Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU held on to the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, with Tennessee at No. 5 and LSU at No. 6.
With three of the top six teams and only three weeks left until Selection Sunday, the Southeastern Conference appears well positioned to put two teams in the CFP for the second straight season and third time overall.
Georgia (10-0) and LSU (8-2) have already clinched spots in the SEC title game. Tennessee (9-1) can do no better than 11-1.
“The committee believes there’s been separation with Georgia,” said selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan, who is also the North Carolina State athletic director.
Ohio State (10-0) and Michigan (10-0) will finish the regular season against each other the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
No. 7 USC (9-1), the Pac-12’s best and probably last hope to make the final four, is seventh. USC faces UCLA (8-2), the committee’s 16th-ranked team, on Saturday.
In another key Pac-12 game on Saturday, No. 10 Utah (8-2) visits No. 12 Oregon (8-2).
Alabama (8-2) is eighth, but the Crimson Tide has been eliminated from SEC championship contention and with two losses virtually eliminated from the CFP race.
Clemson (9-1) moved up to ninth, the highest-ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team.
The selection committee not only chooses the four teams that play for the national championship, it fills any at-large spot available in the four other New Year’s Six bowls.
That job won’t be too tough this season. With the semifinals being played in the Fiesta and Peach bowls, that leaves only a couple bids that have not already been spoken for because of conferences’ contracts with bowls.
The Rose Bowl gets either the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions or the next-highest-ranked team if that champion makes it into the semifinals.
If the Big Ten can get both Ohio State and Michigan into the CFP, it could open up a spot in Pasadena for No. 11 Penn State (8-2).
The Sugar Bowl similarly gets the SEC and Big 12 champions unless they are in the playoff and then it’s the next teams up in those conferences. For Georgia, Tennessee or LSU, the Sugar could be a consolation prize.
The next highest-ranked Big 12 team after TCU is Kansas State (7-3) at 15. TCU has locked up a spot in the conference title game, but its opponent is TBD.
TCU is the Big 12’s only CFP contender, so the Horned Frogs making it into the semifinals would pave the way for one of its conference rivals to land in New Orleans.
The Orange Bowl gets the ACC champion or the next highest-ranked team from that conference if the champ is in the playoff. Clemson and No. 13 North Carolina (9-1) are already set for the conference title game.
The Orange Bowl also gets the highest-ranked Big Ten or SEC team available, which puts Alabama in play depending on how many SEC teams make the CFP. Penn State will be in that mix if it wins out.
The Cotton Bowl has two at-large spots, but one of those is already reserved for the highest-ranked champion from a Group of Five conference.
No. 20 UCF (8-2) from the American Athletic Conference is currently the best-ranked non-Power Five team. No. 21 Tulane (8-2) and No. 25 Cincinnati (8-2) are also ranked from the AAC, setting up that conference to likely nab one spot in the Cotton Bowl.
The other Cotton Bowl bid is the one true at-large that can be filled by the highest-ranked team available regardless of conference.
The likely candidates: TCU if it were to fail to win the Big 12, Alabama or Penn State. Dark horses: A Pac-12 runner-up, North Carolina and No. 14 Mississippi (8-2).