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  • Writer's pictureJack Vita

College Football Playoff top four set; JV's Top 25 NCAAF rankings entering bowl season

The College Football Playoff field is finally set and with it, two schools will be making program history.

Later this month, Michigan (12-1) and Cincinnati (13-0) will both be making their first ever trips to the College Football Playoff. The Georgia Bulldogs will be appearing in their second College Football Playoff, four years after falling short to Alabama in overtime of the 2018 National Championship game. The #1 Crimson Tide will be returning to the final four for the seventh time in the Playoff's eight years of existence.

Adding some new blood to the Playoff field will be a breath of fresh air. Over the past six years (2015-21), every College Football Playoff has had three of the following teams competing in it: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. The 2021-22 Playoff will be college football's first final four to only feature one of these teams (Alabama).

For the first time all season, my top four this week was the exact same as the College Football Playoff committee's. I can't remember a season where it's felt this easy to declare a top four. Over the past month, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State, Michigan State and every contender played itself out of contention. Had Oklahoma State won on Saturday, it would have been a lot trickier to select a top four. One of Georgia, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State would have been cut. Even if Cincinnati had lost on Saturday, it would have been difficult to put Notre Dame (11-1) — who lost to the Bearcats 24-13 in South Bend in October — in over the Bearcats.

Some will argue that Baylor (11-2) should be in over Georgia (12-1), because Baylor won its conference title game and Georgia did not. Baylor would be in, had it not lost to TCU in November. While I hope that one day we expand the playoff field to a tournament that features every conference champion, we aren't there yet. We only have four roses to give out, and sometimes a conference champion's resume isn't as attractive as a conference loser's. If the options were one-loss Georgia, or a one-loss power-five champion, I might take the conference champ. But there were only two one-loss power-five champs this year. The committee picked the right four teams.

As for seeding, I don't think it matters all that much. Some will argue that Michigan should be the true #1 seed, and there's a case to be made there. However, if Michigan moves to #1 and Alabama climbs to #2, Georgia is probably the #4 team and doesn't leap past Cincinnati. In this case, the matchups remain the same. It's #1 Michigan vs. #4 Georgia and #2 Alabama vs. #3 Cincinnati. How much does it really matter?

I moved Alabama to #1 this week after it beat the team that spent more time in the #1 spot this season than anybody else, 41-24 on a neutral field. Michigan's biggest win came against two-loss Ohio State, in the big house. I slightly value Bama's win vs. a one-loss Georgia team on a neutral site, over Michigan's win vs. two-loss Ohio State at home.

Elsewhere, I moved Utah (10-3) into the top ten after it blew out Oregon for the second time in three weeks Friday night. In an expanded playoff, this Utah team would be dangerous. The Utes have been an offensive juggernaut since making the change at quarterback from Charlie Brewer to Cam Rising. Rising's given the team a much higher ceiling, and a Utah-Ohio State Rose Bowl will be must-see television. With Utah moving up to #10, I also bumped BYU (10-2) up to #9, who beat the Utes 26-17 in September. BYU went 5-0 vs. the Pac-12 and defeated both the Pac-12 (vs. Utah) and Mountain West champions (34-30 @ Utah State). Yet, the Cougars got hosed by the committee. BYU should be playing in a New Years 6 bowl. Instead, they get UAB (8-4) in the Independence Bowl a week before Christmas. Merry Christmas, ya filthy Cougars.

Pitt's blowout win over Wake Forest (45-21) Saturday night showed that the Panthers are the class of the ACC this season. They also defeated Clemson (#21 in my rankings) 27-17 in October. Had it not been for a pair of one-score losses to Miami (FL) and Western Michigan, we'd be talking about Pitt as a potential top four team this year. Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett elevates his team. Pickett probably won't win the Heisman, but one could argue that he impacted his team more than any other player did this year. Without Pickett, I think the Panthers are a .500 ACC team. With him, they're ACC champions for the first time in school history.

Though Houston (11-2) and San Diego State (11-2) both lost this past week, I kept both teams in my top 20. There aren't many other two-loss teams in college football this year. San Diego State took down #10 Utah in triple overtime in September. Houston looked like it was on-par with Cincinnati and hung tight with them in the first half of Saturday's game.

The lone team to drop from my rankings this week was Appalachian State (10-3), who lost to Louisiana (12-1) in Saturday's Sun Belt championship. I've moved Utah State (10-3) in to the top 25, coming off their big victory over San Diego State in the Mountain West championship game.

