College Football Playoff rankings: Michigan State in trouble & more

Tuesday’s unveiling of the second selection committee rankings was not nearly as dramatic an event as the first, but it did provide another interesting window into how the committee is evaluating teams.

Here are my five main takeaways:

1) Michigan State’s in trouble

Kansas State, coming off a rout of Oklahoma State, moved ahead of the Spartans off their bye week, landing at seventh to Michigan State’s eighth. That might not seem like a big deal, but Mark Dantonio’s team is now behind at least one team from every Power 5 conference, including three SEC teams and both TCU and Kansas State, which play for first in the Big 12 this weekend.

An impressive win this week over Ohio State might help — committee chairman Jeff Long insists the committee “starts with a blank slate” each week — but winning out likely won’t be enough for the Spartans. They need a couple of those potential one-loss conference champs to become two-loss champs.

2) The committee is watching Pac-12 football


Oregon at No. 4 is the headliner, obviously, but the week’s biggest mover was Arizona State, which jumped from No. 14 to No. 9, following an overtime win against Utah that did not kick off until 11 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The No. 17 Utes did not even drop after the loss.

Interestingly, Long said one reason the Sun Devils moved ahead of No. 10 Notre Dame is that against their common opponent, Stanford, ASU won more convincingly. Mind you, that becomes moot this week when the Devils and Irish play each other.

3) The committee cares about who you play but not how you schedule

Asked a question regarding Notre Dame, whose schedule looked a lot tougher coming into the year than it does now, Long said, “Scheduling intent has not been part of our discussion in the committee room.” So, if a team that looked good when you scheduled the game six years ago is now so bad it’s about to fire its coach, tough luck.

One team that’s definitely getting docked for its weak out-of-conference slate: No. 12 Baylor (SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo). It became the first one-loss Power 5 team to check in behind a two-loss team, No. 11 Ole Miss.

4) When all else fails, there’s always the eye test

Both last week and this week, most of Long’s explanations for why teams are ranked where they are have been refreshingly direct, usually citing a specific win or wins. Asked on ESPN, though, about No. 5 Alabama remaining ahead of No. 6 TCU despite the Horned Frogs beating the same West Virginia team as the Tide PLUS another ranked foe, Oklahoma, Long said they “looked at the film.”

Alabama is the one team outside of the top four that controls its own destiny, with remaining games against both No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Auburn, so its current ranking doesn’t particularly matter, but that’s still pretty nebulous reasoning.

5) The Group of 5’s bowl race is now a mystery

East Carolina fell out of the top 25 following its loss to Temple, and no small-conference team — Marshall, Colorado State or Boise State — replaced it. Long said the discussion over teams 21 through 25 was the most difficult part for the committee this week. While he didn’t elaborate, I’m guessing it’s because that’s where Marshall and its 8-0 record but atrocious schedule strength came into play.

If no Group of 5 champ appears in the final top 25, the committee will hold a separate discussion and vote involving just those five teams. In the meantime, though, it’s not going past 25, so we have no earthly idea which of those teams are the clubhouse leaders for a berth to the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach bowls.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to