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College Football Playoff rankings: Six things we learned

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Associated Press
J.T. Barrett's Buckeyes and Amari Cooper's Tide both received good news in the latest CFB Playoff rankings.

The College Football Playoff selection committee released its fourth set of rankings Tuesday, and while there was plenty of intrigue over which team would replace Mississippi State at No. 1, the 12-member selection committee also provided a bit of a surprise by not dropping the Bulldogs much.

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Here's what we learned from the latest rankings:

1. The top seed is Alabama's to lose

Nick Saban is back in a familiar setting: controlling his own destiny. The Crimson Tide are atop the SEC West and, after Tuesday, atop the polls. There are still some things to be sorted out, but it should come as no surprise that the top seed and a berth in the Sugar Bowl is Alabama's to lose.

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"With what we consider was a decisive win over No. 1 Mississippi State, we really think that -- combined with the body of their work -- put them into the No. 1 position," selection committee chairman Jeff Long said. "Alabama is the most complete team right now."

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Other teams might wind up with more top 25 wins, but in terms of passing the on-field test, few will come close to passing the Tide.

2. FSU is just playing for seeding

Another week, another set of complaints from Seminoles fans. They do have a case, as the only undefeated power conference team, but it might not be enough for them to move up much until the rest of the teams sort themselves out. At this point, though, Florida State is in the final four, and the committee has not seemed to waver from that the past month. That means all Florida State is doing over their next three games is playing for seeding. Win big and impressively, and there's a chance they can move up. Keep in mind that such a thing matters because a "home" game at the Sugar Bowl against Oregon would be more attractive to Jameis Winston's team than a game in New Orleans against Alabama.

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3. The Baylor/TCU debate rages on

The committee was watching Saturday and saw that TCU, which had been in the top four, struggled to beat lowly Kansas in Lawrence. That played a part in dropping the Horned Frogs, but not enough to push them out of striking distance of the final four. Here's the thing, though: They remained in front of Baylor once again, but the gap is narrowing. In four sets of top 25 rankings, the Horned Frogs' lead over the Bears has shrunk from six to two spots. That's not enough to where the committee will consider flipping the two because of Baylor's head-to-head win, but we're getting close to that day.

As long said, "TCU and Baylor's body of work isn't comparable enough for head-to-head to kick in."

4. Ohio State has real shot at the playoff

Long cited the impressive road wins the Buckeyes have grabbed the past few weeks, complete with Saturday's victory in snowy conditions against a Minnesota team that remains in the top 25, in explaining why Ohio State moved from No. 8 to No. 6. Because they've moved ahead of Baylor and would probably have the title of Big Ten champions, the Buckeyes still have a real shot at eventually passing Mississippi State, which wouldn't even win its division. The fact that Michigan State continues to creep toward the top 10 -- moving from No. 12 to No. 11 -- and that nearly a third of the league is ranked also bodes well. Add in the fact that Virginia Tech beat a ranked Duke team, and things are looking up in Columbus.

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Keep this in mind: Long talked about their work in the past few weeks, and there's no question the Buckeyes are the hot team in college football right now. That has mattered to the basketball selection committee in the NCAA Tournament, and we could be seeing our first signs that it's on the radar of the football committee, too.

5. Marshall will struggle to get bid

The conventional wisdom has been that Marshall would capture the Group of Five bid because it is undefeated and just passed its toughest regular-season test with a blowout of Rice. The Thundering Herd's terrible strength of schedule, however, has always been holding them back, and it appears they might still be suffering from that even more than we once thought. The committee is clearly penalizing Baylor for its non-conference slate, and with Marshall not making into the top 25 again, the Bears are being held back, too. 

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Long said Boise State, Colorado State, Memphis and Northern Illinois were also discussed for the Group of Five bid. The inclusion of Memphis, which can win the AAC, shows that the committee is looking for the most competitive team, regardless of resume. That could be bad news for Marshall, which might be undefeated but is probably worse than all of the others, save Northern Illinois. At this point it appears likely that whoever emerges as Mountain West champion -- Boise State is in line to -- should be considered the favorite to win the bid to a New Year's Six Bowl.

6. Plenty of teams coming after Mississippi State

A road loss to the now-No. 1 team was enough to keep the Bulldogs in the running to make the first ever playoff -- but perhaps not for long. The weak non-conference schedule and lack of top 25 wins will soon start to hurt the team's resume, and the difference between the Bulldogs, TCU, Ohio State, Baylor and even UCLA is starting to shrink considerably. Add in the fact that conference championships are supposed to be considered, and that MSU wouldn't even win its division at the moment, and one can see why the team could be in store for a drop. The swift rise by the Buckeyes in particular could be troublesome to the SEC getting a second team in the playoff.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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