PHOENIX (AP) — The first College Football Playoff rankings have been released and the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in, while the SEC has three of the top four spots.
But with the final decisions still more than a month away, these are the paper rankings, not ones set in stone.
The final rankings don’t come out until Dec. 7 and there figures to be plenty of jockeying and excitement building before then.
“Without question, there’s national buzz,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of the rankings. “For the media and fans, it’s already done its work generating buzz akin to the BCS rankings that don’t matter until the end.”
Helfrich’s Ducks are in the best position out of the Pac-12 teams still in the hunt.
Oregon was fifth in the initial playoff rankings, behind Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi.
What works in the Ducks’ favor is that the SEC teams will spend the next month playing each other.
Auburn and Mississippi face off this weekend, making the loser a longshot with its second loss.
Mississippi State has to play Alabama, No. 6 in the CFB standings, on Nov. 15 and ends the regular season against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Auburn and Alabama also end the regular season against each other in the Iron Bowl.
Once the SEC teams are done beating up on each other, Oregon could be right in the mix for one of four playoff spots.
Win out and the Ducks, also fifth in The Associated Press poll, should be in good shape.
The schedule isn’t exactly easy, though.
This week, Oregon has to face Stanford. The Cardinal have already lost three games this season, but have been a stumbling block for the Ducks, beating them each of the past two seasons on their way to the Pac-12 Championship.
Get past that and Oregon still has to win at Utah, one of the conference’s toughest road games, and win the Pac-12 Championship game, if the Ducks get there.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position where every game is vital,” Helfrich said.
The Ducks aren’t the Pac-12’s only hope.
Arizona is the Pac-12’s next team in the CFB rankings at No. 12.
The Wildcats are 6-1 and have a victory over Oregon, but were ranked seven spots behind the Ducks largely because of the selection committee’s emphasis on strength of schedule.
Because of that, Arizona will likely need to win out and get some help from teams higher in the standings.
The Wildcats, No. 14 in the AP poll, face a tough test this weekend at UCLA and still have Utah and Arizona State left on the schedule.
The Sun Devils, also at 6-1, are still in the playoff mix, too.
Arizona State finally knocked off Stanford, its nemesis in recent years, last week and also beat USC.
But the Sun Devils also were blown out by UCLA at home and have a tough slate ahead: Saturday against Utah, Notre Dame the following week and rival Arizona on Nov. 28
“We’ve just got to win the next six games,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “If we win the next six games we won’t have to worry about it. That’s really how I approach that.”
The Sun Devils will first have to get by the Utes, who still have playoff aspirations of their own.
Utah, at 6-1, is No. 17 in the CFB poll and 18th in the AP poll. The Utes beat USC last week and UCLA earlier in the season, but have a home loss to Washington State on their resume, too.
The next four games will be critical for Utah: ASU, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona.
Find a way to get through that gauntlet, the Utes could find themselves in the Pac-12 Championship game, playing for a possible playoff spot.
“There’s too much football left in the season to even concern ourselves with anything like that,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the playoff rankings.
With so much on the line and so many big games coming up, it should be fun to watch.
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