College Football Playoff Picture for Week 10: Michigan State jumps into No. 4 spot

We’re on to November, and the College Football Playoff rankings are coming. 

Michigan State will be the hot topic after rallying from a 16-point deficit to beat Michigan 37-33 on Saturday. The Spartans are the lone unbeaten team remaining in the Big Ten, and a resume that includes a non-conference victory at Miami cannot be overlooked. The Spartans have made their case to be a top-four team in the latest rankings, even if that comes at the expense of contenders such as Cincinnati, Oregon and Ohio State. 

That last spot is going to be contentious in the first set of rankings. Sporting News continues to sort those teams out based on how the contenders should be ranked. The first set of CFP rankings will be Tuesday.

Each week, we will break down the playoff picture based on how we think the CFP committee would (or should) rank the top-10 teams. Future results are not projected:

Four in the College Football Playoff 

1. Georgia (8-0)

Remaining schedule: vs. Missouri, at Tennessee, vs. Charleston Southern, at Georgia Tech 

There won’t be much to reveal at No. 1 given Georgia has four victories against ranked teams. The Bulldogs continued their defensive dominance in a 34-7 victory against Florida. Georgia turned three first-half turnovers into a 24-0 halftime lead, and Florida did not score a TD until the final quarter. Zamir White’s 42-yard TD run put the finishing touch on a victory in which the Bulldogs committed three turnovers. Quarterback Stetson Bennett continues to manage the offense, and Georgia won the SEC East championship after Kentucky’s loss to Mississippi State. 

2. Oklahoma (9-0)

Remaining schedule: Bye, at Baylor, vs. Iowa State, at Oklahoma State 

It took nine games and a reeling Texas Tech, but the Sooners unleashed a 52-21 blowout in Big 12 play. This was the Oklahoma team we expected to see all season. Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams aired it out by hitting 23 of 30 passes for 402 yards and six TDs. Receivers Marvin Mims Jr. (4 catches, 135 yards, 2 TDs) and Mario Williams (5 catches, 100 yards, TD) made the big plays, and Oklahoma didn’t need to run the football. Williams is emerging as the best quarterback in the FBS. Yep, we said it. Baylor and Oklahoma State should be ranked when Oklahoma plays them coming out of the bye week. They will have to stay perfect given the four teams lurking behind. 

3. Alabama (7-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. LSU, vs. New Mexico State, vs. Arkansas, at Auburn 

Alabama had a bye week to prepare for another November. The Crimson Tide likely will hold this No. 2 spot despite some objections. Miami, Florida and Ole Miss were ranked opponents at the time, however, and the Crimson Tide have their own set of rules. So, what’s next? Alabama is 30-3 in November/December in the CFP era under Nick Saban, and that includes five flawless runs through the SEC championship game. Three straight home games leading up to the Iron Bowl means Alabama likely isn’t dropping from this spot either. 

4. Michigan State (8-0)

Remaining schedule: at Purdue, vs. Maryland, at Ohio State, vs. Penn State 

This is an argument Cincinnati might not be able to win. The Spartans solidified their ranking with a 37-33 victory against rival Michigan, and they are the lone unbeaten Big Ten team left. That victory weighs a little more than Cincinnati’s win against Notre Dame, and the Spartans beat Indiana, too. On top of that, running back Kenneth Walker III vaulted into the Heisman debate with 197 yards and five TDs. The Spartans also have more meat left on the schedule. A big jump up the rankings is coming. 

Two out 

5. Cincinnati (8-0)

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Remaining schedule: vs. Tulsa, at USF, vs. SMU, at East Carolina

The Bearcats remained unbeaten with a 31-12 victory against Tulane, a game in which Cincinnati briefly trailed in the second quarter. Desmond Ridder recalibrated, however, and he finished with 227 yards, three TDs and an interception. Cincinnati’s defense limited Tulane to 93 yards passing, and now the question becomes a matter of respect with the CFP committee. The Bearcats were No. 8 in the initial rankings last season. They could be ranked anywhere between No. 3 and No. 7, and we’ll split the difference at No. 5. 

6. Oregon (7-1)

Remaining schedule: at Washington, vs. Washington State, at Utah, vs. Oregon State 

We will not be surprised if Ohio State is ranked ahead of Oregon despite the fact the Ducks won 35-28 at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 11. The Ducks built a 30-point lead against Colorado in Week 9 before coasting in the fourth quarter in a 52-29 victory. Quarterback Anthony Brown passed for 307 yards and three TDs, and freshman running back Byron Cardwell broke out with seven carries for 127 yards and a TD. He is the answer for C.J. Verdell, who was lost for the season. Maybe the Buckeyes would win a rematch with the potential Pac-12 champion. Maybe Ohio State has the better strength-of-schedule, too. But that head-to-head matters, and the Ducks should be ranked ahead of the Buckeyes for now. 

Four to watch 

7. Ohio State (7-1) 

Remaining schedule: at Nebraska, vs. Purdue, vs. Michigan State, at Michigan 

Should the Buckeyes be ranked in the top four? If we’re going by talent and the “eye test,” then maybe. Ohio State, however, lost to Oregon and does not have a top-10 victory like Cincinnati. The Buckeyes did earn a victory against a ranked opponent by knocking off Penn State 33-24 at Ohio Stadium. C.J. Stroud finished with 305 passing yards and a TD, and freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson added 152 rushing yards and a TD. It was a three-point game heading into the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes might not like their spot in the initial rankings, but victories against Michigan State and Michigan would do the trick. A one-loss Big Ten champion would leap-frog the Bearcats. Would it do the same to the Ducks? 

BENDER: The Ohio State monster may prove too much for James Franklin

8. Michigan (7-1) 

Remaining schedule: vs. Indiana, at Penn State, vs. Maryland, at Ohio State 

Michigan could drop more given its best victory is a road win at Wisconsin. The Wolverines’ path to a Big Ten championship requires help after a 37-33 loss to Michigan State on the road. It’s a bad loss from the standpoint the Wolverines blew a 16-point lead, and now that puts the pressure on beating Big Ten East rival Penn State on the road before the annual referendum against the Buckeyes. Jim Harbaugh is now 2-13 against top-10 teams, and letting one get away Saturday will linger into a home matchup against Indiana.

BENDER: The heat is back on Jim Harbaugh after blown leads at MSU

9. Wake Forest (8-0) 

Remaining schedule: at North Carolina, vs. N.C. State, at Clemson, at Boston College

The Demon Deacons are the lone unbeaten left in the ACC, a Power 5 conference, and they must be considered for top-10 billing given that unblemished record. The upside? Sam Hartman continues to lead an impressive offense that has put up at least 35 points in every game this season. Hartman passed for 402 yards and three TDs in a 45-7 blowout against Duke. He has 860 passing yards and eight TDs the last two weeks. The downside? Wake Forest has yet to beat a ranked opponent this season, and there might not be one on the schedule. That cannot become a distraction as the Tobacco Road tour continues at North Carolina in Week 10. 

10. Notre Dame (7-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Navy, at Virginia, vs. Georgia Tech, at Stanford

The Irish aren’t dead yet. Cincinnati would love to see the Irish make the top-10. Notre Dame has a three-game winning streak after a 44-34 victory against North Carolina. The resume features just one victory against a ranked team, the neutral-site blowout against Wisconsin, and the Irish hardly have the look a team that deserves to be in the CFP. But at least they didn’t take a second loss, like Ole Miss and Kentucky did in the SEC on Saturday. On that note, don’t act surprised if two-loss Texas A&M is ranked as high as No. 10 in the rankings based on that Alabama upset.

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