What will the College Football Playoff rankings be in the penultimate unveiling on Tuesday night?
As always, a few things to keep in mind …
1. There’s only one run left. This is one more snapshot, and then it all gets thrown out after the conference championship games. So don’t assume that anything here is set in stone.
2. In general, the committee over the first five years of this thing loves big wins and hates ugly losses. You can lose, but don’t get wiped out. At the end of the day, the committee can like any team it wants to, just because. However … big wins, big wins, big wins.
3. Each spot in the order is argued over. It’s not just a random list thrown together in a room. Everyone has to agree that team X needs to get put ahead of teams Y and Z. You might not agree with the rankings, but each spot in the top 25 has been meticulously debated.
And after all of that, it’s about feel, eye-test, and resumé.
So what will they be? Here’s the best guess for what the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings will be on Tuesday night.
25. Air Force Falcons 10-2 (NR)
It was a terrific season. On a seven-game winning streak to close things out, and with only losses to Boise State and Navy on the road, there’s a chance the Falcons can slide up close to the top 20 depending on how the AAC and Sun Belt championships shake out.
24. Navy Midshipmen 9-2 (NR)
A fantastic year will end up being rewarded with a spot in the College Football Playoff top 25. The Midshipmen will be locked in, helped by the timing of playing Army after the final rankings are released – it won’t matter if they lose that, at least in the rankings.
23. Cincinnati Bearcats 10-2 (19)
This ranking will only matter when it comes to Appalachian State. Cincinnati needs Boise State to lose to Hawaii in the Mountain West Championship, and it could use an Appalachian State lost to Louisiana in the Sun Belt title game. However, if the Bearcats blowout Memphis in the AAC Championship, they might just be off to the Cotton Bowl.
22. Appalachian State Mountaineers 11-1 (25)
There’s still a shot to go to the Cotton Bowl. Beat Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship – and by a lot, preferably – and then hope for Cincinnati to squeak by Memphis for the AAC title, and root for Hawaii to beat Boise State for the Mountain West championship.
21. Virginia Cavaliers 9-3 (NR)
Welcome to your high-riser of the week. The committee didn’t seem to love Virginia Tech too much – putting the Hokies at 24 last week – but the big win by the Cavaliers will get them just outside of the top 20. It doesn’t matter. Beat Clemson in the ACC Championship, and go to the Orange Bowl. Lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship … and go to the Orange Bowl.
20. USC Trojans 8-4 (22)
And now the win over Utah is looking better and better. But that’s it. The other wins over bowl bound teams? At Arizona State and at Cal … yippee. Even so, the Trojans will slide up just enough to be in the top 20 after a few teams fall.
19. Boise State Broncos 11-1 (20)
The Broncos will be right on the doorstep to take over the top spot among the Group of Five champions and be off to the Cotton Bowl with a win over Hawaii in the Mountain West Championship. However, they need help from Cincinnati to beat Memphis in the AAC title game.
18. Iowa Hawkeyes 9-3 (17)
Iowa will move down just a wee bit only because Memphis will get a bump from its win over Cincinnati. The 9-3 season was solid, and now it’s time to wait it out. If Memphis loses and Oregon gets rocked by Utah in the Pac-12 Championship, there’s a shot the Hawkeyes could finish just outside of the top 15.
17. Memphis Tigers 11-1 (18)
Step One is done – beat Cincinnati to get to 11-1 and the American Athletic Conference Championship. Step Two – beat Cincinnati again, and be off to the Cotton Bowl.
16. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 10-2 (14)
There’s a hard ceiling for the Irish to get through – Michigan. For the committee to do this right, it has to keep Notre Dame behind the Wolverines – that 45-14 loss was just too big a blowout.
15. Michigan Wolverines 9-3 (13)
The Wolverines won’t get punished too much for losing to the No. 1 team in college football. The rest of the body of work – including the win over Notre Dame – is good enough to stay in the top 15.
14. Minnesota Golden Gophers 10-2 (8)
In theory, Minnesota should still be ranked ahead of Penn State. It won’t be, though, after losing to Iowa and Wisconsin in the last few weeks. But can the Gophers still be ranked high enough to potentially be in range for a New Year’s Six bowl? Nah.
13. Oregon Ducks 10-2 (14)
The Ducks will be leapfrogged by Auburn, but they’ll move up a smidge despite the uninspiring win over Oregon State. It doesn’t really matter.
Beat Utah, take the Pac-12 Championship, go to the Rose Bowl. OR, get blown out by Utah, lose the Pac-12 Championship big, go to the Rose Bowl if Utah gets into the College Football Playoff.
12. Auburn Tigers 8-3 (15)
Call this the Hoping Beyond All Reasonable Hope That The Committee Gets It Right projection. It won’t.
If the committee is on its game, it ranks Florida ahead of Auburn – the Gators won the head-to-head battle – and it puts both of them ahead of Alabama.
(Cue the end of Shawshank Redemption) … I hope.
11. Wisconsin Badgers 10-2 (12)
Illinois, Illinois, Illinois. The loss is an anchor.
Will the Badgers be ranked higher than Penn State? It won’t matter if they win the Big Ten Championship, but they need to be higher than the Nittany Lions in the end if they want to go the Rose Bowl. They blew out Michigan, and Penn State barely came away with a win. They rocked a Minnesota team that beat the Nittany Lions, but … Illinois, Illinois, Illinois.
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