College Football Playoff rankings reaction: What’s the path for non-top-four teams?

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

Deep breath, Cincinnati fans. Deep breath.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this one, as undefeated Cincinnati is now No. 9, behind three two-loss teams — No. 6 Iowa State, No. 7 Florida and No. 8 Georgia.

Ouch.

After losing to an unranked LSU team that entered the game 3-5, Florida dropped from sixth place to … seventh. The SEC East champs have two wins against teams above .500 (5-4 Mizzou and 7-2 Georgia); Cincinnati, which hasn’t played since Nov. 21 because its past two games were canceled because of COVID-19 issues, has four. That doesn’t seem to make a difference to the selection committee, and with only one game remaining, this ranking felt like a knockout blow to any hope Cincinnati might have had of earning that fourth spot with the help of some chaos above.

The top five teams remained the same for the fourth straight ranking, with No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Notre Dame being close to locks to remain in the top four on Selection Day — even if they lose their respective conference championship games on Saturday.

If No. 3 Clemson wins the ACC title and No. 4 Ohio State beats No. 14 Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game, it’s quite possible the selection committee’s top four will remain the same in some order on Selection Day, when it matters the most.

If Notre Dame wins, though, that fourth spot could be a great debate. And if Clemson and Ohio State both lose, then it could get really interesting. And so we turn to the proverbial “bubble.”

If the fourth spot becomes a true question, Who’s in?

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