In its final rankings before the official bracket is set on Sunday, the College Football Playoff selection committee dropped Alabama (11-1) from No. 1 to No. 5 after it lost to Auburn on Saturday, 26-14, delivering a rebuke of the Crimson Tide for the lopsided defeat.
The loss means Alabama, the dominant program of this era, still has a decent shot at making the playoff for the fourth straight year. Alabama would likely need No. 11 Texas Christian (10-2) to upset No. 3 Oklahoma (11-1) in the Big 12 championship game Saturday in Arlington, Tex. The Crimson Tide, which has won the last three Southeastern Conference championship games, will be sitting at home watching as several conference title games play out on Saturday, including Auburn (10-2), which rose from sixth to No. 2, facing No. 6 Georgia (11-1) for the SEC title in Atlanta.
And if No. 8 Ohio State (10-2) defeats No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0) in the Big Ten championship game Saturday in Indianapolis — a game in which the Buckeyes are favored — they could jump ahead of Alabama and into a precious playoff spot.
Miami (10-1), which will face No. 1 Clemson (11-1) on Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C., fell from second to No. 7 after a road loss to Pittsburgh (5-7). While that will affect the Hurricanes’ ultimate seeding, it may prove academic when it comes to their chances of making the playoff in the first place: If they beat the top-ranked team on a neutral field, they will have a very strong case for a berth in the semifinals.
Similarly, while Georgia (11-1) sits outside the top four at No. 6, a win over Auburn on Saturday — a rematch of a 40-17 Auburn win at home earlier this month — would almost certainly give the Bulldogs the chance to play for their first national title since 1980.
Wisconsin, one of two remaining undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, is finally in the top four, assuaging the worries of aggrieved Badgers fans that even a perfect season might not be enough for the exacting committee. (Their placement at No. 4, however, confirmed that only a perfect season will be enough.)
Less fortunate was Central Florida (11-0). Even with a victory over No. 20 Memphis (10-1) in the American Athletic Conference championship game, the Knights will merely land as the designated highest-ranked champion from the second-tier Group of Five conferences to play in one of the New Year’s Six bowls — prominent billing, but still not part of the playoff. (Knights fans might be further nervous about the speculation that Coach Scott Frost will return to his alma mater as the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ next head coach.)