A week ago, head-to-head results was the defining thread in the debut College Football Playoff rankings. That was again the case in parts of this week’s Top 25, including near the very top: No. 3 Oregon moved up and remained in front of No. 4 Ohio State thanks entirely to the Ducks’ non-conference win in Columbus.

Just behind this pair, however, the playoff selection committee reversed that logic. Despite beating Michigan late last month and both teams holding one loss, No. 7 Michigan State came in behind the No. 6 Wolverines.

That choice is by far the most controversial of the young playoff debate, dwarfing any outrage over Cincinnati’s treatment as the best team from the Group of Five. But the committee actually gave Cincinnati a boost despite last weekend’s ugly win against Tulsa, moving the Bearcats up one spot to No. 5.

Coming in being their bitter rivals puts the Spartans atop the winners and losers from the second rankings of 2021:


Oklahoma State

The Cowboys moved up one spot to No. 10 and remained ahead of two-loss Texas A&M. The selection committee has historically placed a premium on teams that do one thing well while overlooking any surrounding flaws, and in this case value an elite Oklahoma State defense — this group has given up only a pair of field goals in its last two games — despite the team’s inconsistency and general ineffectiveness on offense. The Cowboys will be favored in games against TCU and Texas Tech before facing Oklahoma on Nov. 27, with the possibility the two rematch one week later in the Big 12 championship game.

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Texas-San Antonio

One week later, the committee got around to recognizing one of just four unbeaten teams in the FBS. Conference USA favorite UTSA, fresh off a 44-23 win at UTEP, debuted at No. 23 as several Power Five teams dropped from the rankings. Getting some love from the committee is the first step in the push to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl, even if the Roadrunners have no chance at leaping ahead of Cincinnati and would very likely be jumped by Houston or SMU, should one of those teams win the American with two or fewer losses. Still, to land in this week’s rankings represents a milestone for the program and second-year coach Jeff Traylor, who was named in connection with openings at Texas Tech and TCU but signed a contract extension to keep him in San Antonio for the foreseeable future.


Michigan State coach Mel Tucker

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker

Michigan State

Committee chair Gary Barta, the athletics director at Iowa, said on Tuesday that “Michigan, statistically, is probably a more complete team” that Michigan State, even if recent events tell us that Michigan State is a more complete team by exactly four points.

While the playoff committee makes sure to tell us that ranking teams “is an art, not a science,” the head-to-head result between comparable teams is one of the primary protocols used by the committee, joining conference championships won, strength of schedule and outcomes against common opponents.

Obviously, conference championships can’t be used as a data point until December. Results against common opponents may slightly favor Michigan, which beat Indiana by 22 points on Saturday, as one example, after the Spartans struggled against the Hoosiers in a 20-15 win. The strength of schedule metric may again favor Michigan, if only a bit, since the Spartans do have four Power Five road wins to the Wolverines’ two.

The problem is with the committee’s lack of consistency in weighing head-to-head tiebreakers and the willingness to overlook the Spartans’ edge in that key metric. Not that it matters: Michigan State’s path to the top four requires winning out, and doing so would leave the Spartans in front of the rival Wolverines with room to spare.


Cincinnati did move up in the rankings, making it hard to complain. As was the case last week, the bigger concern is the committee’s lack of affection for the other top teams in the American. While SMU had no shot at the Top 25 after its second straight loss, Houston was left out of the rankings despite owning first place in the conference standings. Will games against Temple, Memphis and Connecticut move the needle? If the fourth spot comes down to one-loss Oregon, one-loss Oklahoma and unbeaten Cincinnati, getting the Cougars into the rankings in time for the conference title game in early December would be enormously beneficial for the Bearcats’ chances.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings winners and losers includes Spartans

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