The College Football Playoff Committee waited until late in the game to spring the rankings equivalent of a trick play.
In a surprising move Tuesday the committee revealed that it dropped 12-0 Florida State, the nation’s only remaining unbeaten team, from No. 3 to No. 4 and moved 10-1 TCU up from No. 4 to No. 3.
Alabama (11-1) remained No. 1 while Oregon (11-1) stayed at No. 2 heading into college football’s conference championship weekend.
Bama plays No. 16 Missouri (10-2) Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta, while Oregon faces No. 7 Arizona (10-2) Friday in the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara, California.
The final CFP rankings and bowl parings will be released Sunday.
If the season ended now, Alabama and Florida State would meet Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Oregon and TCU would meet earlier that day in the Rose Bowl.
A CFP rule requires the No. 1 team to play closest to home.
The Sugar and Rose bowl winners will meet in the CFP Championship Game, Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
LSU (8-4) returned to the rankings at No. 24 after its season-ending win Thursday at Texas A&M.
Tuesday’s CFP rankings appeared to do three things:
—1. It fanned the flames of the fledgling CFP’s biggest controversy — why TCU is ahead of Big 12 co-leader Baylor though the No. 6-ranked Bears beat the Horned Frogs 61-58.
“TCU has five wins over teams with .500 records and above,” said Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, chairman of the CFP committee. “Baylor has three. We believe TCU is better.”
—2. Now at No. 3, it appears TCU is a virtual lock for a semifinal considering it closes the regular season Saturday at home against 2-9 Iowa State.
“We’re waiting on the results now,” Long said. “We don’t project out.”
—3. Florida State has stayed perfect by winning imperfectly in squeaker after squeaker — six victories decided by six points or less, including three straight.
Now it appears that if the Seminoles fall Saturday to No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, FSU could drop out of the playoffs and be replaced by another one-loss team.
“The committee thought long and hard about Florida Sate with its important game Saturday against Georgia Tech,” Long said. “We pay attention to the season-long body of work.”
The team that could eclipse FSU is No. 5 Ohio State (11-1), which plays No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2) Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Buckeyes hopes ride on the shoulder pads of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, who replaced injured J.T. Barrett on Saturday.
“Injuries continue to be a key consideration but the injury to J.T. Barrett didn’t affect this week’s rankings,” Long said.
Mississippi State (10-2) is No. 10 after losing to Ole Miss (9-3), which comes in at No. 12. Again, Long cited body of work for leaving the Bulldogs ahead of the Rebels.
Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss are in position to earn spots in two of the other four CFP bowls: Cotton, Peach, Orange and Fiesta. If both get in, that could elevate LSU’s bowl prospects.
Currently, the Tigers appear headed most likely to the Texas Bowl (Dec. 29 in Houston) or the Taxslayer Bowl (Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida).
Parings for those bowls will be announced Sunday afternoon.