CFP Rankings: Could Michigan State come in as the 2-seed?

The Spartans at No. 2? Yeah?

The Spartans at No. 2? Yeah?
Photo: Getty Images

Tonight at 7 p.m. ET, the first official rankings for the College Football Playoff will be announced. We can all safely assume that Georgia will hold the top spot, but the second spot is where things start to get interesting. There are several teams who could make an argument for the two-seed.


The first that comes to mind is obviously Cincinnati. The Bearcats are number two in the national polls and have a win over another top-10 team, Notre Dame. However, Cincinnati’s underwhelming performances against Tulane and Navy over the last two weeks could push them into the three or four-seed in this week’s rankings.

The other schools vying for the two-seed are Michigan State, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. Only two of those schools are undefeated — Oklahoma and Michigan State. While Oklahoma has seen its fair share of close games at the hands of unranked teams like…well, everybody — Tulane, West Virginia, Nebraska, Kansas State, Texas, and Kansas — Michigan State has only seen two such situations: Nebraska and Indiana.

The Spartans might have a legitimate shot at the second spot in tonight’s rankings, despite placing outside the top-four in the AP polls. Why? Well, unlike Oklahoma who has yet to play a single team currently ranked in the AP polls, Michigan State just won in thrilling fashion against one of the top teams in the nation. Not only was it a solid win that saw Sparty comeback after being down nine at the half and eight going into the fourth quarter, but it also happened this past weekend. That sort of recency bias could play major factors in the CFP committee’s decisions.

As I said earlier, Cincinnati hasn’t looked capable of beating everyone over the last few weeks, and while they looked more impressive in their top-ten win this season, that was a month ago. That’s like 10 years in committee time. It’s a perfect storm brewing for Mel Tucker’s squad to sneak into the top-two.

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Not to mention that the committee hasn’t exactly been the kindest to non-Power 5 schools in the past. I don’t have to remind everyone what happened with UCF in 2017, but I’m not here to try to change anyone’s mind on that matter. To be fair, Cincinnati’s schedule has been more difficult than UCF’s was that season. UCF did have three top-25 wins that season, but didn’t have a single top-20 win, and as we all know, one top-10 win is worth five top-25 wins. Michigan State has had a tougher schedule than the Bearcats though. Couple that with the fact that the Spartans lead Cincinnati in total offense and have a dark horse Heisman candidate in Kenneth Walker (yeah, I said it), and there’s a pretty compelling argument to be made for Sparty being ranked ahead of Cincinnati.

I’m not saying that I believe the Spartans are a better team than Cincinnati. The Bearcats boast an overwhelming defense and a more well-rounded offense than the Spartans. They also pass the eye test with much more consistency. I’m just saying that the argument can be made for Michigan State to be ranked higher, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan State finds themselves ranked number-two in the CFP poll later tonight.



  1. Georgia
  2. Michigan St.
  3. Cincinnati
  4. ???????

As much as I’d like to put Oklahoma, Oregon, or Ohio State in that fourth spot over Alabama. The CFP committee will never put a team with the same record as Alabama over Alabama, unless they beat Alabama head-to-head. The case can be made for Oklahoma, but their lack of consistency will likely doom them. They need a convincing win over a strong opponent to warrant a top-four ranking from the committee, and right now, they don’t have one. The committee also wants to keep Alabama in the playoff loop. Nick Saban is a bigger and more recognizable brand nationally than Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley. The legacy of Alabama is undeniable and unless there’s an indisputable reason to leave Alabama out of the playoff, the committee will keep the Crimson Tide there for the sake of marketing.


Ohio State and Oregon will likely stay at 6 and 7. With Oregon’s head-to-head win over the Buckeyes though, it seems very likely that the Ducks jump the Buckeyes in the CFP rankings, despite being one spot behind them in the AP polls.


Obviously, there’s still a lot of season left, and if you think about it. As long as every team I mentioned above stays undefeated, Alabama will have a really difficult time getting into the playoff, as they’d have to face Georgia in the SEC title game. Best-case scenario for teams on the outside looking in is that Alabama loses that game, pushing them to two losses on the season. If Alabama wins though, it’ll probably remain the same four teams I just stated.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma gets the nod this week over Michigan State. They are ranked higher in the AP Poll after all. However, I feel like the Sooners’ string of close games is catching up to them. They’re hanging on to an undefeated season by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins, and the committee will certainly take that into account when they announce their rankings tonight.

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