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CFB PLAYOFF REACTION: There’s a clear, but still-hidden reason to explain Ohio State’s rise to No. 1

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Ohio State would be a mortal lock for a top-2 seed with the final Playoff rankings (Dec. 8), if the Buckeyes can beat Michigan and either Wisconsin or Minnesota over the next two Saturdays.

The fourth College Football Playoff rankings are now available for public consumption.

Here are three key takeaways — or Snap Judgments, honoring my former media cohort, the late, great Don Banks (longtime Sports Illustrated writer) — from Tuesday’s big announcement:

TAKE #1 — LSU’s stunning demotion to No. 2 has quietly opened the door for a second SEC squad in the Playoff

The LSU fans have every reason to be guffawed by the 13-member committee’s decision to boot the Tigers from the top spot.

After all, as pointed out during ESPN’s rankings-release broadcast, LSU holds the edge over Ohio State in two crucial departments:

**Greater strength of schedule
**The better top-shelf resume, in terms of posting four top-10 victories (Alabama, Auburn, Texas, Florida). To date, Ohio State only has three wins over top-25 programs.

So, what gives then?

Is LSU really being punished for surrendering 20 points to a horrible Arkansas team on Saturday .. even though the Tigers still produced a 36-point win?

The best rationale for this sudden change: The Playoff committee has absolutely no interest in an Alabama-LSU rematch during the national semifinals.

As such, the most creative way to solidify the Crimson Tide’s future standing as the ultimate No. 4 seed … would involve moving Louisiana State off the 1-line now, proverbially greasing the skids for a two-team SEC solution in the Playoff.

TAKE #2 — Utah could be a sitting duck (no pun intended) when it comes to choosing the final No. 4 seed … due to Oregon’s untimely vanishing act

Given Oregon’s stunning defeat to Arizona State on Saturday night, Utah (No. 6 in both polls) must now fight for a Peach Bowl bid on its own, knowing full well the Pac-12 showdown with the Ducks (plunged to No. 14 in the AP and CFP polls) has been greatly diminished.

Why was it so important for Oregon and Utah to keep dominating Pac-12 competition, in unison?

Remember when Michigan State and Iowa played for the Big Ten championship in 2015, as the No. 4 and No. 5 Playoff teams?

Heading into that game, the victor was a lead-pipe cinch to earn a Playoff bid — citing the Strength of Schedule/Opponent quotient for Conference Championship Weekend.

Well, with Oregon dropping into the pile of two-loss clubs (along with Penn State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame), there are no guarantees of Utah sloppily winning the Pac-12 championship on Dec. 6 … and still getting an automatic pass to the national semifinals.

Rather, Utah (No. 4 in scoring defense, No. 3 in total defense) might need to beat Oregon by double digits … and look unstoppable while doing so.

TAKE #3 — Savvy Clemson fans have already booked their flights and hotel arrangements for the Phoenix/Glendale area

Sure, there’s a chance the defending national champions get vaulted up to the top spot on Dec. 8, the surprising consequence of LSU and Ohio State falling to Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin over the next 11 days.

It’s just not the most plausible of hypotheticals.

In fact, you might have better odds predicting tonight’s daily lottery numbers … than the Buckeyes and Tigers both serving as one-loss considerations for the Playoff committee.

With that in mind, Clemson fans can feel 95-percent confident of their destination for the national semifinals — the Fiesta Bowl — while encountering only Ohio State, LSU, Alabama or Georgia.

That’s the list!

Why such a narrow range of potential opponents?

**If Clemson magically rose to No. 1, the Playoff committee would reflexively place the Tigers in the Peach Bowl — with Atlanta being only 90 minutes from campus.

**If Clemson’s the No. 2 seed, as a result of LSU losing in the SEC title game, Georgia would presumably take the higher slot among the SEC powers.

Hence, the southern fried Tigers-Dawgs clash … taking place roughly 1,600 miles from Atlanta.

**If Clemson’s the No. 2 seed, as a result of Ohio State losing either this week (at Michigan) or next (Big Ten title game), the Tigers would likely draw Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl — despite the Crimson Tide possessing neither a conference championship nor their All-American quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa).

The rationale for Alabama heading West, as opposed to maybe Utah (prospective Pac-12 champ), Minnesota (potential Big Ten champ) or Penn State?

If LSU wins the SEC title and reclaims the No. 1 spot (due to Georgia’s top-4 ranking heading into Conference Championship Weekend), the CFP committee would, as stated above, move mountains to avoid an Alabama-LSU rematch in the Peach Bowl — since the Tigers toppled the Tide in Tuscaloosa (46-41 on Nov. 9).

Bottom line: It wouldn’t be fair for LSU (four top-10 victories: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Texas) to beat a program twice — particularly a non-conference champion — just to reach the CFP title game.

(This year’s champion will be determined at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.)

**If Clemson ultimately garners the No. 3 seed, it’ll be a simple game of Pick Your Poison … with Ohio State or LSU owning the second slot.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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