Following a weekend in which three of the top four teams lost, the expected shake-up in the College Football Playoff rankings was made official Tuesday night. After No. 1 Alabama (10-0), the sole undefeated major-conference team, Nos. 2 through 4, representing the teams that would complete the playoff bracket if the season ended Tuesday, were Ohio State (9-1), Michigan (9-1) and Clemson (9-1).
The Buckeyes jumped from fifth and over Michigan, which lost at Iowa on Saturday and stood pat at No. 3. After a home upset at the hands of Pitt, Clemson (9-1) dropped from second to fourth. Washington (9-1), which lost at home to now No. 13 Southern California (7-3), fell from fourth to sixth. Louisville claimed the No. 5 spot.
Rounding out the top 10 were Wisconsin (8-2) at No. 7, Penn State (8-2) at No. 8, Oklahoma (8-2) at No. 9 and Colorado (8-2) at No. 10.
But things are bound to get more complicated — with two weeks left in the regular season and then four conference championship games — before the final bracket is released on Dec. 4.
In its two previous years, the playoff committee has rewarded teams for winning conference championships — particularly when it involves a 13th game for the title, as in all major conferences but the Big 12 — allowing teams to leap over other contenders in the final week.
This dynamic could work against Ohio State and Louisville, while Clemson and Michigan probably have the opportunity to win three more games, clinch their conferences and land in the national semifinals.
Ohio State, which lost at Penn State last month, not only must win upcoming games at Michigan State (3-7) and over the Wolverines, on Nov. 26, but to win the Big Ten East, it also needs the Nittany Lions to lose a game against teams whose combined record is 5-15.
Similarly, Louisville’s Oct. 1 loss at Clemson could keep the Cardinals, which features the top Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson at quarterback, out of the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. The Cardinals play Houston (8-2) Thursday night.
The committee’s treatment of Washington and Oklahoma, the two top teams in the Pacific-12 and the Big 12, suggest it might be open to excluding both conferences’ champions, opening a spot for one of the other contenders from the A.C.C. or the Big Ten (which placed four teams in the top eight) to jostle its way in. Meanwhile, it might take not one but two unlikely losses to keep Alabama out of its third straight playoff.
This year’s national semifinals will take place on the afternoon and evening of Dec. 31 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. The winners will play for the national championship on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.
It appears this will not be the year a team from the Group of Five conferences crashes the bracket. Western Michigan (10-0), which plays in the Mid-American Conference and is the only undefeated team besides Alabama in the Football Bowl Subdivision, was slotted 21st, and Boise State (9-1) was 20th.