Ohio State will enter the final week of the college football season No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
That was expected after the Buckeyes routed rival Michigan 56-27 last week.
The rest of the top four is the same as last week with No. 2 LSU followed by No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Georgia.
Utah is the new No. 5 with Oklahoma sixth and Baylor seventh after Alabama lost last week. The Crimson Tide were fifth last week but are all the way down at 12th this week after losing the Iron Bowl to Auburn.
Utah plays No. 13 Oregon this week in the Pac 12 title game while the Cowboys and Bears face each other in the Big 12 Championship game.
Wisconsin is No. 8 heading into its Big Ten Championship game rematch with Ohio State.
Asked why the Badgers are the highest-ranked team with two losses, CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens cited their 38-17 win over Minnesota last week being a third top 25 win (to go with No. 14 Michigan and No. 16 Iowa).
“We see them as a balanced team, top 10 nationally in relative offense and defense,” he added.
The final rankings set up what may or may not be an interesting championship Saturday around the country.
Many CFB observers have speculated Ohio State, LSU and Clemson could all make the final four even if they lose this weekend, though the margin of defeat could play a role in the case of an upset.
Clemson’s hold on a spot would seem to be the most tenuous as their ACC Championship game opponent, Virginia, is the only team on the defending national champions’ schedule currently ranked.
According to OddsShark.com, Ohio State is a 16.5-point favorite against Wisconsin while LSU is a 7.5-point favorite against Georgia in the SEC Championship game and Clemson is a 28-point favorite over the Cavaliers.
If LSU takes care of business, the No. 4 spot figures to be up for grabs with No. 5 Utah, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor in the running to replace the Bulldogs.
As for what put the Utes ahead of the Sooners this week, Mullens said, “Obviously when you look at Oklahoma's résumé, they have the win against the No. 7 team on the road, without a key wide receiver. They also beat Oklahoma State.
“When we look at Utah, we see a season-long balance of very consistent play on both sides of the ball. Very dominant wins. Their only loss is on a Friday night on the road at a No. 22-ranked team when a key player on offense missed the majority of the game.”
In the Big 12 title game, Oklahoma is favored by nine to beat Baylor for a second time this season while Utah is a 6.5-point favorite over No. 13 Oregon in the Pac 12 title tilt.
Championship Saturday will start with the Sooners and Bears at noon followed by the Tigers and Bulldogs at 4 p.m.
The ACC title game is at 7:30 Saturday night with the Big Ten’s version starting 30 minutes later.
The Pac-12 Championship game is at 8 p.m. Friday night.
Ohio State already beat Wisconsin by 31 points in October and has defeated No. 20 Cincinnati, No. 14 Michigan, No. 10 Penn State.
LSU has beaten No. 12 Alabama, No. 11 Auburn and No. 9 Florida with a chance to pick up a pelt from another ranked foe this weekend.
On the other hand, Virginia could become Clemson’s only top 25 win.
If the Tigers can’t topple the Cavaliers, a one-loss Clemson would probably look worse on paper to the committee than Utah (if the Utes win) or either potential Big 12 champion.
Oregon would give Utah its only quality win, though the Utes also have a quality loss to No. 22 USC.
Oklahoma has beaten No. 7 Baylor and No. 25 Oklahoma State with its loss coming against unranked Kansas State.
The race for the No. 1 seed is important as it brings preferential placement in the semifinals and for Ohio State would mean not having to play both LSU and Clemson to win it all.
"Ohio State now with their impressive win over Michigan on the road has four wins over top 25 teams. LSU has three very impressive wins over top 25 teams,” Mullens said. “As we've talked in past weeks, both really have dynamic offenses, both have good defenses. Ohio State's is just a little ahead at this point.”
Beyond the actual playoff field, the rankings influence bowl bids.
The Rose Bowl will take the highest-ranked Big Ten team that doesn’t make the playoff, which would be Wisconsin this week.
Would the Badgers be punished if they lose a game against a top-rated team while Penn State sits at home?
“We are very mindful because they're all division champs,” Mullens said. “It is an honor to play in the conference championship game. So we are mindful of what they've accomplished during the regular season.”
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