Photos: LSU holds on to defeat Mississippi State 21-19 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) is congratulated after one of his three touchdowns by quarterback Brandon Harris (6) Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

The rankings that really matter are out, and LSU has made the cut – for now.

The Tigers are No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, landing inside the illustrious top 4 a few days before a critical showdown at Alabama, ranked No. 4 in the CFP’s rankings.

LSU, ranked fourth in both the AP and coaches polls, trails only No.1 Clemson in the 2015 debut of the CFP’s poll. No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 and one-loss Alabama round out the top four in the committee’s initial rankings.

The top four in the final poll on Dec. 6 advance to the College Football Playoff. The Cotton and Orange bowls serve as semifinals this year on New Year’s Eve. The championship game is in Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 11.

The 12-member CFP committee spent Tuesday compiling the rankings through a multi-step process from what’s been dubbed “Selection Central” – meeting rooms in the Gaylord Texan Resort, a plush and expansive venue in suburban Dallas. Rankings will be released each Tuesday until the final poll.

On its website, the committee lists the criteria for voting. It includes strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents and “other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

The Southeastern Conference had six teams make the CFP’s top 25. Joining Alabama and LSU were No. 10 Florida, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 19 Texas A&M, No. 20 Mississippi State,

The Tigers (7-0, 4-0) face the Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at 7 p.m. Saturday in a result sure to affect the CFP and SEC West standings. LSU travels to Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1) on Nov. 21 in another league showdown that could jostle things.

LSU’s stiff November schedule also includes home games against Arkansas (Nov. 14) and Texas A&M (Nov. 28). The Tigers have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the nation according to ESPN’s football power index. That same index gives LSU a 6 percent chance to win its remaining four games and an 18 percent shot at winning the conference.

The committee sent a message in ranking LSU No. 2: Just win, and you’re in.

That’s no easy task, starting with this week’s clash in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is the top one-loss team in the CFP poll, and the Tide started the week as a seven-point favorite over an undefeated, top-5 opponent.

The Tide is above six undefeated Power 5 teams in the CFP poll, including No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Michigan State, No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Iowa and No. 14 Oklahoma State.

No. 13 Memphis and No. 25 Houston have the inside tracks on claiming the one spot in the CFP’s access bowls designated for the highest ranked team not in a Power 5 conference. That’s the Peach and Fiesta this year.

The highest ranked SEC and Big 12 teams not in the playoff will meet in the Sugar Bowl, and the same goes for the Big Ten and Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta and Peach take that non-Power 5 squad and the next three highest ranked teams after all of the previous selections are made.