College Football Playoff rankings — LSU vs. Ohio State for No. 1, Oregon’s loss and more

During Saturday’s 28-17 victory against Penn State, Ohio State coach Ryan Day turned to one of his assistant coaches and said, “Maybe it’s been a little too easy at times.”

Ohio State, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring margin at 41.7 points per game, won by 11 points Saturday — its smallest margin of victory this season. It was a season-defining win that clinched the Big Ten’s East division and guaranteed the Buckeyes a spot in the conference championship game, but it might not have been enough to leap LSU for the No. 1 spot this coming week in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Why does that matter now?

Because it could mean the difference later between facing undefeated defending national champion Clemson in a semifinal — or the No. 4 team, which could now be Utah. Or Oklahoma. Or a Tua-less Alabama.

What we do know is that it won’t be Oregon.

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With one-loss Power 5 contenders Georgia, Alabama, Utah, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Baylor all winning Saturday, the debate over No. 1 should be the biggest question facing the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee this week, but Oregon’s loss at Arizona State opens the door wider for all of them on Selection Day.

The impact of the Ducks’ second loss will go beyond eliminating them from the playoff conversation. The Pac-12’s hopes now hinge on Utah, which should move up to the No. 6 spot this week. But there are two main reasons the Utes were behind Oregon in the first three CFP rankings: their loss to USC, and a nonconference schedule that included BYU (7-4), Northern Illinois (4-7) and Idaho State (3-9). And now the Utes will need to beat the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game and hope those two factors don’t prevent them from getting into the playoff ahead of Alabama or another one-loss conference champion such as Oklahoma.

With Penn State also losing, it’s important to see who the committee’s highest-ranked two-loss team is this week, because if Oregon falls out of the top 10, it would somewhat devalue a victory for Utah in the Pac-12 conference championship game. Would a Utah win over Oregon be better than a Baylor win over Oklahoma? Probably not after Saturday, but it might still carry more weight than an OU victory over Baylor.

Nobody will have a better opportunity to punctuate its playoff résumé in a conference title game than LSU. After a slow start, LSU hammered 2-9 Arkansas as expected and clinched the SEC West title, cementing its spot in the SEC championship game against No. 4 Georgia. If the Tigers beat the Bulldogs, that opens the No. 4 spot, and it could be a significant gap this season between No. 3 Clemson and the No. 4 team.

Which is why the No. 1 spot is important starting now.

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