Ohio State (5-0), the team in largest question, held on to its coveted ranking of No. 4, behind only No. 1 Alabama (9-0), No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) and No. 3 Clemson (9-1). The Buckeyes, who didn’t get started with their season until Oct. 24 because of the Big Ten’s cautious approach to the coronavirus pandemic, stayed ahead of two SEC teams that started their games a month earlier, No. 5 Texas A&M (7-1) and No. 6 Florida (8-1).
“We were able to watch another game that Ohio State played,” Gary Barta, the athletic director at Iowa and the chairman of the 13-member selection committee, said on ESPN, referring to the Buckeyes’ 52-12 win Saturday at Michigan State. “That was important.”
By next week, the committee might be weighing the importance of not being able to do likewise. An outbreak of positive coronavirus tests at Michigan left the Wolverines (2-4) unable to field a team for their trip to Ohio State, leaving that game off the calendar for the first time in 103 years. If Ohio State cannot secure a game with somebody else Saturday, its continuing lack of games could figure in the committee’s assessments.
Offsetting that, Texas A&M also had its Saturday play date gutted. It happened because of positive tests at Mississippi, its scheduled opponent. Florida is all set to tack on a 10th game by welcoming — and probably feasting upon — a troubled LSU.
If Ohio State cannot get an opponent for Saturday and also cannot participate in the Big Ten championship game of Dec. 19 because of the conference’s requirement of six games played to qualify, the committee would have an even tougher time assessing it for the closing rankings of Dec. 20. A batch of variables might prevent such a doomsday, though, including the Big Ten relaxing that six-game standard.
The whole, strange scenario could leave Barta at an awkward intersection as both the chairman of the committee deciding the playoff and an athletic director in a conference making provisions hoping to get one of its teams into the playoff.
For any jostling and intrigue Tuesday, the eyeballs had to drift down to No. 7. That’s where Iowa State (7-2) appeared, up from No. 9, after it clinched the first outright regular season conference title in its 123-year history with a 42-6 win over West Virginia. In lifting the Cyclones to their all-time high under the playoff format, the committee did not intend to punish Cincinnati (8-0), which dropped from No. 7 to No. 8 after its game with Temple was canceled.
“It was really the committee’s respect for what Iowa State has done,” Barta said, “and not a penalty for Cincinnati.”
The Bearcats do have further worries, though, because their regular season game with Tulsa for this Saturday also got the kibosh, leaving them with only an American Athletic Conference championship game Dec. 19, also against Tulsa. Cincinnati did stay ahead of No. 9 Georgia (6-2), which dropped a notch after not playing Vanderbilt, and then the next three who stayed unchanged: No. 10 Miami (8-1), No. 11 Oklahoma (7-2) and No. 12 Indiana (6-1), that last entry perhaps a surprise after the Hoosiers traveled to Madison and dismissed then-No. 16 Wisconsin from the rankings.
Cincinnati remains the top team in the Group of Five, the less-rich conferences to which the committee doles one major bowl bid per year. Those bids have gone in past playoff years to Boise State, Houston, Western Michigan, Central Florida, Central Florida again and Memphis. The Group of Five team closest to Cincinnati is No. 13 Coastal Carolina (10-0), which vaulted from No. 18 after its win over BYU (9-1), which took over Coastal Carolina’s old No. 18 spot.
Louisiana Lafayette (9-1), which beat Iowa State to start the season, leaped from No. 25 to No. 19 after its 24-21 win over Appalachian State (7-3), which otherwise has lost only to Marshall and Coastal Carolina.
Southern California (4-0), one of only two Pac-12 teams in the rankings from a league that got going even later than the Big Ten, jumped from No. 20 to No. 15. The only of its conference brethren to join it was one nobody would have guessed at the outset: Colorado (4-0), which debuted at No. 21 after wins over UCLA, Stanford, San Diego State and Arizona.
Other newcomers were No. 20 Texas (6-3), which rejoined after a one-week absence because it won, 69-31, at Kansas State; No. 23 North Carolina State (8-3); and No. 25 Missouri (5-3), making an unexpected little splash in the debut season of Coach Eliah Drinkwitz, formerly of Appalachian State.
Here are the rankings announced Tuesday night:
1. Alabama (9-0)
2. Notre Dame (10-0)
3. Clemson (9-1)
4. Ohio State (5-0)
5. Texas A&M (7-1)
6. Florida (8-1)
7. Iowa State (8-2)
8. Cincinnati (8-0)
9. Georgia (6-2)
10. Miami (8-1)
11. Oklahoma (7-2)
12. Indiana (6-1)
13. Coastal Carolina (10-0)
14. Northwestern (5-1)
15. USC (4-0)
16. Iowa (5-2)
17. North Carolina (7-3)
18. BYU (9-1)
19. Louisiana Lafayette (9-1)
20. Texas (6-3)
21. Colorado (4-0)
22. Oklahoma State (6-3)
23. North Carolina State (8-3)
24. Tulsa (6-1)
25. Missouri (5-3)