Let’s look at the easiest part of the journey: Georgia will be No. 1 in the second college football playoff rankings after a 27-13 win over No. 1 Tennessee last week.
The Bulldogs will be followed by Big Ten rivals Ohio and Michigan, completing the clear and highly undisputed top three.
Look for the debate that will unfold from there and focus on four teams:
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TCU, the fourth and last undefeated team in the Bowl Subdivision;
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Volunteers who can still take 4th place despite Saturday’s defeat;
LSU, which will remain the highest-ranked two-loss team and could pass multiple one-loss teams after an emotional victory over Alabama;
And Clemson, who will fall out of the top four but may not fall too far after an ugly loss to Notre Dame.
How the playoff selection committee compares and ranks these teams will provide a deeper picture of how the race for the national championship will unfold through the end of this month and into early December.
After a tumultuous weekend in which the top three playoff contenders lost, here’s what the top of the playoff rankings should look like on Tuesday night:
1. Georgia (9-0)
It’s not uncommon to have this sort of undisputed number 1 – all you have to do is look at that moment last season when Georgia took first place as one of two unbeaten Power Five teams. But the Bulldogs have no competitors in the top spot, and they’ll stay here with an undefeated regular season.
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2. Ohio State (9-0)
Fighting the Northwest amid some very difficult weather conditions, nothing will affect Ohio State’s playoff rankings. Secondly, a week ago, the Buckeyes will stay ahead of Michigan thanks to five wins against opponents who currently have a winning record, led by a victory over Notre Dame, which turned into a major asset.
3. Michigan (9-0)
Control of the game is important to the committee, and this is where Michigan shines. Only one of nine wins came from a single possession, and only because Maryland scored a useless touchdown with less than a minute left in a 34–27 loss.
4. TCU (9-0)
Things can and do change in playoff rankings, especially given the committee’s tendency to discard previous rankings after the conference championship weekend. But getting ahead of Tennessee would be a clear indication that the undefeated TCU will remain in the top four and possibly move up to the top three after losing one of the states of Ohio or Michigan at the end of November.
5. Tennessee (8-1)
There is a good chance the volunteers will get ahead of TCU. If so, that would make a major statement about the Volunteers’ chances of reaching the semi-finals despite finishing second in the SEC East. But it’s harder to justify the top four’s position, given the depreciation of last year’s victory over Alabama.
6. Oregon (8-1)
We’re heading into a scenario where Oregon and Tennessee end the regular season with one loss and force the committee to make a very difficult decision about which team will finish last in the field. In this case, the Ducks would have another victory and the Power Five championship. Volunteers will have higher wins in a much better conference and a more competitive record against Georgia. But give Oregon credit for bouncing back from a 49-3 loss in the season opener to spark that debate.
7. LSU (7-2)
Two stunning straight wins over the Mississippi and the Crimson Tide propelled LSU into the thick of the playoff debate, despite earlier setbacks with Florida State and the Volunteers. There are legitimate questions about the Tigers’ ability to win in November – that would require road wins against the Arkansas and Texas A&M, which is likely but not guaranteed – and then beat Georgia to win the SEC. However, you can’t lose sight of how the Tigers stormed into this conversation and the impact they could have downplayed in determining the line-up and order of the top four.
8. Clemson (8-1)
That Clemson was in the top four last week suggests that the drop from the Fighting Irish loss may not reflect a seven-place drop in USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll This Week. The Tigers still have four wins against Power Five teams currently at 6–3 or better; Southern California and Mississippi have only one such victory each. However, a dreaded eye test may not be in Clemson’s favor.
9. Southern California (8-1)
USC remained in the thick of things thanks to the excellent performance of quarterback Caleb Williams and explosive offense. However, the defense collapsed. After a strong start to the Pac-12, the Trojans lost at least 35 points, 469 yards and 6.4 yards per game in three straight games.
10. Mississippi (8-1)
Saturday’s game against Alabama will determine if the Rebels are late to the top four. Even if they win, Ole Miss will need to win and LSU will lose to either Arkansas or Texas A&M to advance to the SEC Championship. Unlike Tennessee, the Rebels are not currently viewed as a threat to reach the semi-finals 11-1 and take second place in the SEC West.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff Ranking Prediction: TCU Tennessee 4th?