Latest playoff rankings look promising for Ohio State
Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson held the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings for the second straight week and Washington moved up a spot to fifth this week.
Wisconsin is sixth in the selection committee rankings released Tuesday night. Louisville was the team that took a big drop. The Cardinals fell from fifth to 11th after losing at Houston.
Ohio State and Michigan play Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, and the loser is likely - though not definitely - out of the playoff race. The Wolverines would move on the Big Ten championship game by beating the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes, though, need help to reach the conference title game.
Unbeaten Alabama meets Auburn on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide has already clinched a spot in the SEC title game.
Clemson finishes its regular season against South Carolina and then will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against either Virginia Tech or North Carolina.
Washington must win at Washington State, ranked 23rd by the committee, on Friday to win the Pac-12 North and move on to the conference title game against No. 9 Colorado or No. 12 Southern California
BUCKEYES LOOKING GOOD
Ohio State could get shut out of the Big Ten championship game if Penn State, seventh in the committee's rankings, beats Michigan State on Saturday. But listening to committee chairman Kirby Hocutt it certainly sounds like the Buckeyes have separated themselves enough from Penn State that the committee is willing to overlook their loss to the Nittany Lions and the possible lack of a conference champions.
The committee uses conference championships and head-to-head results to separate teams with similar resumes.
But Hocutt, the athletic director of Texas Tech, said as of now the committee does not see a small gap between Ohio State and Penn State.
Hocutt said committee took a lot of time ranking teams two through five, spent little time placing Wisconsin at six, and then found very little separation between Penn State and No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 9 Colorado and No. 10 Oklahoma State.
THE BIG 12
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have set up a de facto Big 12 title game for Dec. 3, but the conference still looks shutout of the playoff without upsets in the other conferences.
The Cowboys have two losses but one was against Central Michigan and it came on a last-play touchdown that was set up be an officiating error. Hocutt said the committee does not adjust the Cowboys record for the mistake, but it does consider the circumstances of the loss.
The Big 12, at the very least, needs one other Power Five champion to finish with two losses to have a shot to make the playoff. But if it comes down to a bunch of teams with two losses the Big Ten seems to have a better chance to get two teams into the field than the Big 12 has to get one.
The Trojans have won seven straight games since starting 1-3, play Notre Dame on Saturday and still have a chance to be Pac-12 champions.
With Sam Darnold at quarterback since game four, USC has been looked like one of the best teams in the country and it would be fascinating to see how much the committee weighs improvement over the course of the season against the full body of work if a couple of upsets clear a path for the Trojans to climb into the discussion for the final spot.
GROUP OF FIVE
There were four teams from outside Power Five conference in the committee rankings this week, the most at any point this season. The highest ranked champion from the Group of Five conferences will receive a bid to the Cotton Bowl.
Boise State was best at No. 19, followed by Houston and Western Michigan. Navy was No. 24.
The rankings changed but the situation is still the same as last week. Boise State can't reach the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 3 without a Wyoming loss Saturday. Houston is locked out of the American Athletic Conference title game. Navy has the AAC West clinched.
That puts unbeaten Western Michigan in the best position to go to the Cotton Bowl if it wins the Mid-American Conference, but still in danger of being nudged out if Boise State wins its conference.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP