Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson held their spots in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and unbeaten Miami moved up three spots to No. 7 before its showdown with the Fighting Irish.
“Good test for Georgia against South Carolina,” selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN. “Probably a little better test for Alabama against LSU this week. I would say the margin of separation continues to be close. The difference goes to Georgia because of the win at Notre Dame.”
Oklahoma remained fifth and TCU moved up to sixth in the rankings released Tuesday. The Sooners and Horned Frogs play a key Big 12 game on Saturday, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the conference.
After Miami, unbeaten Wisconsin was No. 8, the highest-ranked Big Ten team. Washington, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, is ninth and Auburn is 10th.
Notre Dame visits the Hurricanes on Saturday night, and Georgia is at Auburn.
No. 14 Penn State and No. 15 Ohio State fell out of the top 10 after losses last week.
UCF was 18th, the highest-ranked team from outside the Power Five conferences.
The highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five leagues is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s Six Bowls, and the American Athletic Conference is in prime position to grab that bid this year.
UCF is unbeaten and leading the American’s East Division, and Memphis, ranked 22nd, is in the first in the AAC West. No other Group of Five conferences are represented in the selection committee’s rankings this week.
Georgia has its toughest test in its three remaining regular season games Saturday at No. 10 Auburn, which moved up four spots in the latest playoff rankings. Alabama plays at No. 16 Mississippi State Saturday.
Auburn can really crash the playoff party.
Who knows, the Tigers might end up even receiving an invite. When you play the nation’s top two teams — No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama — in your final Southeastern Conference games, you can really spruce up that resume, after all.
And at the same time, the Tigers could put a blemish on the records of the only two SEC teams without one.
“It’s real cool,” Auburn safety Tray Matthews said Tuesday. “We’re in a great spot. We’ve got the No. 1 and No. 2 teams at our place. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Win both and avoid a colossal misstep against Louisiana-Monroe in between, and the Tigers (7-2, 5-1 SEC) will play in Atlanta for a league title, again against the Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0). SEC East champion Georgia is No. 1 in the College Football Rankings, Alabama is No. 2 and Auburn 10th.
Lose both and Auburn’s promising season crumbles with a poor finish — again. The Tigers have lost to their two biggest rivals in each of the past three seasons.
Coach Gus Malzahn is 1-8 against Top 10 teams dating to the 2013 national championship game. The Tigers are just 2-1/2-point underdogs this week.
“I think that you’ve got to embrace the fact that you’re playing the No. 1 or 2 team in the country on your home field,” Malzahn said. “Our goal is to win the SEC championship and it has been since Day One. This is the next step, and it’s a great opportunity for us. So it’s a big game.
“We’re not looking any farther ahead than Saturday. This is a game we’ve been looking forward to. It’s here, and there’s a lot on the line for it. It’s a good one.”
Auburn has rebounded nicely since blowing a big lead in a loss to LSU, winning at Arkansas 52-20 and at Texas A&M 42-27 .
Now, plenty of eyes will be turned toward Jordan-Hare Stadium, if largely because of the upcoming opponents. Auburn could be playing the role of playoff spoiler.
“That’s not something that we can think about or that we have time to think about,” tailback Kerryon Johnson said. “If we lose this week, the college football world won’t care anything about us. So we just have to go out there and play this Saturday like it’s our last game. We’ve got to keep this thing rolling. That’s what we plan to do.”
Auburn is seeking some redemption in this one, especially offensively. Georgia won last year’s meeting 13-7 on two field goals and an interception return for a touchdown. The Tigers managed just 164 total yards and 37 passing yards.
As an old offensive coordinator, the loss was particularly galling to Malzahn.
“Obviously last year was an extremely tough loss, the fact that they won the game and didn’t have an offensive touchdown,” he said. “This is one we’ve been waiting on. I know our players and our coaches are excited about it, and it’s a great opportunity for us and for our program, playing one of the best teams on our home field.”