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Fear not, Big Ten, your CFP hopes are not lost

From ESPN - November 14, 2017

It's supposed to be about the teams -- not the conferences -- but the latest CFP rankings left certain leagues giddy and others gloomy.

(We will get to the SEC, which continued to top the rankings, albeit now with Alabama instead of Georgia, in a bit.)

The ACC and Big Ten toasted CFP chairman Kirby Hocutt and the selection committee Tuesday night. The ACC is almost assured of a playoff spot, and the Big Ten, which many wrote off two weeks ago, is barely on the outside. The Big 12, meanwhile, ca not feel overly secure about its position, while the Pac-12, as expected, should start looking ahead to next season.

Let's start with the ACC, which has enhanced its rep during the playoff era and now boasts two of the top three teams in No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Miami. It's a bit surprising that the Hurricanes, still perfect on the season and coming off their best performance against Notre Dame, did not leapfrog Clemson, which struggled to put away 3-5 Florida State before pulling away late.

Clemson's overall profile clearly resonates with the committee, especially its Week 2 win over now resurgent Auburn. Although victories over Virginia Tech (no longer ranked) and Louisville (never ranked) are not as helpful, Clemson's overall schedule strength, which includes a win over No. 19 NC State, kept it ahead of Miami. But if both teams win their remaining games -- Clemson faces The Citadel and rival South Carolina; Miami has Virginia and Pitt -- it sets up a playoff play-in in the ACC championship.

Could Miami still get in as a one-loss at-large with a close defeat to Clemson? That seems possible, but the Canes should not bank on it.

The SEC still seems likelier than any league to get two teams into the final top four.Although Georgia fell six spots to No. 7, it controls its own fate. Barring slip-ups against Kentucky or Georgia Tech, Kirby Smart's team has a playoff play-in opportunity in Atlanta, where it will face Alabama or a rematch with Auburn, which is up to No. 6 after its 40-17 win. Alabama and Auburn seem to have clear paths to the top four by winning out, and Alabama's rise to No. 1 increases the possibility that it cracks the top four even with a close loss at Auburn in the Iron Bowl or, most likely, to Georgia in the SEC title game following a win at Auburn. Gus Malzahn's team ca not afford any missteps, but it remains far and away the most realistic two-loss playoff candidate.

The Big Ten is simply trying to have one entrant in the playoff for the fourth consecutive year. By rising three spots to No. 5, Wisconsin has put itself in a solid position. The Badgers host No. 24 Michigan this week and likely will face No. 9 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin's win over No. 23 Northwestern, which is favored to win out and finish 9-3, will help its profile.

Ohio State amazingly is not out of this thing, despite two double-digit losses, including a historic defeat at now-unranked Iowa. Not only did the Buckeyes move up five spots after crushing Michigan State, but also the Spartans fell only five spots to No. 17, despite a 45-point defeat. Ohio State is helped by its win over Penn State, which inexplicably rose four spots to No. 10 after beating Rutgers. Look, I like Penn State, and the Lions have not absorbed a bad loss, but what changed so much in their profile from last week? A win over 4-5 Rutgers should not transform the committee's view so dramatically.

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