Burning questions before tonight’s College Football Playoff rankings

Here are the central questions — beyond the one about how those of us who follow college football got so deranged — for the third weekly issuing of College Football Playoff rankings, set for Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern time:

● How far might Georgia plummet from No. 1?

● How far might Miami (Fla.) rise from No. 7?

● How much might Badgers growl?

● Where’s Auburn?

Strangely, in the four-season history of the College Football Playoff, through 21 different rankings from the selection committees, only one team has ever toppled out of the No. 1 spot. That team, Mississippi State in 2014, fell to a respectable No. 4 that Nov. 18 after it went to Alabama and lost commendably by 25-20. Clemson spent the entire 2015 rankings at No. 1; Alabama spent the entire 2016 rankings at No. 1. (The committee does not issue postseason rankings.) This means Georgia (9-1) will set a meaningless little record should it fall from No. 1 all the way out of the coveted top four.

It figures to do so, because it lost less commendably last Saturday at Auburn, by 40-17, in a game not as close as the score might indicate, and in a game that wasn’t the only dour factor of Georgia’s Saturday. Its signature win from Sept. 10 at Notre Dame, where Georgia won 20-19, also took a dent when Notre Dame’s trip to Miami wound up looking like a trip to a shredder.

Miami won, 41-8, in a game not as close as the score might indicate, and so Georgia and Notre Dame figure to go tumbling together.

The introduction of the phrase “eye test” has been one of the College Football Playoff’s few calamities in its short history, but it will be curious to see how much the 13-member committee applies any apparent eye test to Georgia’s loss to Auburn, and whether Auburn could hop ahead of Georgia. Last week, they stood far apart at Nos. 10 and 1.

If Auburn (8-2) lands ahead of Georgia (9-1), expect people in both places to discuss that matter, possibly even with each other and maybe even with profanity.

When the committee first met in late October and began evaluating the nine weeks of season that had happened up to then, it placed Miami (7-0) at No. 10, with Wisconsin (8-0) at No. 9. Six one-loss teams stood ahead of them, in positions Nos. 3-8. The feelings for the schedules of Miami and Wisconsin at that point hinted at that most crucial element in sport: disrespect.

From there, Wisconsin won at a decidedly unranked Indiana on Nov. 4, while Miami won, 28-10, over visiting No. 13 Virginia Tech, so the committee reversed them last week and placed Miami (8-0) at No. 7, with Wisconsin (9-0) at No. 8. Four one-loss teams remained ahead of them in positions Nos. 3-6.

While two of those one-loss teams — No. 6 TCU and No. 3 Notre Dame — became two-loss teams on Nov. 11, both Miami and Wisconsin thumped ranked opponents. Wisconsin crushed then-No. 20 Iowa and held it to roughly zero total yards — technically 66 — one week after Iowa had splurged for 487 on Ohio State. Miami annihilated No. 3 Notre Dame. All of this, plus Georgia, raised the possibility that Miami could bolt from No. 7 all the way to No. 2. It also could remain behind both Clemson (9-1) and Oklahoma (9-1), who were Nos. 4 and 5 last week but could invert because Oklahoma beat then-No. 6 TCU.

If Miami does remain behind those two, possibly at No. 4, it could owe to the idea that just as Georgia’s win over Notre Dame lost some value with Notre Dame’s rout by Miami, Miami’s win over Notre Dame could take a slight hit from Georgia’s rout by Auburn. If Miami does wind up ranking ahead of Clemson and Oklahoma while Wisconsin winds up below those two, it could turn the Michigan-Wisconsin game of this coming Saturday into a festival of alleged disrespect.

In the area of ironclad respect, Alabama figures to be No. 1. This means that of the 22 rankings that will have been issued across four seasons after tonight, a single program from Tuscaloosa will have been on top in half.

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