There is no debate over which six teams top the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings of the season. The question instead is over the order, specifically which team comes in just behind top-ranked Georgia.
That spot has been ceded by Ohio State, which went from being the team to beat in the Big Ten to the background of the playoff chase.
New conference frontrunner Michigan would seem to have a great case for rising to No. 2 after beating the Buckeyes for the first time in a decade. But Alabama is also under consideration after winning the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
NCAA RE-RANK: Michigan moves past Alabama into third spot
Here's how the top 10 of this week's playoff rankings should look:
1. Georgia (12-0)
This is the second year in a row there's an absolute slam-dunk No. 1 heading into the last week of the regular season, following Alabama in 2020. If we're only counting non-pandemic years, the last time a team was so unquestioned was in 2016, when Alabama ended the regular season as the only unbeaten team in the Power Five.
2. Michigan (11-1)
The Wolverines will jump from No. 5 and replace Ohio State. Michigan's dominance makes it hard to see how the selection committee can keep Alabama in front and push the Crimson Tide to No. 2. That's especially true given how the Tide were bullied for most of the Iron Bowl and were only able to force overtime due to Auburn's clock mismanagement.
3. Alabama (11-1)
That the Iron Bowl was a struggle doesn't change the bottom line: Alabama is in with a win against Georgia in the SEC championship game and very likely out with a loss. A victory would lock down the Heisman Trophy for Bryce Young, who had a defining moment in his late touchdown drive against the Tigers. A convincing Georgia win could open that race to Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
4. Cincinnati (12-0)
The Bearcats have gone from outside the top four only weeks ago to almost certainly in the playoff with a win against Houston in the American championship game. How do they get left out of the field? By Alabama beating Georgia, Michigan beating Iowa and Oklahoma State demolishing Baylor. The first puts two SEC teams in the field. The Big Ten would take the third spot. The fourth would go to the Cowboys if the committee feels they are playing too well to keep out of the semifinals.
5. Notre Dame (11-1)
Note Dame could make the playoff without coach Brian Kelly, who is off to LSU on the eve of conference championship weekend. Beyond the oddity of seeing a coach willingly leave Notre Dame for another college job, which has never happened before, Kelly’s departure will undoubtedly play a role in how the selection committee views the Irish in comparison to another team in the mix for the fourth playoff spot. That he left at this point will also put a black mark on Kelly’s reputation.
6. Oklahoma State (11-1)
Don't look for the Cowboys to stay behind Notre Dame for long. That would change with a win against Baylor in the Big 12 championship game, since that would not only give the Cowboys more wins than the Irish but the boost of taking home a Power Five conference. The history of the format tells us how the committee values that achievement when comparing teams with similar records and strength of schedule.
7. Ohio State (10-2)
The most important decision on Ryan Day's plate is what to do at defensive coordinator. The Buckeyes' defense made slight gains after demoting Kerry Combs early in the regular season but was still too unpredictable down the stretch. The loss to Michigan will force Ohio State to refocus on stopping the run after allowing the Wolverines to run for 297 yards and six scores.
8. Baylor (10-2)
Baylor could get into the playoff by beating Oklahoma State. All it would take is this: Iowa beats Michigan and Houston beats Cincinnati. It wouldn't even matter what happened in the SEC, since the Bears would be sitting pretty for the fourth spot even with Georgia and Alabama in the semifinals.
9. Ole Miss (10-2)
The committee could flop Ole Miss and Baylor after the Rebels' Egg Bowl win against Mississippi State, especially since the Bears struggled against Texas Tech. But that may be overthinking things: Baylor has been ahead of Ole Miss in every ranking this season.
10. Oregon (10-2)
There should be a healthy debate between the Ducks and Michigan State. The Spartans just beat Penn State, which is likely viewed as a stronger win than the Ducks' rivalry victory against Oregon State. But would the Spartans be dinged for the Buckeyes' loss, since OSU destroyed MSU the previous Saturday? Oregon beat the Buckeyes in September, in case that hadn't been hammered home all season.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings: Michigan or Alabama at No. 2?