With Auburn losing to Texas A&M this week, it was inevitable that we would have some shakeup in the college football playoff rankings. Auburn was in the Top 4 teams, meaning they would have gone to the playoff if the season ended last week. So now we have a new Top 4, a new set of playoff teams and rankings shuffled by the A&M upset and other results.
As we start to see more and more of these rankings, we can start to gain some insight into how the selection committee is going to make its decisions going forward. The only truly controversial decision here -- because who is ranked No. 2 and No. 3 really shouldn't matter that much to anyone -- will be moving TCU ahead of Alabama. Whether the Horned Frogs' resume is better than the Crimson Tide's can be a point of dispute, but will probably also be moot. If Alabama beats Mississippi State, the Tide will move into the Top 4; if not, Alabama would have dropped out anyway.
One of the things we can tell: The committee appears willing to reward big wins. Arizona State, Baylor and Ohio State all jumped five spots or more after impressive showings this weekend. Then again, maybe it's just winning; UCLA, Georgia and Wisconsin all made big jumps, and while you can make cases that UCLA beating Washington by 14 and Georgia crushing Kentucky were varying degrees of impressive, Wisconsin beat Purdue 34-16, so that's not exactly what you would call a marquee victory.
One thing I did note was LSU falling just one place after losing a close game to a much higher ranked team in Alabama -- something that makes a lot more sense to me than what the polls did. But the polls are pretty good at predicting the playoff rankings, nailing (from AP): No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Auburn, No. 10 Ole Miss, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 13 Kansas State while also coming within a place or two of several other teams. Only one member of the Top 4 (TCU) was missing in the pollsters' similar list, and all of the teams in the Top 10 were in the Top 10 in the polls.
Another upshot: With Alabama now at No. 5 and Auburn and Ole Miss down at the bottom end of the Top 10, I'm not sure the chances of two SEC teams getting into the playoffs are that good. The loser of Mississippi State-Alabama is unlikely to get or remain in the Top 4, and might not be able to climb back in the rankings unless TCU, Oregon or Florida State loses. Even if that happens, it depends on how far the Mississippi State-Alabama loser falls in the meantime and whether an Iron Bowl or Egg Bowl win will be enough to get the loser in without a trip to the SEC Championship Game.
Bowl pairings with these rankings:
Sugar: (1) Mississippi State vs. (4) TCU
Rose: (2) Oregon vs. (3) Florida State
Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama
Cotton: Baylor vs. Ole Miss
Peach: Ohio State vs. Auburn
Fiesta: Arizona State vs. Marshall
I'm guessing that Marshall is the highest ranked of the Group of 5 conferences based on the polls, given that no G-5 team is actually in the playoff rankings. I'm not sure how the selection committee will make the choice of a G-5 team if none of them are ranked, though there's always the possibility that Marshall (or someone else) could make the rankings as the season goes on.
The Orange is pretty much locked up as a Clemson-Alabama match-up given the way that bowl's contract works. Baylor is going to the Cotton because of the geographic factor, which is why Auburn likely ends up in the Peach and Arizona State goes to the Fiesta. Of the remaining three teams -- Ole Miss, B1G Champion Ohio State and Marshall -- Ole Miss probably makes the most sense in the Cotton, with Ohio State in the Peach Bowl. My guess is that the G-5 team is likely to be the least important team to the selection committee, so the Thundering Herd get shipped off to the Fiesta. But, again, these are guesses. We will have to see how that all works out in real life, after all, just as we're learning for the first time how the rankings work.