — play a 13th game and possibly win a Power Five conference championship.

7. Oklahoma State (10-1)

The nation’s best defense this side of Georgia has allowed 23 points in its last four games. Saturday’s 23-0 win against Texas Tech was the Cowboys’ first shutout in a conference road game since 1995 and earned OSU a spot in the Big 12 championship game. But first, there’s Bedlam against rival Oklahoma.

8. Baylor (9-2)

Baylor’s 20-10 win against Kansas State won’t be overlooked by the committee, which may no longer toss around the phrase “game control” — and we’re all grateful for that — but will not ignore how the Bears throttled a team on a four-game winning streak.

9. Oklahoma (10-1)

Getting back into the top 10 after topping Iowa State would be a big deal for the Sooners, who have the opportunity to notch two huge wins against the rival Cowboys in the next two weeks and be right on the verge of a playoff berth. It’ll take some help, but 12-1 OU would finish ahead of 11-1 Notre Dame and be ready to pounce should a dash of chaos accompany these last two weeks.

10. Ole Miss (9-2)

Ole Miss was ahead of OU in last week’s rankings, so the Rebels could manage to stay in front after beating Vanderbilt. The two big losers of the weekend, Michigan State and Oregon, are also options here. But neither seems likely to get the benefit of the doubt; that’s especially true of Oregon, which was living large on the non-conference win against Ohio State but has now exhausted all of that goodwill with the committee.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings: Cincinnati or Michigan in top four?



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