What happens when every College Football Playoff contender except the No. 1 team struggles on the first Saturday of November?
Not a whole lot when it comes to the CFP selection committee rankings.
The undefeated Georgia Bulldogs remained No. 1 in the second edition of the rankings released on Tuesday night, followed again by No. 2 Alabama, which survived a 20-14 scare against LSU at home. Georgia, which blasted Missouri 43-6 at home last week to improve to 9-0, plays at Tennessee on Saturday.
Michigan State was the only top-five team from a week ago to lose on Saturday, 40-29 at Purdue. The Spartans fell to No. 7, so the other three top-six teams in the initial rankings moved up a spot. Oregon is No. 3, Ohio State is No. 4 and Cincinnati is No. 5. Michigan is No. 6 and is one spot ahead of Michigan State, even though the Spartans defeated the Wolverines 37-33 on Oct. 30. Oklahoma, which was idle last week, remained No. 8, followed by No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 10 Oklahoma State.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, the committee chairman, said deciding whether the Spartans or Wolverines should be ranked higher was one of the longer debates this week.
“A week ago, it was discussed that Michigan might be the more complete team; offensively, defensively, every statistic Michigan is ahead of Michigan State,” Barta said on the ESPN rankings show. “But the committee certainly gave [Michigan State] the nod. They were undefeated and they beat Michigan head-to-head. What’s different a week later? Michigan won, Michigan State lost. The discussion in the room went back and forth, but at the end of the day we felt as a committee that Michigan was a better team.
“Stay tuned, we get to watch again next week.”
While there is still a month to play before the final rankings are released on Dec. 5, there is significance in a team’s current position. In the previous seven editions of the CFP, 24 of the 28 teams selected were in the top six of the committee’s rankings at this point in the season. Only Ohio State in 2014, Oklahoma and Michigan State in 2015 and Oklahoma in 2019 were outside the top six with five weeks to go and still made the top four, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information research.
In fact, the eventual national champion was ranked in the top two in the second CFP top-25 release in each of the previous six seasons.
Outside of Georgia, none of the top CFP playoff contenders were overly impressive last week. The Ducks won 26-16 at Washington in inclement weather and the Buckeyes defeated Nebraska 26-17 on the road. Oregon’s 35-28 win at Ohio State on Sept. 11 is still carrying a lot of weight with the selection committee.
The Bearcats, who needed two goal-line stands in the final minutes to pull out a 28-20 victory against Tulsa at home on Saturday, are the highest-ranked team ever from a Group of Five conference. Unbeaten Cincinnati was hoping to be in the top four last week, but it has struggled to beat lesser opponents in each of its past three games. The overall strength of its conference — there isn’t another AAC in the top 25 for the second straight week — is also hurting its CFP chances.