How Ohio State should be treated after losing to Michigan is the most pressing question in this week’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches poll, and where the Buckeyes’ country could offer a glimpse of how the college football playoff selection committee is doing on Tuesday evening before last, the same concern concerns rankings.
The shock from the rivalry weekend shouldn’t send Ohio State too far into the top 25. In fact, the Buckeyes could drop just three places to No. 5 as voters look for options outside of the very safe top 4 of Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Southern California.
Three other contenders won’t be so lucky.
LSU should fall out of the top 10 and will not be considered in the playoffs after the 38-23 loss to Texas A&M. While the Tigers already had a spot booked in the SEC championship game, the loss doesn’t paint a healthy picture of their chances of ending the upset against Georgia.
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Clemson, ranked No. 8 in last week’s poll, will miss the playoffs for the second straight year after losing to South Carolina 31-30.
Up 17 points in the fourth quarter in the Civil War against Oregon State, Oregon made a series of confounding fourth-place decisions, essentially handing the win to the Beavers to drop to 9-3.
Those losses help clear up the complicated playoff picture and bring fresh blood to the top of the coaching poll. This is what the top 10 should look like:
1. Georgia (12-0)
A slow start against Georgia Tech gave way to another blowout in the rivalry. The 37-13 win marks Georgia’s 14th straight win since it fell to Alabama in last year’s SEC championship game, which itself preceded a 16-game winning streak that lasted through Nov. 7, 2020.
Watch as Michigan continues to follow Georgia’s lead after receiving just two first-place votes in last week’s poll. Simultaneously look for the Wolverines’ move to fill up with former doubters, now swayed by yet another dominant win over Ohio State. And rightly so: Michigan is the team best placed to prevent the Bulldogs from winning a second straight national championship.
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3. TCU (12-0)
After walking away with a string of narrow wins throughout Big 12 play, TCU unbuckled their belt and relaxed by a 62-14 blowout at Iowa State. The undefeated Horned Frogs are in the top three with a win over Kansas State for the conference championship, but losses at Ohio State and Clemson could keep TCU in the top four even with a loss to the Wildcats.
4. Southern California (11-1)
A 38-27 win over Notre Dame secured the Trojans a place in the top four in Tuesday night’s coaching poll and playoff rankings. Rather than being marginalized by the Fighting Irish, who had made great strides in the season under coach Marcus Freeman, USC took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
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5. Ohio State (11-1)
The Buckeyes will point to their 11-0 start and lone loss to Michigan, which only spiraled out of control in the closing minutes, as key arguments they still make the playoffs despite finishing second in the Big Ten East . Losses at Clemson and LSU lend more credence to this argument than you might think.
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6. Alabama (10-2)
Only in Tuscaloosa is a 10-win, 6-place season on New Year’s Eve considered a disappointment. A closer look, however, reveals a flawed team nearly buoyed by Bryce Young’s brilliance, which lost two games for four points overall — 52-49 to Tennessee and 32-31 to LSU, but also defeated Texas A&M and Texas with heroics narrowly beat in the late game. The question now is whether Young and linebacker Will Anderson will go for the Crimson Tide bowl game.
7 Pennsylvania (10-2)
The Nittany Lions finished a very quiet 10-2 regular season marked by those two losses to Michigan and Ohio State. While the Big Ten East leaders still have some catching up to do, the return to the New Year’s Six is a great sign after they slipped to 11-11 in the last two seasons.
8. Tennessee (10-2)
With backup quarterback Joe Milton in place for an injured Hendon Hooker, the Volunteers set off against Vanderbilt with a 21-point third quarter for a 56-0 win. In his first start since the second game last season, Milton threw for 147 yards and a touchdown. Tennessee did it on defense, holding the Commodores to 3.6 yards per pass attempt and 254 yards on offense.
9 Washington (10-2)
The Huskies beat Washington State 51-33 in the Apple Cup but will still fall short of the Pac-12 as a fairly polished tiebreaker gives Utah the advantage due to a stronger schedule in the conference. (Utah and Washington did not meet during the regular season.) It’s a sad end to an otherwise great week that included a new contract for first-year coach Kalen DeBoer.
10th State of Kansas (9-3)
Kansas State is back in the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 2003 and will give TCU everything it can handle after throwing away an 18-point lead when the two teams met earlier this season. LSU is an option here after falling to 9-3, but will voters be able to overlook a tough loss to A&M?