Cincinnati continues to make College Football Playoff history, going from the first Group of Five team to rank as high as No. 8, the first to rank inside the top six, the first to reach No. 5 and now the first from a non-power league to reach the top four.
That's a monumental achievement for the program, which has been steadily climbing the Football Bowl Subdivision pecking order under coach Luke Fickell, and a momentous event in the history of this postseason format.
Just being in this week's top four doesn't mean the Bearcats won't have to sweat out these next two weeks, however. Three Big 12 teams are lurking in the latter half of the top 10. The Big Ten will take center stage this weekend with another marquee divisional matchup. And the SEC will be in the spotlight in early December with one of the most ballyhooed championship games in conference history.
For the Bearcats, the clearest path to remaining in the top four entails an Alabama loss to Georgia. Alabama falling one spot to No. 3 in this week's rankings strongly suggests that any loss to the Bulldogs, which would be the team's second this year, would knock the Tide out of contention for the top four and leave Cincinnati enough wiggle room to fend off a one-loss champion from the Big 12.
Latest rankings: Cincinnati moves into top four; Ohio State jumps Alabama
Bowl projections: College Football Playoff race down to eight teams
Here are the winners and losers from this week's rankings:
The Bearcats also benefit from Houston remaining inside the rankings after beating Memphis, since the committee could've bumped the Cougars in favor of 8-3 Kentucky, 7-4 Mississippi State or 10-1 Louisiana-Lafayette, to name a few. Better yet, Cincinnati gets the opportunity to add another victory against an opponent with a winning record in Friday's matchup against 7-4 East Carolina, which has surged into sole possession of third place in the American standings. In other words: Things are looking good.
Clemson won't make the playoff, obviously, snapping a long streak of reaching the semifinals. But as a struggle of a season comes to a close, the Tigers find themselves at No. 23 after knocking off Wake Forest and in contention for the New Year's Six bowl slate with a little dash of good luck this weekend — the Demon Deacons need to lose at Boston College and North Carolina State has to drop one at home to North Carolina. With that help, Clemson will win the ACC Atlantic and play Pittsburgh in the conference championship game.
With three teams inside the top 10 of this week's rankings, the Big 12 has exceeded preseason expectations and has a shot at sending its champion into the semifinals. The biggest winner is No. 10 Oklahoma, which worked its way back into the selection committee's good graces with a win against Iowa State and could rise as high as sixth with a win this weekend against No. 7 Oklahoma State. Topping the Cowboys would override Baylor's head-to-head win this month and likely jump OU ahead of the loser between the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
Oregon, Michigan State, Wake Forest
The three big losers from this past weekend tumbled down the rankings: Oregon was down eight to No. 11, Michigan State down five to No. 12 and Wake Forest down eight to No. 18. All three are out of playoff contention but could rally to land in the New Year's Six, with the Ducks and Demon Deacons capable of securing spots in that postseason lineup with a conference championship and the Spartans one of several Power Five teams in the mix for an at-large bid.
A solid win against 7-3 Alabama-Birmingham didn't bump UTSA in the rankings, making it even more certain that there is almost no real path for the Roadrunners to earn the Group of Five's automatic bid to the New Year's Six. Even if 13-0, UTSA would be leapfrogged by No. 24 Houston should the Cougars beat Cincinnati to win the American. The Roadrunners are also behind No. 21 San Diego State, which can broaden that lead by beating Boise State this weekend and taking the Mountain West championship.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings winners, losers: Cincinnati, Big 12