College Football Playoff rankings – Analysis, 12-team field

With Georgia now the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, the biggest debate for the selection committee in its second ranking was at No. 4, where undefeated TCU earned the spot ahead of one-loss No. 5 Tennessee following the Vols’ loss to Georgia on Saturday.

No. 2 Ohio State was joined by No. 3 Michigan, setting up a top-four showdown between the two rivals in a regular-season finale that will determine the Big Ten’s best hope for a semifinalist. At No. 6, one-loss Oregon remains the Pac-12’s top contender, but the league has four teams in the top 13, including No. 8 USC and No. 12 UCLA which could also finish as one-loss conference champions.

This ranking wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it provided more clues as to what could happen on Selection Day:

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Anger Index | 12-team bracket | Résumés |

Tennessee is still able to finish in the top four

With No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan still having to face each other, and Tennessee likely to run the table and finish 11-1, there will be an opportunity for some controversy. The Vols end the regular season against unranked opponents Mizzou (4-5), South Carolina (6-3) and Vanderbilt (3-6). With Tennessee ahead of No. 6 Oregon, it sets the stage for what could be an extremely lengthy debate in the committee meeting room if Tennessee finishes 11-1 and Oregon finishes as a one-loss Pac-12 champion. They both lost to Georgia — and it wasn’t pretty for either of them.

It wouldn’t be the first time an SEC team finished in the top four without winning its division. In 2017, Alabama started 11-0 but lost its last game to rival Auburn. It also happened in the Big Ten in 2016, when Ohio State finished in the top four without winning its division. Tennessee is currently No. 2 in ESPN’s Strength of Record metric and No. 2 in Strength of Schedule. It has two of the best wins in the country, against Alabama and at LSU. Only once has the CFP snubbed a one-loss SEC team — when No. 5 Texas A&M was left out in 2020.

It’s not unprecedented, but it’s certainly not easy to finish in the top four without a conference title. Right now, the committee thinks Tennessee is the better team, but a conference championship against a ranked opponent could give Oregon the push it needs, along with regular-season wins against No. 13 Utah and now No. 25 Washington.


The margin for error is slim, but No. 4 TCU controls its playoff path

An undefeated TCU is in. One loss, though, and the Frogs could be looking up at the Pac-12 champion and/or Tennessee. By putting TCU in the top four this week, the committee showed its willingness to do so on Selection Day if TCU can remain unscathed — especially considering the Frogs have the No. 1 remaining schedule strength in the country. They could add to their résumé Saturday with a win at Texas, which is now the committee’s No. 18 team, and they end the season with games at Baylor and home against Iowa State. ESPN’s FPI projects TCU will lose its back-to-back road games, though, which would eliminate the Frogs and the entire Big 12 from the mix.


LSU holds the key to SEC chaos

At No. 7, LSU is exactly where it was expected to be – the committee’s highest-ranked two-loss team, but still behind No. 5 Tennessee because of the Oct. 8 head-to-head result. That doesn’t mean, though, that two-loss LSU can’t or won’t move up. If the Tigers somehow run the table and beat Georgia to win the SEC, they would likely become the first two-loss team in the CFP. Then the selection committee would also have a 12-1 Georgia team to consider as the SEC runner-up, and the 11-1 Vols who hammered the SEC champs 40-13 in Baton Rouge during the regular season.

So then what?

It would depend in large part on what happened in the other Power 5 conference championship games. It’s a stretch to imagine the committee would really take three SEC teams, but if two-loss Utah wins the Pac-12, the Big 12 has a two-loss conference champion, and the loser of Ohio State-Michigan is beaten soundly, it’s not impossible. Especially considering the poor shape the ACC is in …


The ACC is in the worst shape of the Power 5 conferences

Clemson’s loss at Notre Dame was devastating, as the Tigers sank to No. 10, but that wasn’t the only casualty. Clemson was banking on wins against Syracuse and Wake Forest to impress the committee – and it was enough last week – but both of those teams dropped out of the Top 25 on Tuesday after they suffered their third losses. Clemson’s best win is now against No. 16 NC State. Even at No. 10, there are enough other contenders ahead of them – and even behind them in the Pac-12 – that have more opportunities to leap the Tigers. With the win, though, Notre Dame was ranked at No. 20 this week, which is a boost for Ohio State’s résumé, and could also help USC down the stretch.


No. 17 Tulane and No. 22 UCF could be playing for a New Year’s Six bowl.

