NORMAN — The second-to-last College Football Playoff ranking of the year was released Tuesday, with a few puzzling moves from top to bottom.
The good news for Oklahoma? It at least moved up.
The Sooners climbed one spot to No. 3 behind No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Auburn, and ahead of No. 4 Wisconsin.
If postseason assignments were dealt today, OU would play Auburn — a rematch of last year’s Sugar Bowl — in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1 in Pasadena.
The Sooners (11-1) could seemingly lock themselves into that scenario with a win over No. 11 TCU in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game (11:30 a.m., FOX), but no guarantees are in place to make that happen.
For now, OU can enjoy life off the edge after its rise.
Miami over Clemson in the ACC title, or No. 8 Ohio State over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title, or No. 6 Georgia over Auburn in the SEC title — which would bring No. 5 Alabama into the fold — could have made life in the CFP’s final spot unsettling for the Sooners, even with a victory over TCU.
The reason for that? Sometimes, it’s unclear just what this committee will do.
Auburn is in line to become the first two-loss team to reach the playoff in the event’s young, three-year history. It’s the first school to ever crack the top four with two losses.
The 10-2 Tigers certainly appear deserving, but most figured their impressive win over then-No. 1 Alabama warranted a move to No. 3 or 4.
Instead, Auburn occupies a spot OU conceivably could have earned.
“Auburn is a physical team,” CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said during a conference call. “They're balanced, getting solid play from the quarterback position at this point in time in the season. You know, the two losses, obviously the loss to a ranked LSU team but then a head-to-head loss to Clemson.”
The process isn’t always clear, nor does it always provide answers, which could be a reason OU coach Lincoln Riley shields himself from the process somewhat.
“None. None,” Riley said, asked how much the rankings matter this week. “I’m confident where we’re at with the team, our team. I’m confident if we are able to find a way to win this one, that it’ll take care of itself. We’re just going to worry as much as we can about trying to beat TCU.”
With that victory, OU is likely in the Rose Bowl and quite certainly in the playoff, that much is known.
A loss in Saturday’s Big 12 championship likely dissolves those hopes.
The CFP committee is instructed to look at four main criteria when rankings teams: conference champions, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups and outcomes against common opponents.
By now, the final rankings will be shaped mostly by Power 5 league titles.
Saturday, all eyes will be on Texas (OU-TCU), Indiana (Ohio State-Wisconsin), North Carolina (Clemson-Miami) and Atlanta (Georgia-Auburn) to see how this thing shakes out.
“When comparing comparable teams, like teams,” Hocutt said, “that conference championship designation is important.”