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AP poll's rankings give insight into College Football Playoff picture

How the AP ranks the two-loss teams—and whether the College Football Playoff committee agrees—could determine which one is a legitimate playoff contender.

Even after a quiet week with only one major upset (Louisville’s loss at Houston on Thursday), Sunday’s new AP Top 25 poll still offers some intriguing potential implications for the state of the College Football Playoff picture just two weeks before the final rankings.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from the post-Week 12 AP rankings:

1. As we thought, Louisville’s loss eliminates the Cardinals from the playoff hunt

In case you’re a Cardinals fan who was in denial, the AP poll all but confirms that Louisville is now eliminated from the race for a spot in the playoff. The Cardinals’ playoff hopes were already on shaky ground when even after last week’s chaos, they still couldn’t crack the top four of the playoff rankings. Thursday’s loss to Houston dropped Louisville to No. 11.

With Clemson’s victory over Wake Forest clinching the ACC Atlantic Division, Louisville simply doesn’t have an opportunity to play its way back into the race. Expect the playoff selection committee, which already held the Cardinals in lower regard than the AP poll, to similarly dock them in Tuesdays’ rankings.

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2. The ordering of the two-loss teams may be critical

While No. 11 Louisville’s playoff fate is sealed, the ordering of the other power conference two-loss teams offers some indication of which of them might still be in the mix for a spot in the national semifinals. AP poll voters put Wisconsin at No. 5, Oklahoma at No. 7, Penn State at No. 8, Colorado at No. 9 and Oklahoma State at No. 10.

Why does this order matter? Because it wouldn’t take much chaos for one of these teams to earn a playoff berth. If No. 2 Ohio State beats No. 3 Michigan and Penn State beats Michigan State on Saturday, the Big Ten championship game will feature two two-loss teams: the Nittany Lions and Wisconsin, if the Badgers can take down Minnesota on Saturday. And if No. 6 Washington loses to either No. 23 Washington State this week, or Colorado or No. 12 USC in the Pac-12 title game, that should open up a playoff spot for a two-loss team.

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So who would get the spot in that case? It’s worth noting that entering this weekend’s games, the playoff committee had Penn State ahead of Oklahoma. However, the Sooners’ demolition of West Virginia in Morgantown—the team's first victory over a ranked team this season—may change that assessment.

Each of the five teams has an opportunity to bolster its résumé, some at the other contenders’ expense. Wisconsin could beat Penn State in the Big Ten championship. Oklahoma hosts Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game in two weeks. And Colorado faces No. 21 Utah on Saturday and would advance with a win to play either Washington or Washington State in the Pac-12 championship.

In short, expect plenty of fluidity amongst those teams. But their jockeying for playoff position may be the most compelling aspect of the season’s final weeks.

PointAfter | Graphiq

3. Who’s going to the Sugar Bowl?

Moving outside of the playoff race, the battle for the SEC’s spot in the Sugar Bowl should be fascinating. Assuming No. 1 Alabama wins the conference title game and makes the playoff, the SEC’s berth in the Sugar Bowl goes to the highest ranked team in the playoff rankings. Based on this week’s AP rankings, that’d make No. 13 Florida the favorite.

However, the Gators could potentially lose twice more before the final rankings. They travel to No. 15 Florida State this week and then have to battle Alabama in Atlanta after clinching a berth in the SEC Championship Game with their win over No. 25 LSU on Saturday.

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No. 16 Auburn also has to tangle with Alabama, potentially sinking the Tigers’ Sugar Bowl chances unless they can at least hang close with their in-state rivals in the Iron Bowl. No. 22 Texas A&M isn’t home free either, with a regular-season finale against LSU on Thursday.

The best-positioned team might be No. 24 Tennessee. The playoff committee likes the Volunteers more than AP voters, ranking Butch Jones’s squad No. 19 last week, before its 63–37 win over Missouri on Saturday. Tennessee also only has to play Vanderbilt to close out its season. Unless Auburn can impress in its showing against Alabama or Florida can beat Florida State and avoid embarrassment in the SEC title game, an up-and-down season for the Volunteers looks likely to end in a trip to New Orleans.