With this week's College Football Playoff Rankings set to release, we take a look at the biggest storylines, preview key matchups, and predict the top-six.
Storyline of the Week: Who's No. 1?
The College Football Playoff Committee has a decision to make at the top of the rankings.
The committee put the Buckeyes atop last week's initial rankings with LSU at No. 2, but after the Tigers beat Alabama in arguably the biggest win for any team this season, there's a chance the committee moves the Tigers ahead of the Buckeyes, even though Ohio State looked dominant once again in a 73-14 win.
While there is still a lot of time and a lot of football to be played before the final College Football Playoff rankings are revealed, tonight will give us our first indications about how the committee views LSU in relation to Ohio State.
If the Tigers are ahead of Ohio State, there's a strong chance it's only temporary. The Buckeyes have two regular season games remaining against what figures to be ranked opponents in Penn State and Michigan as well as a potential Big Ten Championship game matchup with the Big Ten West winner. Winning those games would improve Ohio State resume and give the Buckeyes a chance to retake the No. 1 overall ranking.
On the other side of things, if LSU does not move ahead of Ohio State this week, it's unlikely to happen the rest of the season if both teams continue to win. The Tigers do not face another ranked team this season, aside from a potential SEC title matchup, and cannot drastically improve their resume any further while the Buckeyes can with two regular season game remaining against ranked opponents. If Ohio State remains No. 1 and wins out, the gap between LSU and the Buckeyes in the eyes of the committee will only get bigger.
Either way, it starts tonight with which team the committee puts at No. 1.
How far does Alabama Fall?
The committee also has to decide where to rank Alabama after losing to LSU. On one hand, Alabama does not have a strong win or strength of schedule to help balance out a loss, but on the other, it is also one of the most forgiving losses of the season so far as it was to one of the nation's top teams.
Tonight we will begin to see if the committee will give Alabama the benefit of the doubt despite its relatively weak schedule, or if they'll punish the Tide for failing to win their only ranked matchup of the season so far.
Where is Minnesota?
The Gophers are undefeated but did not get a lot respect in the initial College Football Playoff rankings due to its relatively soft schedule up to that point. However, the Gophers stayed undefeated this weekend by handling Penn State – a team the committee ranked No. 4 last week.
Minnesota will make a substantial climb in the rankings this week, it's just a matter of how far. Though ultimately, the Gophers will still have to prove themselves this season with games against Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin still on the schedule.
What about Baylor?
Baylor finds itself in a similar place as Minnesota last week. The Bears are undefeated, but without a strong, signature win to bolster their playoff resume. Baylor did beat TCU in a comeback overtime victory this weekend – it's strongest win to date – but has its toughest test of the season this week when it hosts Oklahoma.
The Bears were No. 12 in last week's rankings and will likely see some sort of bump after besting TCU. However, this week's ranking does not mean all that much ahead of a make-or-break game agains the Sooners this weekend.
Predicting the Top 6
Ohio State debuted at No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings released last week, but after LSU's 46-41 win over Alabama, we believe the College Football Playoff committee will rank the Tigers ahead of the Buckeyes.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes did nothing wrong this weekend by blasting Maryland 73-14, but it wasn't exactly a resume-boosting win over a quality opponent, either. Meanwhile, LSU had what might be the biggest win of the season so far for any playoff contender, which we believe will push the Tigers over the Buckeyes – at least for now.
Ohio State can still retake the top spot in the coming weeks, however, with games against ranked opponents Penn State and Michigan still on the schedule in addition to a potential Big Ten Championship game.
The defending champs were on the outside looking in when the initial rankings were released last week, but after two top-four teams fell and the Tigers handled NC State, Clemson now seems squarely in the playoff field with just games against Wake Forest and South Carolina remaining on the slate.
Alabama's College Football Playoff hopes took a hit this week with a loss to LSU, but based on last week's rankings, there's a good chance the Crimson Tide still find themselves in the top-four, at least for this week.
Alabama does not have a strong schedule or a marquee win, but it does have the most forgiving loss of any of the one-loss teams, especially compared to Georgia's loss to unranked South Carolina.
Georgia could very well be the No. 4 team ahead of Alabama this week. That will just depend on how the committee sees the Bulldogs' strong wins over Notre Dame and Florida compared to its bad loss to South Carolina.
The Bulldogs' wins over the Irish and Gators are both inarguably more impressive than anybody Alabama has beaten thus far, but the loss to South Carolina is inarguably worse than the Tide's loss to LSU.
Either way, Georgia has a matchup with Auburn this week and a potential SEC Championship game to boost its College Football Playoff resume.
Similar to Alabama, Oregon has just one loss against a quality opponent, but does not really have any strong wins to help boost its resume. The committee ranked the Ducks No. 7 in the initial rankings and following a bye week there's nothing to suggest that Oregon's placement in the rankings would change drastically.
Note: This is how we think the College Football Playoff Committee will rank the teams, not necessarily how we think they should rank the teams.
Key Games This Week
- Alabama @ Mississippi State. Alabama will look to bounce back after its first loss of the season.
- Wake Forest @ Clemson. Wake Forest is coming off a loss to Virginia Tech and will likely be unranked, but is still probably the most threatening team Clemson will face the rest of the season.
- Georgia @ Auburn. This is essentially a playoff elimination game. Both teams need to win out to keep their playoff hopes alive, even if Auburn's are already slim.
- Minnesota @ Iowa. Minnesota is undefeated, but now faces the next leg of its grueling gauntlet to end the regular season. After downing Penn State, the Gophers travel to face Iowa this week, looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.
- Oklahoma @ Baylor. Baylor is undefeated but faces its toughest test of the season against Oklahoma. With it win, it will solidify its place in the College Football Playoff race.