PLAYOFF PULSE: Oklahoma St won't be ignored; Clemson rolls
The playoff race cleared up pretty quickly. There is still plenty of time for things to get messy.
The first Saturday after the College Football Playoff rankings debuted separated some of the contenders from pretenders and provided a distinct pecking order for the teams vying to play for the national championship.
Clemson (9-0), which was tops in the first playoff rankings, cleared its toughest remaining hurdle by beating Florida State 23-13. The Tigers clinched a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and now have the smoothest road to the playoff.
Alabama (8-1) crushed LSU 30-16 and got some help from Arkansas to regain control of the SEC West. The playoff selection committee already liked the Tide, putting it No. 4, and now it doesn't have to fret over the fact that Alabama could have been left out of its conference title game. Derrick Henry and the Tide will most likely be in the playoff for a second straight season if they win out.
And to think, just a few days ago Alabama's ranking was considered controversial.
Ohio State (9-0) had another spotty effort against Minnesota, winning 28-14 without J.T. Barrett, but as long as the Buckeyes stay perfect through the Big Ten title game, they're in. Though the Buckeyes margin for error seems thin. One loss might be one too many, especially after Michigan State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten by losing at Nebraska.
If those three get through unscathed, spot No. 4 would likely go to either an undefeated Big 12 champion, a one-loss Pac-12 champion or Notre Dame if the Fighting Irish can win out. Important: Notre Dame (8-1) plays Stanford (8-1) to end the regular season for each team.
Oklahoma State suddenly looks like the favorite out of the Big 12, thanks to an impressive 49-29 victory against TCU in Stillwater and some fortuitous schedule-making. The Cowboys, who were the lowest ranked unbeaten Power Five team, get both Baylor and Oklahoma at home to close out their regular season.
Coach Mike Gundy's team started the season unranked, with all the attention going to the defending Big 12 co-champions, TCU and Baylor. The Cowboys spent much of the first two months of the season coming from behind and squeaking out victories.
The Cowboys undefeated record has mostly been met with shrugs. No more. The Cowboys should vault up the rankings this week.
''We felt a bit snubbed, but our body of work has and will put us where we need to be at the end of the day,'' Oklahoma State linebacker Chad Whitener, who intercepted two passes and ran one back for a touchdown against TCU, said.
Oklahoma State, though, has a Baylor-type problem when it comes to the playoff hunt. Oklahoma State's nonconference schedule this season was Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and UTSA. Not good. For the Cowboys to get in the playoff, it could be undefeated or bust. Same goes for unbeaten Baylor.
Remember, one loss was too many last year for the Big 12's top teams. Baylor finished fifth in the final playoff rankings and TCU was sixth.
The Pac-12's best chance is if its winner comes out of a Stanford-Utah title game featuring a pair of one-loss teams.
Notre Dame could gain a trump card on the Pac-12 by beating the Cardinal on the Farm on Thanksgiving weekend.
Simple, right? Too simple, really. Best be prepared for things to get complicated.
Arkansas did its athletic director a huge favor with a wild 53-52 overtime victory against Mississippi.
Ole Miss, by virtue of its victory at Alabama, was still in control of the SEC West, despite having two losses entering the weekend.
That created a potentially tricky decision for the playoff committee chairman Jeff Long and his 11 colleagues, who ranked Alabama No. 4 this week. The committee possibly faced either passing up the SEC champion for a team that lost to the SEC champion or dropping Alabama in the rankings even if it was winning games. Good luck explaining that on Dec. 6, Jeff.
All that goes away now.
The other side of the SEC has already been settled. Florida clinched the East with an ugly win against Vanderbilt, appropriate considering the level of play in that division.
SEC haters will cry foul, but if the SEC champion has no more than one loss there should be no doubt about its playoff worthiness, whether it's Alabama, LSU or Florida.
Sorry, Ole Miss, but as far as the rest of the league was concerned, this was for the best.
PREDICTING THE NEXT RANKINGS
3. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
5. Oklahoma State
PROJECTING THE FINAL FOUR
Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Stillwater, Oklahoma, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP