College Football Playoff: What to know about the next set of rankings

Urban Meyer doesn’t want to talk about the College Football Playoff as his team prepares to play Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game

He might be the only person in Ohio, though. 

With the penultimate CFP rankings set to be released Tuesday night, here are some things to be aware of. 

1. Nothing is set in stone. 

The committee has insisted they start with a clean sheet every week when putting together rankings (rather than arbitrarily moving teams up for winning and down for losing, as generally happens in the polls). 

It proved in year one it is willing to make a significant change between the last two rankings when Ohio State made the 2014 final four despite being ranked fifth the week before and no one ahead of the Buckeyes losing. 

Don’t assume this week’s rankings will determine next week’s. 

2. But everyone thinks three teams are already in. 

Notre Dame is done playing after going undefeated against a schedule that wasn’t great but was still good enough to give the Fighting Irish the benefit of the doubt. 

Alabama, the top-ranked defending champions who have stomped everyone they have played this season, is almost certainly going to make the playoff even if it loses to Georgia (likely to be No. 4 tonight) in the SEC championship game. Why? A) That’s how dominant the Crimson Tide have been so far this season, B) This would still be the best loss of any one-loss team and C) We haven’t yet found out if there is literally anything Alabama could do to miss the playoff after they made it last year under questionable circumstances

Whether Clemson can afford to lose to Pitt is debatable, but the Tigers are almost as good offensively as Oklahoma and Ohio State while being much better on defense. Like Notre Dame, Clemson’s schedule wasn’t a meat-grinder, but it wasn’t bad, either. 

3. The committee’s membership has changed since 2014 — and even last year. 

Penn State coach James Franklin accurately pointed out in July anticipating what the committee wants to see can be a challenge because the membership is not static. 

To wit: six of the 13 committee members are new this year, so what appeals to this group might vary from what caught their eye last year when they chose one-loss, non-conference champion Alabama over two-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State for the fourth spot. 

Don’t assume last year’s rankings will determine this year’s. 

4. Ohio State had a lot of ground to make up. 

Point one on this list is good news for fans of the Scarlet and Gray because the committee’s process spit out a No. 10 ranking for the Buckeyes in each of the first four weeks this year. 

A month ago, it was clear Ohio State would need to do some things to impress the committee, and the Buckeyes finally did last week when they throttled then-No. 4 Michigan. 

They should look a lot better on paper to committee members this week. 

That said… 

5. The juxtaposition of Oklahoma and Ohio State tonight could be significant. 

The Sooners were No. 6 last week and beat a ranked team on the road (No. 13 West Virginia). 

The Buckeyes were No. 10 last week and beat a higher-ranked team (No. 4 Michigan) at home much more decisively. 

Assuming the Sooners remain ahead of the Buckeyes is easy, but it’s no sure thing. 

What if the committee is only now really comparing the two teams against each other for the first time since there were previously multiple teams between them? 

That opens up the possibility they reevaluate which team is better or more deserving and end up with a different answer. 

Which leads us to… 

6. Ohio State still might not make it without help. 

Keeping in mind the caveat from our first point, Buckeyes fans would be wise not to expect a reprise of 2014 if their team and Oklahoma both win this weekend. 

While Ohio State will face a solid Northwestern team in the Big Ten championship game, Oklahoma’s Big 12 title game opponent (Texas) is better, so the Sooners have a greater opportunity to improve their resume. 

What’s more, Oklahoma can avenge its only loss of the season, a three-point squeaker in a classic rivalry game played Oct. 6 on a neutral field while Ohio State would still have that major blemish — a 49-20 washout at Purdue — sticking out like a pimple on prom night. 

In short, Oklahoma would have a better chance of moving past Ohio State than vice versa based if both win this weekend. 

7. The committee’s choices generally come down to which team is “best” vs. which team is more deserving. 

There are multiple factors to consider here. 

As far as most deserving, the schedules aren’t much different overall, but Ohio State’s four-touchdown loss to Purdue is much worse than Oklahoma’s three-point loss to Texas. 

However, Ohio State’s best win (Michigan) is better than Oklahoma’s best win (West Virginia). 

As far as “best,” both teams have great offenses, but Oklahoma’s is a little better statistically. 

Both teams have bad defenses, but Ohio State’s is much better statistically. 

Does that mean the committee will consider the Buckeyes a better team overall? 

What factors will weigh more heavily remain to be seen, but Tuesday night’s rankings should provide insight that could carry over to the final week. 

Unless it doesn’t. 

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