The two best teams in the American Athletic Conference face each other on Saturday. The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of 5 is guaranteed to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, so the winner of Saturday’s game will take the lead for that spot. — Heather Dinich

Anger index

The initial committee rankings are bound to anger some fan bases, but they also set a stage for what’s to come. They offer a window into the committee’s perceptions, which allows every fan base to have an inkling of where the chips might fall in subsequent rankings. So when it comes to the second top 25, it’s less about who’s being snubbed and more about how the committee applies new logic to teams that defies the explanations offered just a week earlier.

In other words, this week’s Anger Index is all about context. The committee may have loved you a week ago, but now, you’re just another team with a few axes to grind.

So, who’s angry after the second set of rankings?


1. Clemson Tigers (8-1)

The loss to Notre Dame was ugly, that much is clear. And Clemson has some big questions on offense right now. But the Tigers were good enough to be No. 4 a week ago, good enough that Notre Dame’s win moved the Irish from unranked into the top 20, and good enough that they’re still the clear favorite to win the ACC. So, why drop Clemson all the way to No. 10?

Here’s a quick comparison:

Team A: No. 8 strength of record, four wins over FPI top-40 teams, 9.4 points per game margin vs. Power 5, two one-possession wins over currently unranked teams, 29th in offensive efficiency, 26th in defensive efficiency

Team B: No. 10 strength of record, one win over FPI top-40 teams, 8.9 points per game margin vs. Power 5, three one-possession wins over currently unranked teams, second in offensive efficiency, 76th in defensive efficiency

You can probably guess that Team A is Clemson. Team B? That’s USC, ranked two spots higher despite its best win coming by three over Oregon State. For as bad as Clemson looked against Notre Dame, it still has wins over NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Florida State.

Yes, the Notre Dame loss is the most recent data point, but the committee is supposed to differ from things like the AP poll by starting fresh each week, evaluating the resume as a whole — lot just giving more weight to the thing they saw most recently.

And let’s also be clear about that Notre Dame loss. It was an implosion by Clemson more than it was a true drubbing by Notre Dame. The Irish got a touchdown on special teams, a pick six and another TD following an interception deep in Clemson territory.

The fact is, Clemson’s offense is a bit of a mess right now. But is that so much more concerning than a USC defense that just gave up 35 to Cal? Or an Alabama defense that couldn’t stop LSU in crunch time? Or an LSU team with one more loss (including to a Florida State team that Clemson beat)?

No one in Clemson should be feeling good right now. There’s much work to be done to right the ship. But this feels like an overcorrection that’s looking entirely at the final score of the most recent game and ignoring all the things the committee liked about the Tigers a week earlier.


2. UCLA Bruins (8-1)

There is one Pac-12 team that is clearly better than UCLA and that’s Oregon. The Ducks beat UCLA convincingly in Eugene on Oct. 22. So we understand why Oregon is ranked higher. But six spots higher? With USC somehow in between?

UCLA beat Utah. USC lost to Utah. USC is ranked higher than UCLA. Make that make sense. You can’t.

Even Utah, which was drubbed by the Bruins and has one more loss, is just one spot behind UCLA. Is the Cal university board slipping a few sawbucks to the committee just to spite UCLA for its move to the Big Ten? Otherwise, there’s simply no cause to have the Bruins as the second-lowest ranked one-loss Power 5 team.


3. Tennessee Volunteers (8-1)

Let’s get this straight. A week ago, Tennessee was the best team in the country with easily the best resume. Then the Vols go to Georgia, lose to the new No. 1 team in weather that did little to help Hendon Hooker and the offense, and suddenly they’re No. 5? Meanwhile, ahead of Tennessee in the pecking order is TCU, which jumped from seven to four, despite struggling to get past Texas Tech. Ohio State jumped Tennessee even though the Buckeyes looked bad against woeful Northwestern. Michigan, too, jumped Tennessee despite losing to Rutgers at the half.

ESPN’s strength of record still says Tennessee is the second-best team in the country. Just because the Volunteers happened to run into the juggernaut that is Georgia shouldn’t negate all that came before. Just ask Oregon.


4. Liberty Flames (8-1)

A failed two-point conversion against Wake Forest (who was ranked just a week ago) is the only blemish on Liberty’s resume. Last week, they went to Fayetteville and beat Arkansas (aren’t SEC wins supposed to count double?). The Flames have solid wins over Southern Miss, UAB and BYU, too. And so the question must be asked: What does Hugh Freeze need to do to sweeten the deal enough to get Liberty ranked?


5. Kansas Jayhawks (6-3)

There are five ranked 6-3 teams. Kansas is not one of them. This shows that the committee, much like Stanford, does not like fun.

