Rivalry Week in college football clarified the playoff picture to a great extent. Florida's loss to Florida State makes them unlikely contenders even if they manage to pull the upset in Atlanta, the Big Ten Championship Game has become a play-in game to the National Championship Playoff, Oklahoma is more or less a lock for one of the top four slots as the Big 12 Champion and Notre Dame has been eliminated from contention by the Stanford Cardinal.
With Oklahoma cemented as the Big 12 Conference Championship, a new number one should appear, if only for a single week. And while the top four of the committee's rankings may shift in order, the same four teams as last week will remain. Behind these top four, however, there should be a shuffling of teams, forming a pecking order should one of the top tier falter. While a Big Ten team will undoubtedly occupy the fifth slot, I think it is likely that Ohio State finds its way into sixth place as well, giving the conference three of the top six. Despite this impressive stat, should Stanford win the Pac-12 Championship over USC, another quality victory and a conference Championship would put the Cardinal first in line over the Buckeyes, despite their predicted seventh ranking this week. Here are the predicted Committee's Top Seven heading into Championship Week.
1 - Oklahoma (11-1)
2 - Clemson (12-0)
3 - Alabama (11-1)
4 - Iowa (12-0)
5 - Michigan State (11-1)
6 - Ohio State (11-1)
7 - Stanford (10-2)
It is difficult to predict how the committee will respond to Oklahoma's completion of the season a week earlier than the remaining teams in contention for the playoff. If they follow their own protocol, and act as if they are choosing the participants based on the playoff starting today, the Sooners would stand as the only conference champion. This fact, combined with their status as elite in both strength of schedule and predictive metrics, dictates that the Sooners jump to the number one slot.
The committee has spoken repeatedly about not projecting, and so should not assume that any of these other teams will be a conference champion, giving the Sooners the edge, if only for a week. In addition, by raising Oklahoma to the top spot this week, the committee allows for any order of teams in the final week, after the remaining Conference Champions are crowned. Should the committee not vault the Sooners, and instead maintain the same order as last week, it will be against their own doctrine and represent a significant blow to their legitimacy and process.
Clemson has been a constant atop the committee rankings, and while they may briefly fall to second this week due to Oklahoma's Conference Champion status, their return is imminent unless the Tigers falter against North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. While the Tide still boast more impressive metrics, Clemson's undefeated record is enough to keep them above Nick Saban's squad. With both Alabama and Clemson sitting in the top five of most predictive metrics, any change between the two at this point would be seemingly arbitrary.
The Tide lock down the number three spot with a solid win over rival Auburn. While Oklahoma's victory over Oklahoma State may carry more weight, both teams have a single loss and Alabama's metrics in both strength of schedule and predictive categories are the best of any team in the country. The Sooners do have perhaps the three most impressive wins in TCU and on the road against Baylor and Oklahoma State, but if the committee stays consistent with their values, they will put Alabama, with its stronger overall schedule and better loss back ahead of the Sooners once they claim an SEC title. For now, Alabama is solidly above any Big Ten team, even an undefeated one.
Iowa's win over Nebraska this weekend concluded the first undefeated regular season in almost a hundred years of Hawkeye history. An impressive feat to be sure, but one tempered by the less than stellar strength of schedule. While Iowa's zero in the loss column is not enough to push them past the tide, their metrics are actually slightly better this week than last when compared to Michigan State. A win on the road over a Nebraska team that the Spartans technically lost to should be enough to keep Iowa in fourth place. The upper hand is clearly temporary, however, as the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game will advance to the playoff regardless of their ranking in the fifth and nearly final installment of the College Football Playoff Committee Rankings.