Top 25 College Football Playoff Rankings: Takeaways From Fifth Release

The fifth College Football Playoff rankings of the 2016 season have been released. Let’s break down the selection committee’s work ahead of Championship Saturday.

The fifth College Football Playoff rankings of the 2016 season were released on Tuesday night. And, for the fifth straight week, defending national champion Alabama was determined to be the No. 1 team in the country by the 12-person selection committee.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide remain the lone unbeaten Power Five team in the nation following their 30-12 victory over Auburn last week to finish off an undefeated regular season. The Tide led just 13-9 at halftime, but they pulled away in the second half as the defense extended its stretch of quarters without allowing a touchdown to 14-plus and shut down the SEC’s top rushing attack. One can argue that Saban and Co. can lose to Florida in the SEC championship game and still advance to another College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Ohio State would battle Clemson in a No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Fiesta Bowl if the season ended today, while No. 4 Washington would face the top-ranked Crimson Tide in the Peach Bowl.

So what does this all mean moving forward?

Here are some thoughts on the fifth set of rankings that were released by committee chair Kirby Hocutt and Co. earlier on Tuesday evening.

A B1G problem—or a good problem to have?

Jim Delany’s league has Ohio State at No. 2, while Nos. 5-7 are occupied by Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, respectively. It would be stunning to see Urban Meyer’s squad fall like TCU did a few years ago on that final Sunday, when the committee dropped the Horned Frogs from No. 3 to No. 6 after a 55-3 win. Gary Patterson’s squad was technically a co-Big 12 champ, but there was no league title game. Looking at what Ohio State has done, it has wins over No. 9 Oklahoma—whose path looks to be blocked alongside No. 10 Oklahoma State—as well as Wisconsin and Michigan. It’s hard to see Meyer’s team out of the CFP. Can Penn State pass the Buckeyes because of its head-to-head win? Reading between the lines of Hocutt’s comments on ESPN’s selection show, Penn State will have to notch an emphatic win over Wisconsin. But even that doesn’t seem to be enough. The Nittany Lions have won their last five games by 38, 27, 14, 39 and 33 points, respectively, but James Franklin squad could be in trouble.

Meanwhile, Hocutt mentioned that Michigan and Washington are close. The Wolverines, despite having two losses on their slate, have three Top 10 wins, while the Huskies have zero. Michigan beat common opponent Rutgers 78-0, while Washington scored a 48-13 win. I maintain that Chris Petersen’s squad matches up fairly well with Alabama, but Michigan is not in the worst possible spot because U-Dub is seemingly battling a strength of schedule problem. If Colorado knocks off the Huskies, Jim Harbaugh and Co. could be in. Keep in mind that the Wolverines have a head-to-head win over Mike MacIntyre’s squad. This is also not great news for Wisconsin, which may not be able to jump Michigan with a win this week because the Wolverines are seemingly so close to the current No. 4 team.

Is USC the best team with zero chance of Top 4 entry?

The Trojans’ impressive win over Notre Dame last Saturday did not do much to help their cause in the selection committee’s eyes, as ‘SC is No. 11 this week. Despite Clay Helton’s squad winning eight in a row, there is no ground to make up. ‘SC needed Colorado to lose last week to have a shot at being able to notch another win over Washington in the Pac-12 title game, though even that would not have been enough.

Little intrigue in Bedlam

Oklahoma checks in at No. 9 this week, one spot lower than last Tuesday night. So the Sooners dropped a spot without even playing one week after blowing out West Virginia on the road. Even if Bob Stoops and Co. destroy Oklahoma State, the Big 12 will be shut out of the dance despite being just like USC—playing incredibly hot at just the right time. Even if there was a Big 12 title game this year, which would be a rematch with the Cowboys, it just wasn’t in the cards this year for Bob Bowlsby’s league. OU lost to Houston, while Oklahoma State fell to Central Michigan. Losses that cannot be overlooked.

Other notes

* No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Clemson are absolutely in the national semifinals if they take care of business in their league championships this weekend. In essence, the SEC and ACC title games are de facto national quarterfinals.

* #rowtheboat checks in at No. 17 this week, while Navy is No. 19. So the Broncos are positioned to grab the automatic Group of Five New Year’s Six bid if they take care of business in the MAC title game. But what if the Midshipmen win the AAC title? Could two-loss Navy overtake P.J. Fleck’s unbeaten MAC squad? As good as a season as Navy has had, shutting out WMU would be a shame.

* Auburn is No. 14, while Florida is No. 15. The Gators may need to put up a good showing to claim the SEC’s automatic spot in the Sugar Bowl. It goes to the highest-ranked SEC team not in the CFP.

* Tennessee is No. 22 this week, which shows just how difficult it has been to comprise a Top 25 with so many teams that have similar bodies of work.

* With Washington and Michigan being close, the Wolverines are likely in if the Huskies lose. If you add in a Clemson loss, we could be looking at Alabama vs. the Big Ten field. A postseason of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and either Penn State or Wisconsin is not that far-fetched.

* Head-to-head really doesn’t matter, as Florida State is No. 12 while Louisville is one spot behind at No. 13. Sure, the Seminoles have played much better down the stretch, but decisions like this are why many college football fans are so frustrated with this process.

* This is what the New Year’s Six would look like, based on the new rankings, if the season ended tonight…

Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
Orange Bowl: No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Florida State
Cotton Bowl: No. 17 Western Michigan vs. No. 7 Penn State
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Colorado
Sugar Bowl: No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Auburn

MORE: Complete College Football Bowl Projections – Week 14