How great would it be if we had a playoff system in which every conference champ received an automatic bid to college football's big dance? It would add more drama and intrigue to each conference championship game. I'd love to see how teams like Louisiana (12-1) and UTSA (12-1) would fare. Later this week, I'll be releasing my expanded college football playoff brackets, and next week, we'll be simulating a 24-team playoff bracket to find out what would happen if FBS football had a March Madness-style tournament. Make sure you subscribe to my email list and podcast, so you don't miss it!

Before getting to Jack's Top 25 Rankings for week 15, here's a look at the College Football Playoff and AP Top 25 rankings this week, courtesy of ESPN:

Jack's Top 25 Rankings for Week 15, Entering Bowl Season

#1 Alabama (12-1) — Week 14: W, 41-24 vs. Georgia (12-1) in SEC championship. Bowl game: College Football Playoff, Cotton Bowl (December 31) vs. #4 Cincinnati (13-0)

#2 Michigan (12-1) — Week 14: W, 42-3 vs. Iowa (10-3) in Big Ten championship. Bowl game: College Football Playoff, Orange Bowl (December 31) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1)

#3 Georgia (12-1) — Week 14: L, 42-24 vs. Alabama (12-1) in SEC championship. Bowl game: College Football Playoff, Orange Bowl (December 31) vs. #2 Michigan (12-1)

#4 Cincinnati (13-0) — Week 14: W, 35-20 vs. Houston (11-2) in AAC championship. Bowl game: College Football Playoff, Cotton Bowl (December 31) vs. #1 Alabama (12-1)

#5 Notre Dame (11-1) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl (January 1) vs. #8 Oklahoma State

#6 Baylor (11-2) — Week 14: W, 21-16 vs. Oklahoma State (11-2) in Big 12 championship. Bowl game: Sugar Bowl (January 1) vs. #11 Ole Miss (10-2)

#7 Ohio State (10-2) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Rose Bowl (January 1) vs. #10 Utah (10-3)

#8 Oklahoma State (10-2) — Week 14: L, 21-16 vs. Baylor (11-2) in Big 12 championship. Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl (January 1) vs. #5 Notre Dame

#9 BYU (10-2) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Independence Bowl (December 18) vs. UAB (8-4)

#10 Utah (10-3) — Week 14: W, 38-10 vs. Oregon (10-3) in Pac-12 championship. Bowl game: Rose Bowl (January 1) vs. #7 Ohio State (10-2)

#11 Ole Miss (10-2) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Sugar Bowl (January 1) vs. #6 Baylor (11-2)

#12 Pittsburgh (11-2) — Week 14: W, 45-21 vs. Wake Forest (10-3) in ACC championship. Bowl game: Peach Bowl (December 30) vs. #13 Michigan State (10-2)

#13 Michigan State (10-2) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Peach Bowl (December 30) vs. #12 Pittsburgh (11-2)

#14 Oklahoma (10-2) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Alamo Bowl (December 29) vs. #18 Oregon (10-3)

#15 Louisiana (12-1) — Week 14: W, 24-16 vs. Appalachian State (10-3) in Sun Belt championship. Bowl game: New Orleans Bowl (December 18) vs. Marshall (7-5)

#16 San Diego State (12-2) — Week 14: L, 46-13 vs. Utah State (10-3) in Mountain West championship. Bowl game: Frisco Bowl (December 21) vs. #17 UTSA (12-1)

#17 UTSA (12-1) — Week 14: W, 49-41 vs. Western Kentucky (8-5) in Conference USA championship. Bowl game: Frisco Bowl (December 21) vs. #16 San Diego State (12-2)

#18 Oregon (10-3) — Week 14: L, 38-10 vs. Utah (10-3) in Pac-12 championship. Bowl game: Alamo Bowl (December 29) vs. #14 Oklahoma (10-3)

#19 Houston (11-2) — Week 14: L, 35-20 vs. Cincinnati (13-0) in AAC championship. Bowl game: Birmingham Bowl (December 28) vs. Auburn (6-6)

#20 Iowa (10-3) — Week 14: L, 42-3 vs. Michigan (12-1) in Big Ten championship. Bowl game: Citrus Bowl (January 1) vs. #24 Kentucky (9-3)

#21 Clemson (9-3) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Cheez-It Bowl (December 29) vs. Iowa State (7-5)

#22 Fresno State (9-3) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: New Mexico Bowl (December 18) vs. UTEP (7-5)

#23 Wake Forest (10-3) — Week 14: L, 45-21 vs. Pittsburgh (11-2) in ACC championship. Bowl game: TaxSlayer Bowl (December 31) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)

#24 Kentucky (9-3) — Week 14: Idle. Bowl game: Citrus Bowl (January 1) vs. #20 Iowa (10-3)

#25 Utah State (10-3) — Week 14: W, 46-13 vs. San Diego State (11-2) in Mountain West championship. Bowl game: L.A. Bowl (December 18) vs. Oregon State (7-5)

Dropped from last week's rankings: #23 Appalachian State (10-3)

Catch this week's football episode of the Jack Vita Show, recapping championship week and discussing the College Football Playoff, bowl selections, Heisman race, coaching changes and more!

