The penultimate College Football Playoff Rankings were released Tuesday night, meaning the stage is officially set for conference championship week as the top teams in the nation will vie for the four spots that will be selected on Sunday.
The defending champion Clemson Tigers are the new No. 1 team in the nation, but the ranking that is getting the most attention is Auburn at No. 2. Those Tigers have beaten No. 5 Alabama and No. 6 Georgia, both of whom were previously ranked No. 1, at home over the last three weeks. They trounced the Bulldogs, who they will play for the SEC title this week in a more neutral Atlanta. Auburn beat Alabama last week in a game that the Crimson Tide led late in the third quarter before the Tigers turned it on and put Bama away.
At 10-2, Auburn is the first major conference team to be ranked in the top 10 and ahead of another major conference team with fewer losses in the first four years of the CFP Rankings. Undefeated Wisconsin is No. 4, which begs the question, "If the Bulldogs win the rematch with the Tigers, would Auburn stay ahead of Alabama in the final rankings?" That could open the door for a team to lose its conference championship game and still make the playoff -- something that may happen eventually, though this is not the circumstance I would have imagined for that to play out. The guess here is Alabama would be higher ranked in the end, but it is not definite.
Not only might Alabama need an Auburn win on Saturday to have a chance but so might Ohio State. If there is a chance the committee would keep a losing Auburn team ahead of Alabama, there is probably a greater chance they would keep them ahead of the Big Ten champion Buckeyes. Ohio State would have some nice wins, including the one over Penn State, but Auburn can better those and they would not have lost to Iowa by 31 points. Buckeyes fans are probably sick of hearing about that, but it is the most prominent part of Ohio State's resume.
No. 3 Oklahoma was jumped by Auburn after blowing out West Virginia on Saturday. The Sooners are still in position where a second victory over TCU, this time in the Big 12 title game, will be enough to secure a spot in the playoff. No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Miami also control their own fate for a playoff spots. Miami lost at Pittsburgh last Friday and took the biggest hit in the top 10 this week but can rebound with a win over No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game on Saturday night.