1. Alabama (9-0)
In one of the toughest environments in college football, the Crimson Tide was completely unfazed, dismantling No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge, 29-0. It was likely the toughest game remaining on Alabama's schedule and the way is clear for an SEC Championship matchup against Georgia. Alabama has won all nine games by 22 points or more.
2. Clemson (9-0)
The Tigers have been even more dominant than Alabama recently, winning four straight conference games by at least 34 points. That includes a 77-16 thumping of a hapless Louisville squad Saturday, during which Clemson barely broke a sweat. The Tigers get No. 22 Boston College this week, a team coming off back-to-back wins over Miami and Virginia Tech.
3. Notre Dame (9-0)
The Irish aced a difficult road test, building a 17-point second-half lead and winning 31-21 against Big Ten West-leading Northwestern. It wasn't a particularly convincing victory, but Notre Dame doesn't need style points: the Irish control their CFP destiny. A senior day-matchup against a struggling Florida State team looms next.
4. Michigan (8-1)
The Wolverines get the nod here over Georgia by virtue of an easy 42-7 win over Penn State in the Big House. Michigan's “revenge tour”, it's quest to beat all the teams it lost to last season, now has just one game remaining: a date in Columbus with No. 10 Ohio State. Games against Rutgers and Indiana don't figure to get in the way of that meeting.
– Dylan Sinn, The Journal Gazette
Michigan moved into the fourth spot of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night, behind Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. Georgia was next at five, followed by Oklahoma.
The playoff picture cleared up after a several contenders asserted themselves. The top-four teams in the final rankings Dec. 2 will play in the national semifinals.
The Crimson Tide easily dispatched LSU from the top four, beating the Tigers 29-0. LSU, though, only dropped to No. 7 after its second loss, ahead of Washington State, West Virginia and Ohio State – all with only one loss.
Unbeaten Notre Dame moved up one spot to No. 3, and Michigan jumped a spot after a 42-7 victory against Penn State.
With four weeks left in the season, nine of the top 10 teams are serious contenders. LSU is basically out, because the Tigers have no shot at a conference title.
Assuming the top three unbeaten teams would get in by winning out, here are the paths to the playoff for the top four teams.
No. 1 Alabama (9-0)
The Tide is already locked into the SEC championship game and has built up enough equity that even a regular-season loss to Mississippi State or Auburn won't keep Tua Tagovailoa and Co. out of the playoff. Now if they lost twice ... yeah, that's probably not happening. The only intrigue involving Alabama is whether the Tide could lose the SEC championship game, finish 12-1 and still get in? The chances are probably decent.
No. 2 Clemson (9-0)
Like Alabama, the Tigers have some room for a regular-season misstep, but their position is not a strong as the Tide's. With a loss to ACC Atlantic rival Boston College on Saturday, Clemson would be at risk of being shut out of the conference title game. Ohio State and Alabama both made the playoff at 11-1, without playing for a league title the last two seasons. The Tigers could, too, but it is no slam dunk.
No. 3 Notre Dame (9-0)
The Irish finish with three winnable games but no locks. Notre Dame fans believe their team holds an edge over Michigan with that season-opening win. That could buffer the Irish against one loss in their final three, but with no conference title and some struggling marquee teams on their schedule, Notre Dame is not a lock if it gets into a résumé contest with other one-loss teams. Even one it beat.
No. 4 Michigan (8-1)
The Wolverines have to feel good about controlling their path to the playoff. Winning out, including at Ohio State, puts Jim Harbaugh's team at 12-1 with a Big Ten title. That's a résumé with victories against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, and a seven-point road loss to Notre Dame. One loss and Michigan is out, right? Not so fast. Take a quick glance at the rankings and notice how many highly ranked teams still have to play each other. It won't take more than one or two upsets to have the selection committee sifting through a bunch of two-loss teams to fill the final playoff spot. Figure the ones with conference championships will have the edge.