2021 Bowl Games (with College Football Playoff Rankings):

December 17: Bahamas Bowl (Nassau, Bahamas) — Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Toledo (7-5)

December 17: Cure Bowl (Orlando, Florida) — Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2)

December 18: Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, Florida) — Western Kentucky (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-3)

December 18: New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, New Mexico) — UTEP (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-3)

December 18: Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana) — #13 BYU (10-2) vs. UAB (8-4)

December 18: Lending Tree Bowl (Mobile, Alabama) — Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5)

December 18: L.A. Bowl (Los Angeles, California) — Utah State (10-3) vs. Oregon State (7-5)

December 18: New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans, Louisiana) — #23 Louisiana (12-1) vs. Marshall (7-5)

December 20: Myrtle Beach Bowl (Conway, South Carolina) — Tulsa (6-6) vs. Old Dominion (6-6)

December 21: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise, Idaho) — Kent State (7-6) vs. Wyoming (6-6)

December 21: Frisco Bowl (Frisco, Texas) — UTSA (12-1) vs. #24 San Diego State (11-2)

December 22: Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth, Texas) — Army (8-3) vs. Missouri (6-6)

December 23: Frisco Classic Bowl (Frisco, Texas) — Miami (OH) (6-6) vs. North Texas (6-6)

December 23: Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, Florida) — Florida (6-6) vs. UCF (8-4)

December 24: Hawai'i Bowl (Honolulu, Hawai'i) — Memphis (6-6) vs. Hawaii (6-7)

December 25: Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Alabama) — Ball State (6-6) vs. Georgia State (7-5)

December 27: Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, Michigan) — Nevada (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)

December 27: Military Bowl (Annapolis, Maryland) — Eastern Carolina (7-5) vs. Boston College (6-6)

December 28: Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Alabama) — #20 Houston (11-2) vs. Auburn (6-6)

December 28: First Responder Bowl (University Park, Texas) — Air Force (9-3) vs. Louisville (6-6)

December 28: Holiday Bowl (San Diego, California) — UCLA (8-4) vs. North Carolina State (9-3)

December 28: Guaranteed Rate Bowl (Phoenix, Arizona) — Minnesota (8-4) vs. West Virginia (6-6)

December 29: Fenway Bowl (Boston, Massachusetts) — SMU (8-4) vs. Virginia (6-6)

December 29: Pinstripe Bowl (New York, New York) — Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6)

December 29: Cheez-It Bowl (Orlando, Florida) — #19 Clemson (9-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5)

December 29: Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, Texas) — #16 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. #14 Oregon (10-3)

December 30: Duke's Mayo Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina) — North Carolina (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)

December 30: Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tennessee) — Purdue (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5)

December 30: Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas, Nevada) — Wisconsin (8-4) vs. Arizona State (8-4)

December 31: TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida) — #17 Wake Forest (10-3) vs. #25 Texas A&M (8-4)

December 31: Arizona Bowl (Tucson, Arizona) — Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Boise State (7-5)

December 31: Tony the Tiger Bowl (El Paso, Texas) — Miami (FL) (7-5) vs. Washington State (7-5)

January 1: Outback Bowl (Tampa, Florida) — #21 Arkansas (8-4) vs. Penn State (7-5)

January 1: Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Florida) — #15 Iowa (10-3) vs. #22 Kentucky (9-3)

January 4: Texas Bowl (Houston, Texas) — Kansas State (7-5) vs. LSU (6-6)

New Year's Six Bowls

December 30: Peach Bowl (Atlanta, Georgia) — #10 Michigan State (10-2) vs. #12 Pittsburgh (11-2)

January 1: Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Arizona) — #5 Notre Dame (11-1) vs. #9 Oklahoma State (11-2)

January 1: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) — #6 Ohio State (10-2) vs. #11 Utah (10-3)

January 1: Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, Louisiana) — #7 Baylor (11-2) vs. #8 Ole Miss (10-2)

College Football Playoff

December 31: Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Florida) — #2 Michigan (11-2) vs. #3 Georgia (11-2)

December 31: Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas) — #1 Alabama (11-2) vs. #4 Cincinnati (13-0)

January 10: National Championship (Indianapolis, Indiana) — Semifinal winners

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(Image via CBS Sports)


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