First CFP top 4: Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson

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Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson were the top four teams in the first college football playoff standings of the season released Tuesday night, four days before the Volunteers and Bulldogs face off on the ground.

Michigan finished fifth, followed by Alabama and the undefeated TCU.

Tennessee is No. 1 in the CFP standings for the first time, edging out a group of teams that have become regulars to the top of the Selection Committee’s top 25. The Volunteers have already beaten the Crimson Tide and LSU, which was ranked 10th.

Tennessee has been one of the biggest upsets of the season, starting the season unranked in the AP poll and jumping to an 8-0 start for the first time since the Vols won their last national title in 1998.

“We tried to enjoy the trip,” Tennessee second-year coach Josh Heupel told ESPN. “Three years ago it didn’t look like this.”

Heupel took over after Jeremy Pruitt was fired after a 3-7 season.

Only one team that was No. 1 in the committee’s initial standings didn’t make the playoffs, but only about half of the teams in the first top four managed to finish there.

The committee began its weekly in-person meetings Monday at the hotel in Grapevine, Texas, and revealed the first of six weekly rankings.

The final ranking that sets the CFP field out of four is set for December 4. The 13-person panel is led by a first chair Boo Corrigan, the North Carolina State Athletic Director.

Corrigan said there was some consideration for Ohio State and Georgia as No. 1, but Tennessee’s wins over Alabama and at LSU won the day.

The Buckeyes’ explosive offense and overall dominance gave them a slight advantage over Georgia.

He said Michigan’s weak non-conference schedule (Hawaii, Colorado State and Connecticut) and Clemson’s 5-0 record against teams with winning records gave the Tigers the green light for fourth place.

“The wins at Wake (Forest), at Florida State, over NC State, over Syracuse, really pushed (Clemson) over the top,” Corrigan said.

Oregon finished eighth, followed by Pac-12 rival Southern California in ninth place.

The highest-ranked team outside of the Power Five conferences was Tulane at No. 19. The highest-ranked champion in the Group of Five conferences earns a berth in the New Year’s Six Bowl.

The CFP semifinals are scheduled to be played at the Fiesta and Peach Bowls on December 31, with the championship game scheduled for January 9 in Inglewood, Calif.

Even before the standings were revealed on Tuesday night, it was clear which teams still had a shot at playing for a national championship.

A look at the conference standings reveals 14 contenders, all in the Power Five. Sorry, there won’t be an intruder at the Cincinnati Five-Star this season for the selection committee to consider.

A conference-by-conference assessment of who’s in the running and paths to the CFP, along with the AP Top 25 ranking.

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The Tigers had their six-game playoff appearance streak last year but are well positioned to return, with no ranked opponents ahead of an ACC title game against North Carolina.

No undefeated Power Five champion has ever missed the playoffs. A look at the Big Ten and the SEC suggests that entering as a one-loss conference champion could be risky for the Tigers.

No. 17 North Carolina (7-1, AP No. 17)

Run the table, beating undefeated Clemson in the ACC title game, get the Tar Heels in the conversation, but they’ll need upsets in other leagues to lead the way.

TCU No. 7 (8-0, AP No. 7)

See above, re: Undefeated Power Five champions. Horned Frogs flirt with disaster every week and have defensive issues. This is a profile that the selection committee tends to regard with skepticism.

They’ll probably have to stay unbeaten to get in and it’s going to be really tough for them to stay unbeaten with the way they’ve been playing.

Ohio State (8-0, AP No. 2) and Michigan (8-0, AP No. 4)

Both were dominant. Neither played a particularly busy schedule and that won’t change much until Thanksgiving weekend. Yet one or the other is locked in winning.

Either would stay in the mix by being a 12-1 conference champion. And the loser of the rivalry game at 11-1 probably still holds out hope of getting in.

Illinois (7-1, AP No. 14)

The Illini have a game against Michigan the week before the Wolverines face Ohio State. That means Illinois could finish 12-1 with two wins over Michigan or one over Michigan and one over Ohio State.

It’s unlikely to happen, but it would put the Illini in the playoffs.

Oregon (7-1, AP No. 8), USC (7-1, AP No. 9) and UCLA (7-1, No. 10)

They all need to run the table to stand a chance and even then it might not be enough. The Ducks will have to overcome a 49-3 loss to Georgia in their opener. The Trojans have a poor defense and won’t have much luck beating Notre Dame. UCLA played one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the nation.

What is the best option for the Pac-12? The guess here is a 12-1 USC with wins over UCLA and Oregon and a one-point loss to a strong Utah team.

Georgia (8-0, AP No. 1) and Tennessee (8-0, AP No. 2)

The loser of Saturday’s showdown in Athens is not eliminated, especially if it comes to the Volunteers, with a win over Alabama already in hand.

Alabama (6-1, AP No. 6) and Mississippi (8-1, AP No. 11)

The Crimson Tide and Rebels can’t afford another loss – they face each other in two weeks – but either would enter the CFP winning.

The most SEC-centric scenario for the rest of the country to root against is Alabama winning, beating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and leaving the Tide and Bulldogs at 12-1 and Tennessee at 11-1 with a narrow loss to Georgia. .

A two-loss team never made the playoffs, but the SEC champ never missed the playoffs. If the Tigers beat Alabama and avenge a loss to Tennessee en route to a conference title, they could break the precedent.

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

AP College Football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the PA college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

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