The top 10 teams in Week 11’s College Football Playoff rankings all won last weekend, so there wasn’t an overhaul at the top of the rankings for Week 12.
Here are our reactions to the latest rankings.
No change in the top 10, where nine playoff contenders reside
The four teams that make this year’s College Football Playoff will come from nine of the current top 10 teams — all but No. 7 LSU — in Week 12’s CFP rankings, which didn’t change from last week.
While a two-loss team that doesn’t play for its conference championship won’t make the playoff (at the very least, not this year), the committee still considers the Tigers a better team than the Cougars, Mountaineers or Buckeyes.
From Week 12 through the conference championship games, there’s some pretty easy math behind which teams will make the playoff. If some combination of Alabama, Clemson or Notre Dame finish the regular season undefeated, that school (or schools) will stay in the top four.
A pair of Week 13 games, Michigan-Ohio State and Oklahoma-West Virginia, could see the winning teams rise in the rankings while the losing teams drop.
Northwestern & Utah join the rankings, raise profile of conference championship games
In Week 11’s College Football Playoff rankings, there were four Big Ten East teams in the top 20, led by Michigan and Ohio State, but only No. 21 Iowa from the West. Washington State was firmly in the top 10, but there wasn’t a single team from the Pac-12 South in the rankings.
As we look ahead to the conference championship games, it could potentially be costly if one or more teams finished as 12-1 conference champions, but didn’t beat a ranked team in their final game.
However, that doesn’t appear to be an issue — at least for now.
After beating Iowa to clinch the Big Ten West, Northwestern moved to No. 22 and Utah rejoined the rankings at No. 19 after beating Oregon. The Utes haven’t clinched the division, but they lead the pack with a 5-3 record with one game left against Colorado.
The addition of Northwestern and Utah in the latest rankings can only benefit Michigan/Ohio State and Washington State if those schools keep their one-loss records intact entering the Big Ten and Pac-12 Championship games.
Could Georgia spoil Michigan’s first-ever College Football Playoff bid?
It might be too soon for this hypothetical, but could Georgia jump Michigan in the College Football Playoff rankings even if the Wolverines won the rest of their games, culminating in a Big Ten Championship? The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 5, one spot behind the Wolverines, and they host UMass and Georgia Tech to close the regular season.
But then it’s the biggest game of the season, not just for them, but maybe for the national college football landscape.
If Georgia beat undefeated Alabama to win the SEC Championship, that would be the best win for any team this entire season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Georgia jump Michigan if the Bulldogs beat the committee’s No. 1 team on a neutral field to win a conference championship.
The second half of this scenario comes down to how far Alabama would drop in the rankings if it lost to Georgia, and how much would the margin of defeat matter?
A team has never made the College Football Playoff after losing its conference championship game, but Alabama would still have a resume featuring shutout wins over LSU and Mississippi State, plus victories over Texas A&M and (presumably) Auburn.
It’s not unreasonable to think Alabama could still finish in the top four if it lost a close game to Georgia.
The SEC put two teams in the playoff last season — including an Alabama squad that didn’t play for the SEC Championship — while the Big Ten was left out of the playoff as Ohio State finished at No. 5 in the rankings. Could a similar result ultimately happen two seasons in a row, even if Michigan is a one-loss conference champion?
More undefeated, one-loss teams at the top of the rankings than usual
We’ll start by saying that we have the benefit of hindsight when we analyze past seasons’ College Football Playoff rankings, so we know that a two-loss team has never made the playoff. But that doesn’t mean that in the moment we knew a two-loss team with multiple quality wins was out of the playoff hunt.
With that being said, there are more realistic playoff contenders — nine, as we see it — at the top of the rankings in Week 12 this season compared to the same point in past seasons.
Last year, there were only six undefeated or one-loss power conference teams in the top 10.
In 2016, the top six teams in the Week 12 playoff rankings were undefeated or had one loss. West Virginia was ranked No. 14 with an 8-1 record, ranked behind seven two- or three-loss teams.
Three years ago was the exception, when the top 10 teams in 2015’s Week 12 CFP rankings were undefeated or had one loss. North Carolina and TCU, which were ranked No. 17 and No. 18, respectively, both had one loss. American Athletic teams Navy (8-1) and Houston (10-0) were No. 16 and No. 19, respectively.
In the first year of the playoff in 2014, the top eight teams were undefeated or had one loss. Nebraska and Duke were both 8-1 and ranked No. 16 and No. 21, respectively.
Until a two-loss team makes the playoff or until there are less than four undefeated/one-loss teams from power conferences, we have to limit our consideration of playoff teams to those that have less than two losses. And this year, there are more of those teams in playoff contention than there were the last two seasons, which should set up an exciting finish to the regular season.