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CFP Rankings Round 4

By Jamison Cook | November 23
CFP Rankings Round 4
Graphic from collegefootballplayoff.com

The dominos continue to fall in favor of the Irish

The fourth iteration of the College Football Playoff Rankings came out this evening, and for the first time this season, it seems as if the committee got it right. There shouldn’t be many disgruntled fanbases this week, but there is sure to be more movement near the top as conference championship weekend approaches. In the Top 10, Ohio State leapfrogged Alabama to the No. 2 spot after the Buckeyes blew out Michigan State. With Oregon’s blowout loss to Utah, Cincinnati slid up into the fourth spot, the highest-ever ranking for the Bearcats and the first time that a Group of 5 team has made the Top 4. Michigan and Notre Dame slid up into the vacated spaces, putting the Wolverines at No. 5 and the Irish at No. 6. Three Big 12 teams – No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Baylor, and No. 10 Oklahoma – and No. 9 Ole Miss round out the Top 10. The entire CFP Top 25 is as follows:

1) Georgia

2) Ohio State

3) Alabama

4) Cincinnati

5) Michigan

6) Notre Dame

7) Oklahoma State

8) Baylor

9) Ole Miss

10) Oklahoma

11) Oregon

12) Michigan State

13) BYU

14) Wisconsin

15) Texas A&M

16) Iowa

17) Pittsburgh

18) Wake Forest

19) Utah

20) NC State

21) San Diego State

22) UTSA

23) Clemson

24) Houston

25) Arkansas

While Notre Dame still needs a few things to happen in order to make the Playoff, the path is now much clearer, and the dominos continue to fall in favor of the Irish. Ohio State took care of business against Michigan State, with the Buckeyes handing the Spartans an embarrassing 56-7 defeat that eliminates them from Playoff contention. CJ Stroud and company will look to do the same to Michigan this coming weekend, but the outcome of the game is rather inconsequential to Notre Dame. More on that later. Oregon, however, did the Irish a big and rather unexpected favor. Utah dominated the Ducks in a way that I didn’t see coming, and Oregon will need to make some serious adjustments before the Pac-12 championship in two weeks, or we can expect more of the same from the Utes. Ultimately, Notre Dame just needs one more big domino to fall, and the Irish may just be back in the CFP once again. Let’s take a look at what needs to happen.

Ohio State-Michigan: doesn’t matter what happens (Muck Fichigan though)

With the way that Ohio State is playing right now, I don’t think that Michigan has much of a chance in this one. That being said, maybe the stars will finally align for Jim Harbaugh this season. The game is at the Big House after all. But no matter who wins this game, it doesn’t really affect Notre Dame very much at all. The winner of the game will have one loss and will be heading to the Big 10 championship. The winner will be ranked ahead of the Irish heading into conference championship weekend, and the loser will have two losses and will be out of Playoff contention. Personally, I think it would be great if Michigan won this game and then turned around and lost to Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship, but I don’t think the Wolverines can beat Ohio State. We’ll see on Saturday, but the outcome doesn’t really matter.

Will Cincinnati falter?

Cincinnati faces a bit of a trap game this weekend against East Carolina, but the Bearcats looked dominant in their win over SMU this past week. Cincy should enter conference championship weekend undefeated and ranked in the Top 4. They will face a decent test, however, in the American Athletic Conference championship against Houston, who is 10-1 and currently ranked 24th. There are definitely obstacles remaining in Cincinnati’s way, but it seems like Luke Fickell, Desmond Ridder, and co. are in prime position to be the first non-Power 5 team in the Playoff. However, one loss and they are completely eliminated from CFP contention.

Georgia-Bama: the most important conference championship for ND

The SEC championship holds more weight for Notre Dame this season than perhaps it ever has. An Alabama win would make the path to the CFP much more difficult for the Irish, as this would mean both Bama and Georgia would make the Top 4. A Georgia win, however, opens the door for ND to slip into the Playoff. The committee may still put a two-loss Alabama in over Notre Dame, but that would spark a lot of controversy and wouldn’t seem justified with the way the Irish are playing. A Georgia win is just better all the way around for the Irish, as it least it prevents a guaranteed two SEC teams from entering the Playoff. Notre Dame will be big Bulldog fans during conference championship weekend.

How does the Big 12 factor in?

One-loss Oklahoma State is currently ranked No. 7, one spot behind Notre Dame. Two-loss Baylor follows up the Cowboys at No. 8, and one-loss Oklahoma rounds out the Top 10 at No. 10. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will face off this weekend in a showdown with tons of implications for both the Big 12 and the Playoff. An Oklahoma State win would set up a Big 12 championship matchup against Baylor, but an Oklahoma win would lead to a rematch between the two teams a week later. Regardless of the outcome between the in-state rivals this week, the best-case scenario for the Irish would be a two-loss Big 12 champion. This could happen in two different ways:

1) Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma this week, then loses to Baylor in the Big 12 championship

2) Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State this week, but Oklahoma State wins the rematch in the Big 12 championship

A one-loss Oklahoma or Oklahoma State that wins the Big 12 will have added two Top 10 wins to their resume in the last two weeks of the season, likely propelling them ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings. The Irish will cross their fingers for a two-loss Big 12 champ, or else this could be the team that keeps them out of the Playoff.

The path is there for Notre Dame, and it is getting clearer by the week. 247 Sports is currently projecting the Irish to play the ACC champion (who right now they believe will be Wake Forest) in the Peach Bowl, one of the New Year’s Six. Maybe this will be the case, but maybe, just maybe, the dominos will continue to fall Notre Dame’s way. We can just sit back and watch.