The chances for unrest, disagreement and rancor intensified Tuesday night, especially at Nos. 2-4 and Nos. 6-7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee unfurled its third set of rankings for the 2017 season. It elevated Clemson from No. 4 to No. 2, Miami (Fla.) from No. 7 to No. 3, Oklahoma from No. 5 only to No. 4, and Auburn from No. 10 to No. 6.
All of that left Georgia toppling to No. 7, the furthest fall yet from No. 1 in the four-season-old concept.
Within that mix, the 13-member committee essentially asserted that if the season ended today, one conference would have an unprecedented two teams in the four-team playoff. It just wouldn’t be the conference everyone spent much of the season surmising. It would be that old round-ball loop, the ACC, and not the Southeastern Conference, as the ACC tilted toward a potentially colossal tussle in its conference title game between No. 2 Clemson (9-1) and No. 3 Miami (9-0).
The ACC’s two-team placement in the top four actually became the third such spree at this time since this method of championship-deducing began in 2014. That first year, the third rankings, in mid-November, had Alabama at No. 1 and SEC brethren Mississippi State at No. 4. Last year at this stage, Ohio State held down No. 2, with Big Ten cohort, if not friend, Michigan at No. 3.
As with all six rankings of last season, Alabama (10-0) stood at No. 1 again in this latest top 25. The Crimson Tide edged up there from No. 2 when Georgia took a 40-17 mauling at Auburn. Handily, Alabama will play at Auburn on Nov. 25, a match with a fresh chance of especially lofty rankings.
In placing No. 6 Auburn (8-2) just above No. 7 Georgia (9-1), the committee clearly used an “eye test,” with one of the two so superior to the other just last weekend on a Southeastern field. Auburn’s inferior record earned forgiveness for the caliber of its conquerors — No. 2 Clemson and No. 20 LSU (7-3) — while Georgia’s signature victory, a 20-19 win at Notre Dame, took something of a dent when the Irish’s trip to Miami wound up looking like a trip to a shredder.
An inscrutable comparison figured to happen for those Nos. 2-4 spots. Clemson (9-1) has an impressive array of wins, including two over ranked teams (No. 6 Auburn, No. 19 N.C. State). Miami (9-0) has the two routs of then-ranked opponents, including Notre Dame and Virginia Tech (7-3), which fell off the charts this time. And Oklahoma (9-1) might have the best grievance within the thicket, as its victims include three of the top 13 teams: Ohio State, TCU and Oklahoma State.
Notably, Alabama and Clemson, the combatants in the past two championship games, have occupied every single top four for the past three seasons, encompassing 15 rankings (six in 2015, six in 2016 and three in 2017).
Wedged in the whole lot of them is No. 5 Wisconsin (10-0), which rode both the attrition up ahead and a pulverizing 38-14 win over then-No. 20 Iowa into a three-slot rise. Of the top seven teams, the Badgers have the least imposing set of wins, with just one against a ranked team (No. 23 Northwestern), but with a chance to add another coming Saturday as Michigan (8-2) made its 2017 debut on the list at No. 24.
Even with the Big Ten temporarily still on the outside looking in, it did line the top 25 with a peerless six entries. Behind Wisconsin at No. 5, No. 9 Ohio State (8-2) and No. 10 Penn State (8-2) made curious four-notch bolts, the former after a 48-3 win over then-No. 12 Michigan State, but the latter after a 35-6 win over unranked Rutgers.
Both of those overtook Southern California (9-2), which stayed at No. 11 as it beat Colorado and clinched a Pacific-12 Conference title game slot. It no doubt suffered from the general parity malaise of its league, which has no top 10 teams. Washington State (9-2) chimed in at No. 14 and Stanford (7-3) reentered at No. 22, while the committee punished Washington (8-2) for losing at Stanford by docking it from No. 9 to No. 18.
From the Group of Five teams that battle for the lucrative crumbs of a New Year’s Six bowl bid, the committee upped their inclusion to three teams. UCF (9-0) went from No. 18 to No. 15, and Memphis (8-1), with its lone loss to UCF, from No. 22 to No. 21. Boise State, which earned the coveted major bowl bid in 2014, came in at No. 25 after having barged from 2-2 to 8-2.
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