Well, that was quite the weekend.
No. 1 Georgia endured a beatdown at the hands of No. 10 Auburn. No. 2 Alabama barely escaped with a road win at Mississippi State. No. 3 Notre Dame was obliterated by No. 7 Miami’s turnover chain–sporting defense. No. 6 TCU fell to No. 5 Oklahoma. And No. 9 Washington lost to Stanford late on Friday night, effectively eliminating the Pac-12 from the playoff.
All that means the season’s third edition of the playoff rankings will look quite different. Here’s our best guess:
1. Alabama, which has felt like No. 1 all year to everyone but the playoff committee.
2. Miami, still undefeated and fresh off a dismantling of Notre Dame emphatic enough to delay the Oklahoma vs. Miami debate for now.
3. Oklahoma, which slides in front of Clemson on the strength of its quality wins.
4. Clemson, still chilling in the playoff field but hanging on by a thread.
5. Wisconsin, which is in line to make a natural jump after what happened in front of it but is still being kept out of the top four by that meh schedule.
6. Auburn, here despite its two losses because it beat No. 1 and made it look easy.
7. Georgia, the nation’s second-best one-loss team that falls farther because its loss came to a team Clemson beat.
8. Notre Dame, which lays claim to the highest-quality losses of the remaining two-loss bunch.
9. TCU, which can’t be pleased its Iowa State loss is not holding up better.
10. Ohio State, despite an infinitely baffling loss to Iowa.
Now let’s dive into what those rankings, or an outcome close to them, would mean.
Ohio State is very much in the conversation
How, you may ask, can the Buckeyes make it back into the top four after their most recent loss was such an embarrassment? The answer: Scheduling.
As bad as that 55–24 meltdown at Kinnick Stadium was, Ohio State’s first loss of the season at the hands of Oklahoma looks more than reasonable. Then you add in quality wins over Penn State and Michigan State and another potential quality win in the regular season finale against Michigan, and the Buckeyes could find themselves with the No. 4 seed when the season ends if they get past a 12–0 Wisconsin team in a Big Ten title game. (Advanced stats give the Badgers a greater than 50% probability of finishing the regular season undefeated.) Meanwhile, a minimum of three other teams above them in this hypothetical top 10 are guaranteed to lose at least one more time before Selection Sunday.
Things are lining up well for Auburn
We had previously presented the absurd scenario of Auburn winning out to improbably reach the playoff as more of a fun thought experiment than anything else. Then the Tigers ran Georgia out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 40–17 whooping. Beating the Bulldogs was only Step One of an improbable path to the playoff. Auburn won so convincingly, however, that a similar win over Georgia in the SEC title game after taking down an injury-riddled Alabama in the Iron Bowl doesn’t sound all that crazy anymore.
Notre Dame is done
The Irish making the playoff would have meant at least two Power 5 conferences would have been left out. That scenario is now gone. There will be a bunch of two-loss teams at the end of the season, and there’s no way the committee would choose a 10–2 Notre Dame over an 11–2 Power 5 conference champion.