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Five questions the fifth College Football Playoff rankings will answer

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 5 days ago Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY
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Ohio State should strengthen its hold on No. 1 in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings, with one more weekend left before the selection committee makes the final decision for the national semifinals.

LSU was impressive in a 50-7 win against Texas A&M, rolling out to a 31-0 halftime lead, and players afterwards admitted to drawing motivation from last week's drop to No. 2. But beating the Aggies won't offset the Buckeyes' 56-27 win against Michigan, the program's eighth in a row in the series.

The Tigers could still leapfrog back to No. 1 with a strong performance and win in the upcoming SEC championship game against Georgia. On the other hand, OSU could cement its top-ranked status by dealing out another 30-point win against Wisconsin to take the Big Ten championship — the Buckeyes won 38-7 when the two teams met in late October.

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For now, the biggest questions facing the committee revolve around the chase for No. 4, which centers on Utah and two teams from the Big 12. Here's what the committee will address with the fifth rankings:

Utah or Oklahoma at No. 5?

a group of people watching a football game: Utah wide receiver Demari Simpkins  runs back a punt return for a touchdown during the third quarter against Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium. © Jeffrey Swinger, USA TODAY Sports Utah wide receiver Demari Simpkins runs back a punt return for a touchdown during the third quarter against Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

It'll be Utah for now, though the Sooners will be close behind at No. 6 after a strong defensive performance paced a 34-16 rivalry win against Oklahoma State. It will be interesting to hear how committee chairman Rob Mullens describes and defines the gap between the two teams — the committee has been down before on Oklahoma and its defense, but should be impressed by how that unit fared against the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Utes have built a stellar case for No. 4 while cruising through the Pac-12, with all but one of the team's conference wins coming by 18 or more points.

Both teams will also keep track of a conference rival: Utah will want to know where Oregon will fall before Friday's Pac-12 championship, while OU will keep tabs on how far Baylor moves up after beating Kansas to move to 11-1. (The Bears will very likely be No. 8 while Oregon should be passed by Auburn and stay at No. 14.) And there's another Big 12 team the Sooners will be hoping cracks the Top 25.

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Will Kansas State crack the Top 25?

That would be Kansas State, the only team to beat OU in the regular season. For one, look for Iowa State and Oklahoma State to fall out of the rankings, leaving the Sooners without the two needle-moving metric of another two wins against teams in the Top 25. But adding the Wildcats into this week's rankings could be a strong asset in the Sooners' corner, since it increases the odds the committee will view Kansas State as a quality loss. The Wildcats will have a case for the Top 25 after ending the regular season with a strong win against the Cyclones.

Where will Alabama land?

If meaningless in the overall playoff picture, since Saturday's Iron Bowl loss to Auburn eliminated Alabama from contention, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two high-quality losses — with LSU the other — and a high level of brand recognition but no marquee win. In fact, the Crimson Tide's best win might be against Tennessee, which has reeled off five wins in a row since that 35-13 loss to Alabama on Oct. 20. Overall, Alabama owns four victories against bowl teams, one being Southern Mississippi, and went 0-2 against opponents that finished the regular season with more than seven wins.

What about Cincinnati and Boise State?

There's no debate over the New Year's Six should Memphis win the rematch against Cincinnati and take the American — the Tigers are in with no questions asked and no controversy. But what if the Bearcats avenge this past weekend's loss to win the conference? At 11-2, Cincinnati can tout one Power Five win (UCLA), two non-conference wins against bowl teams (Miami (Ohio) and Marshall) and another three strong wins (Central Florida, Temple and Memphis) to go with the championship of the best conference in the Group of Five.

Boise State might be able to do the Bearcats one better. With a win against Hawaii to win the Mountain West, the Broncos would sit at 12-1 with a better Power Five win (Florida State), its own non-conference win against Marshall and five wins conference against eventual bowl teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Utah State and Hawaii twice). One way to tell if the Broncos' edge may be too much to overcome: How far will the committee dock Cincinnati, which was No. 19 a week ago, and will Boise State move up from No. 20?

How will they sort out the Big Ten?

There's no argument over Ohio State's place atop the conference, just as there should be little doubt over the Buckeyes' ability to remain atop the rankings after steamrolling past Michigan. But the committee will have its hands full in ranking the next wave of Big Ten teams, each with three or fewer losses and a case for a high-profile bowl: Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa.

Three-loss Iowa should bring up the rear due to its loss to Michigan, though the Hawkeyes came within a whisper of winning at least one more game during the regular season. Minnesota's loss to Wisconsin will drop the Golden Gophers out of the top 10. The real debate comes over which team comes next, whether it's 10-2 Penn State, with its solid wins against the Hawkeyes and Wolverines, or 10-2 Wisconsin, which has wins against Iowa, Michigan and the Gophers.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Five questions the fifth College Football Playoff rankings will answer

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