Miami made a small but potentially significant move up to No. 2 behind Alabama in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, with Clemson slipping one spot to three and Oklahoma holding at four.
Wisconsin and Auburn remained next up behind the top four in a week when the top half of the selection committee's rankings were mostly unchanged.
Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Southern California followed in the same order as they did last week. Over the next two weeks, every team in the top nine will play another team ranked in the committee's top 25, including four games matching top playoff contenders.
The Crimson Tide will play at Auburn on Saturday to decide a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 2. The winner plays Georgia.
The Atlantic Coast Conference championship will match Clemson and Miami on Dec. 2, and Wisconsin and Ohio State play in the Big Ten championship.
Miami's move comes after rallying to beat Virginia last Saturday. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said Miami is showing characteristics of a championship team.
"When you get down the way Miami did to Virginia two times, once in each half, and you have the poise and the ability to come back and win in a convincing manner, that is special," said Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director.
The Hurricanes (10-0) play at Pitt Friday and now seem better positioned to get into the playoff even with a loss to Clemson, depending on how things play out in other conferences.
Central Florida came in at No. 15 and Memphis is 20th, the highest ranked teams from outside the Power Five. The American Athletic Conference rivals could meet in the league title game in two weeks if UCF beats USF on Black Friday, setting up a game that would likely send the winner into a New Year's Six bowl.
HOW DOES THIS PLAY OUT?
On championship Saturday, the selection committee gathers at the Dallas-area resort hotel where it holds its weekly meeting to watch games together. When the games are done, Hocutt and his crew of 12 experts dig into the results and put together their final, and only truly meaningful, top 25.
Will it be a late night at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine or will the committee members be able to uncork a bottle of wine during the second half of the ACC title game? A lot depends on Alabama.
The Crimson Tide could essentially eliminate two other playoff contenders in Auburn and Georgia. The Tigers have no shot if they don't win the Iron Bowl and the SEC title. Georgia at 11-2 with a loss in the conference title game could still have a flicker of hope to be the second SEC team in the playoff, but would need a lot of help.
At 13-0, the Crimson Tide would be seeded No. 1 and heading to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Easy.
If Alabama loses the Iron Bowl or wins that and loses the SEC championship game, it means the committee will likely be ordering up a couple extra pots of coffee instead of a nice pinot noir.
The SEC champion is pretty much a lock to get in. But what to do with Alabama at 11-1 or 12-1? The Crimson Tide has been the most dominant team all season, rarely challenged on the field. Nick Saban's Tide, loaded with five-star recruits and future high draft picks, will always pass the eye test. Alabama's best wins now are against LSU and Mississippi State, both 8-3.
Alabama is the only team to make the playoff all three seasons. Is the committee prepared to leave the Tide out?
The next team that can help clear things up for the committee is Wisconsin.
The committee is not thrilled with the Badgers' schedule, but Wisconsin can get a marquee victory in the Big Ten title game — as long as Ohio State takes care of Michigan on Saturday. At 13-0 and with a conference championship, the committee can replace the ACC championship loser with Wisconsin in the top four.
Wisconsin can also eliminate Ohio State and its 31-point loss to Iowa. A Wisconsin loss to Ohio State — or Oklahoma losing to TCU in the Big 12 title game — opens to the door to consideration of two-loss teams that could bring Notre Dame and USC back into the discussion.
The committee could be weighing two-loss conference champions against one-loss teams with no titles. Last year Ohio State was the latter and got in on the strength of three victories against top-10 teams. No contender can match that without winning its conference this season, which could make the decision much tougher this time.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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