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Selection committee clears path for Stanford (or Utah?) to playoff

Kevin Hogan and Stanford could be looking at top-10 matchups against Notre Dame and Utah to end the season. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff Selection committee winked at Stanford when the second iteration of its rankings were revealed Tuesday evening. That wink essentially said, "We see you Stanford. We've got a pretty good idea of how to measure you for a playoff spot."

How so?

Well, for one, the committee made clear that one loss doesn't a season ruin. It ranked Alabama No. 2, ahead of four unbeaten Power 5 teams. The Crimson Tide is getting a pass for its home loss to a mediocre Ole Miss team because: 1. The Crimson Tide have looked good in every other game of a rugged schedule, including a dominant win over previously unbeaten LSU; and, 2. Alabama is Alabama.

But that's not the biggest news. The biggest news is Notre Dame jumping one spot to No. 4. The Fighting Irish are getting special credit for their lone defeat coming in a tight game at No. 1 Clemson.

While Stanford, which climbed from No. 11 to No. 7 after dominating Colorado, almost certainly will need to fret potential unbeaten champions from the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, the Cardinal's path is set up for success.

That's because Stanford will pay Notre Dame in its regular-season finale. If the Irish enter that game still ranked in the top four, the opportunity for the Cardinal will be obvious, and it could cement its case with a win in the Pac-12 championship game, an opportunity to impress that the Big 12 won't have.

At this point, the title game would be against Utah, which moved up from 12th to 10th this week.

Let's not forget the Utes, who also are in the picture should they win out. They have one more quality regular-season game -- Nov. 21 vs. No. 19 UCLA -- and obviously the Pac-12 title game. While it feels as if the Utes need more chaos ahead of them than Stanford, Utah would be pretty salty at 12-1 with a win over Michigan on its résumé.

What Stanford and Utah fans should be rooting for is for undefeated teams to lose. No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Iowa could meet in the Big Ten title game, and if the winner is undefeated it would almost certainly end up in the playoff, though Iowa's pastry-soft schedule could be an issue. The Buckeyes conclude their season against Michigan State and Michigan, so their path is far more difficult.

Speaking of pastry-soft schedules, Baylor sits at No. 6 with all of its hard work remaining, starting with a date against Oklahoma on Saturday. The Bears then visit unbeaten Oklahoma State the next weekend. And then they're at TCU on Nov. 27.

Stanford, Utah: You don't want an undefeated Big 12 champion. But a once-beaten Big 12 champ will lose out to a once-beaten Pac-12 team.

Last year, the top 4 in the second iteration of the rankings were: 1. Mississippi State; 2. Florida State; 3. Auburn; 4. Oregon. That was half-right and a whole lot wrong, as Mississippi State and Auburn were headed for a tumble from their overrated perches.

The SEC boost is unlikely to be a problem for Stanford. At most, only one SEC team is going to end up in the playoff.

It's the other three Power 5 conferences that are the enemy now. They need blemished champions to open things up for the Pac-12.