Kansas has two wins over FPI top-40 teams. That’s the same number as Florida State and Kentucky. Kansas beat Oklahoma State. Texas did not. Oh, and we all know what happened the last time Kansas and Texas faced off head-to-head. The committee doesn’t need to care about bottom few teams in the top-25, so let’s enjoy the ride, folks. Rank Kansas. It’s the right thing to do. — David Hale

How a 12-team playoff would look

Everyone with the power to expand the College Football Playoff wants the field to grow to 12 teams in time for the 2024 season.

But currently, expansion is scheduled to begin in 2026. So while discussions continue on how to move up the timeline, we’re taking a look at how a 12-team playoff would look today based on the already-determined model released by the commissioners and presidents.

The field will be composed of the selection committee’s six highest-ranked conference champions and its next six highest-ranked teams. The four highest-ranked conference champions will earn the top seeds and a first-round bye. The other eight teams will play in the first round, with the higher seeds hosting the lower seeds on campus or at another site of their choice.

Here’s what the playoff would look like if the 12-team format were in place today:

Seeds with byes

1. Georgia
2. Ohio State
3. TCU
4. Oregon

Remaining seeds
(conference champs in bold)

5. Michigan
6. Tennessee
7. LSU
8. USC
9. Alabama
10. Clemson
11. Ole Miss
12. Tulane

First-round games:

No. 12 Tulane @ No. 5 Michigan
No. 11 Ole Miss @ No. 6 Tennessee
No. 10 Clemson @ No. 7 LSU
No. 9 Alabama @ No. 8 USC

Quarterfinal games:

No. 9 Alabama-No. 8 USC winner vs. No. 1 Georgia
No. 10 Clemson-No. 7 LSU winner vs. No. 2 Ohio State
No. 11 Ole Miss-No. 6 Tennessee winner vs. No. 3 TCU
No. 12 Tulane-No. 5 Michigan winner vs. No. 4 Oregon

Top 10 résumés

No. 1 Georgia

Record: 9-0 | SOS: 47 | SOR: 1
Biggest win: Nov. 5 vs. Tennessee 27-13
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Saturday at Mississippi State
Last playoff appearance: 2022 CFP National championship, No. 3 Georgia 33, No. 1 Alabama 18


No. 2 Ohio State

Record: 9-0 | SOS: 53 | SOR: 3
Biggest win: Oct. 29 at Penn State 44-31
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 26 vs. Michigan
Last playoff appearance: 2021 CFP National Championship, No. 1 Alabama 52, No. 3 Ohio State 24


No. 3 Michigan

Record: 9-0 | SOS: 73 | SOR: 5
Biggest win: Oct. 15 vs. Penn State 41-17
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 26 at Ohio State
Last playoff appearance: 2022 Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl, No. 3 Georgia 34, No. 2 Michigan 11


No. 4 TCU

Record: 9-0 | SOS: 68 | SOR: 4
Biggest win: Oct. 22 vs. Kansas State 38-28
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Saturday at Texas
Last playoff appearance: Never


No. 5 Tennessee

Record: 8-1 | SOS: 2 | SOR: 2
Biggest win: Oct. 8 at LSU 40-13
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 19 at South Carolina
Last playoff appearance: Never


No. 6 Oregon

Record: 8-1 | SOS: 27 | SOR: 6
Biggest win: Oct. 22 vs. UCLA 45-30
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 19 vs. Utah
Last playoff appearance: 2015 CFP National Championship, No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20


No. 7 LSU

Record: 7-2 | SOS: 8 | SOR: 7
Biggest win: Nov. 5 vs. Alabama 32-31
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 26 at Texas A&M
Last playoff appearance: 2020 CFP National Championship: No. 1 LSU 42, No. 3 Clemson 25


No. 8 USC

Record: 8-1 | SOS: 64 | SOR: 10
Biggest win: Sept. 24 at Oregon State
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 19 at UCLA
Last playoff appearance: Never


No. 9 Alabama

Record: 7-2 | SOS: 6 | SOR: 9
Biggest win: Sept. 10 at Texas 20-19
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Saturday at Ole Miss
Last playoff appearance: 2022 CFP National Championship, No. 3 Georgia 33, No. 1 Alabama 18


No. 10 Clemson

Record: 8-1 | SOS: 55 | SOR: 8
Biggest win: Oct. 1 vs. NC State 30-20
Biggest remaining regular-season game: Nov. 26 vs. South Carolina
Last playoff appearance: 2021 Playoff Semifinal at the Sugar Bowl, No. 3 Ohio State 49, No. 2 Clemson 28

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