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The state of Ohio stormed up the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night, hoarding half of the top four spots with one familiar mainstay and one comer making a little esoteric rankings history.

The mainstay, Ohio State, elbowed Alabama out of the No. 2 slot because of its frightening 49-0 first half and 56-7 win Saturday against No. 7 Michigan State, a result that "certainly got the committee's attention," chairman Gary Barta said on ESPN. The comer, Cincinnati, barged from No. 5 to No. 4, becoming the first team from outside the Power Five conferences to appear in the top four in the eight seasons of the four-team playoff concept.


The 13-member selection committee will have two more turns at ranking the top 25 teams, one next Tuesday night and the other a week from Sunday, when it will issue its final list and choose the playoff matchups.

Georgia (11-0) remained No. 1 as it has in all four rankings so far in 2021. After Ohio State (10-1) came Alabama at No. 3 after its 42-35 home win over Arkansas. Then came Cincinnati and significance. Twenty-one programs had held down top-four spots since the rankings began in late October 2014, including seven from the SEC, six from the Big Ten, three from the ACC, two each from the Big 12 and Pac-12 and one from South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame).

None had operated beneath the top tier, and Cincinnati (11-0) had begun Nov. 2 with a ranking of No. 6, which stoked its share of growling but also represented the highest ever for a Group of Five team. But the Bearcats had inched to No. 5 Nov. 9, held that spot Nov. 16, and reached No. 4 after they mauled a very good SMU (8-3) by 48-14 last Saturday, scoring the first 48 points.


“It’s awesome,” fifth-year Cincinnati Coach Luke Fickell, formerly a player, assistant coach and interim head coach at Ohio State, said on ESPN. “It’s great for our entire team, our program, our community and our campus.” His team has a visit to East Carolina coming Friday, then the American Athletic Conference championship game Dec. 4 against No. 24 Houston (10-1).

Cincinnati will move to the Big 12, and thus to the Power Five, later this decade.

The rumblers below Cincinnati included No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1), whose lone loss Oct. 2 against Cincinnati at home looked decisive much of the way, ending up at 24-13. “It continues to look better with every passing week,” Barta, the athletic director at Iowa, said on ESPN, pointing to how Notre Dame has taken to mastering its schedule of late.

Asked whether the committee weighed Cincinnati more intently against the top three or the three just below, Barta answered, essentially, both.

In between Cincinnati and Notre Dame sat No. 5 Michigan (10-1), which will play No. 2 Ohio State Saturday at noon in Ann Arbor, Mich., which will leave one of the two with two losses. No two-loss team has made the College Football Playoff, and only one two-loss team, LSU in 2007-08, has made either the playoff or the Bowl Championship Series system that preceded it. Yet Ohio State-Michigan won’t be the lone all-top-10 game of Saturday. In Stillwater, Okla., No. 7 Oklahoma State (10-1), with its dominating defense, will play No. 10 Oklahoma (10-1), with its penchant for narrow wins, and with the winner securing a place in the Big 12 championship game.


Baylor (9-2) took No. 8 partly because it blasted Oklahoma, 27-14, Nov. 13. And Mississippi (9-2) jumped in at No. 9 partly because two other teams got punished for Saturday sins. Those were Oregon, which tumbled from No. 3 all the way to No. 11 after a 38-7 horror at No. 19 Utah, and Michigan State, which dropped from No. 7 to No. 12 after that bad idea of traveling to Columbus.