No. 1 Georgia (12-0), No. 3 Alabama (11-1), No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) and No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1) remained in their previous positions, which meant Oklahoma State (11-1) had leapfrogged Notre Dame based on Saturday’s 37-33 win over then-No. 10 Oklahoma. Ohio State (10-2) toppled from No. 2 to No. 7.
Michigan (11-1), skipping ahead based on its 42-27 mastery of Ohio State on Saturday, had never been higher than No. 3, a position it held for four weeks in November 2016 before an agonizing 30-27 overtime loss at Ohio State. It finished that season at No. 6. It held No. 4 for three weeks in November 2018 before taking a 62-39 annihilation at Ohio State and finished that season at No. 7.
Oklahoma State, which has watched loathed neighbor Oklahoma hog four playoff berths, had never been higher than No. 6, a position it reached for one week in November 2015 before it lost at home to Baylor and fell to No. 11. It has never finished a season higher than No. 12.
In the conference championship game with the biggest chance to rearrange the final furniture, No. 1 Georgia will play No. 3 Alabama in the SEC title game Saturday in Atlanta. If Georgia were to defeat Alabama and drop Alabama from playoff consideration, it might help hatch a playoff that could include only one previous appearance by any of the four teams: Georgia’s run to the national championship game in 2017-18. Neither Michigan nor Cincinnati nor Oklahoma State has been to a playoff. Alabama has been to six.
The 13-member playoff committee always has valued the caliber of opponents from week to week. That means No. 4 Cincinnati, trying to live the Lilliputian dream of accessing the playoff from the second-tier Group of Five, got a little boost when Houston (11-1) bumped up from No. 24 to No. 21. Houston will be the Bearcats’ opponent Saturday in Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
Yet Oklahoma State has an even better chance to leave an impression. The Cowboys will play the Big 12 championship game in Arlington, Tex., against No. 9 Baylor (10-2), which slipped a space from No. 8, switching places with Mississippi (10-2). “As always, it has a lot to do with who’s playing around you [in the rankings],” committee chairman Gary Barta, the athletic director at Iowa, said on ESPN. While Baylor stayed home and nudged unranked Texas Tech, 27-24, Mississippi won decisively at Mississippi State, 31-21, “with the cowbells clanging and the fact that it was a rivalry game,” Barta said.
No. 2 Michigan will play in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis against No. 13 Iowa, one of a giant string of 10-2 teams between Nos. 7 and 16.
Idle, and perhaps worse off for it, will be No. 6 Notre Dame, which remains unaffiliated with a football conference. Then there’s a consideration elbowing its way in this week: the sudden, shocking departure of coach Brian Kelly for LSU. “The committee is obviously aware of all the coaching changes,” Barta said on ESPN.
He said Kelly’s move had not factored into the committee’s considerations to date, as the 13 evaluated merely Notre Dame’s 45-14 win at Stanford (3-9), but that it might matter on the coming weekend. Protocol, he said, allows “for the committee to consider a player or a coach not being available” and how that might affect the caliber of a team.
Rankings-wise, Friday’s Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas will happen between Nos. 10 and 17, Oregon (10-2) and Utah (9-3), in a rematch of a game two Saturdays ago won, 38-7, by the Utes. Saturday’s ACC championship game in Charlotte will happen between No. 16 Wake Forest (10-2) and No. 15 Pittsburgh (10-2).