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: What to do with Bama?
After Tua Tagovailoa's season-ending hip injury, the College Football Playoff Committee has to decide what to do about a long-term injury to a key player on a playoff contender.
Alabama was No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, and while Tagovailoa's injury didn't directly alter Alabama's fate – the Tide still won 38-7, though only scoring three points after his injury – the Tide are quite clearly not the same team without him.
The committee will now have to decide how it evaluates Alabama without him. Do they still view the Tide as the same playoff contender, giving the team and new quarterback Mac Jones the benefit of the doubt, or do they see Tagovailoa's injury as inherently altering Alabama's strength as a team and drop the Tide as a result?
The closest thing we've seen to this isn the College Football Playoff era is J.T. Barrett going down with an injury just before the Big Ten Championship game. The committee took a wait-and-see approach and did not drop Ohio State, and any concerns about Cardale Jones were put to rest immediately.
There's a chance we won't know how the committee truly feels about a Tua-less Bama until the last week of the season, when push comes to shove, but there's also a chance we get hints of it tonight, based on where Alabama is ranked relative to teams like Oregon.
Even if we don't see a change in Alabama's ranking, we will have a chance to hear from committee chair Rob Mullens, who will undoubtedly field questions about how the committee evaluates Alabama without its best player.
How far does Minnesota fall?
After making the largest single-week jump in the history of the College Football Playoff last week, moving all the way to No. 8 after a win over Penn State the week before, the Gophers lost a hard-fought game against Iowa on Saturday and will be undoubtably slotted lower this week, it's just a matter of how far.
This committee's perception of Minnesota could potentially affect Ohio State's strength of schedule and playoff resume. If the Buckeyes get past Penn State, they will have a Big Ten title showdown with the Big Ten West winner – either Minnesota or Wisconsin.
Depending on how far Minnesota falls, there's a chance that will be a top-10 matchup regardless of team, if both teams are able to win this week's games, in which they are favored.
How high does Michigan climb?
Michigan continues to improve and climb the rankings week-by-week. After the Wolverine's lopsided win over Michigan State this weekend along with a few teams in front falling, there's a chance Michigan could find its way into the top-10 this week, which would set up another potential top-10 matchup for Ohio State if the Buckeyes can get past Penn State.
Predicting the Top 6
LSU seemed to have a little trouble putting away unranked Ole Miss this week, but the Tigers ultimately won by three touchdowns, which probably won't be enough to fall from their top spot, especially with no teams immediately behind them in the rankings doing much to bolster their resumes this week.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes took care of business and won by 35 on the road. It was hardly their most convincing win of the season and was never going to do much to boost their ranking or resume, but it certainly wasn't anything that's going to hurt them in the eyes of the committee.
Clemson took care of business against this weekend, absolutely blasting a talented Wake Forest team that was ranked No. 19 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings just three weeks ago. If any team in the top-3 did anything to improve its resume, it's the Tigers. However, it's unlikely to be enough to move them past either Ohio State or LSU.
Unlike our projections, Georgia got the No. 4 spot last week over Alabama, and after a 21-7 win over No. 12 Auburn, they've solidified their spot as a College Football Playoff contender. While the Bulldogs had the biggest playoff victory of any of the top-6 teams, it's unlikely to move them up any further.
Alabama's national title hopes took a huge hit this weekend with Tagovailoa's injury, but I don't expect to see that necessarily reflected in this week's rankings. Much like it did with Cardale Jones in 2014, the committee will give Alabama the benefit of the doubt for the time being and observe how the team looks with Mac Jones going forward. Unfortunately, we won't even get a solid answer this week as the Tide play Western Carolina and should cruise with ease.
Oregon beat Arizona decisively this weekend to maintain its position as a college football playoff contender. Like everyone else on this list, it's not going to be enough to move them up in the rankings, but it was enough to keep them from falling. The Ducks survived and advanced.
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
- Penn State @ Ohio State. This is the game of the year in the Big Ten. It's essentially a Big Ten Championship play-in game and the winner will have the inside track towards a College Football Playoff bid. Ohio State could potentially make the playoff even with a loss, but the Buckeyes aren't going to want to give that a try.
- Texas A&M @ Georgia. Texas A&M has been a fringe top-25 team all season and is Georgia's last real threat before the SEC title game. Georgia should win, but the Aggies are talented and could pose a threat to the Bulldogs on senior day and add some chaos into the mix.