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TCU climbs to No. 6 in CFP rankings, enhances its playoff hopes

Election Day took its toll on a handful of candidates Tuesday, including one anticipated deletion from last week’s projected pool of participants in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But aside from plugging in Oregon at the pivotal No. 4 spot in this week’s updated rankings, CFP officials did nothing to shake up their projected bracket after their second round of weekly discussions. The top three teams remained the same as last week: No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Auburn.

One mild tweak fell in favor of No. 6 TCU (7-1, 4-1 Big 12), which climbed one spot in this week’s rankings to set up Saturday’s high-profile matchup against No. 7 Kansas State (7-1, 5-0) at Amon G. Carter Stadium (6:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4). Saturday’s winner in Fort Worth clearly becomes the Big 12 team with the best chance to play itself into the CFP’s inaugural four-team playoff bracket.

That message resonated loud and clear during Tuesday’s telecast and during a teleconference with Jeff Long, the CFP selection committee chairman, following two days of deliberations in Grapevine. During the ESPN telecast, TCU received support from analysts David Pollack and Danny Kanell to pass No. 5 Alabama (7-1) in the rankings because of a greater number of high-profile victories at this point in the season.

“I’m surprised TCU is not ahead of Alabama now,” Kanell said.

But the Horned Frogs are not, Long said, because of the eyeball test. During the telecast, Long said committee members “looked at the tape and evaluated the play of those teams” in comparison to one another.

“At the end of the day, we felt like Alabama, at this point, is a better team and deserves a higher rank,” Long said.

During the teleconference, Long clarified that committee members broke down videotapes of TCU and Alabama on their own but arrived at this week’s meetings with notes and opinions from those comparisons.

“We talked about what we saw in our evaluations. We didn’t pull up film in the room at this time,” Long said.

What committee members did do is give No. 12 Baylor (7-1, 4-1) its second cold slap in as many weeks. Although the Bears climbed one spot from last week’s perch, Baylor remains behind No. 11 Ole Miss (7-2), which fell seven places from the No. 4 spot after a 35-31 loss to Auburn.

Selection committee members have openly criticized the Bears’ soft nonconference schedule, and placing Baylor behind a two-loss team from the SEC is not a good sign for the Bears’ playoff hopes unless some chaos occurs in the next month.

The bright side for Baylor, and every other school disappointed by Tuesday’s results, is that chaos will arrive Saturday. It’s inevitable.

Next week’s rankings will feature significant movement after six statement games are played Saturday between ranked opponents: No. 7 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU; No. 12 Baylor at No. 15 Oklahoma (6-2, 3-2); No. 14 Ohio State (7-1) at No. 8 Michigan State (7-1); No. 5 Alabama (7-1) at No. 16 LSU (7-2); No. 10 Notre Dame (7-1) at No. 9 Arizona State (7-1); and No. 4 Oregon (8-1) at No. 17 Utah (6-2).

Among Tuesday’s biggest movers were Kansas State, which climbed two spots to pass Michigan State — the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten — and Arizona State, which moved up five spots. Both schools collected notable victories last week, with K-State pounding Oklahoma State 48-14 and Arizona State outlasting No. 17 Utah 19-16.

Long said K-State’s leapfrog of Michigan State, which was idle last week, “was more about K-State adding to its body of work” with a dominant victory over a good team than it was about a perceived flaw with Michigan State. But the Spartans will be an interesting case study.

As things stand, Michigan State is the CFP’s highest-ranked team without a victory over a top-10 opponent. Michigan State fell to Oregon 46-27 in its only matchup against a top-10 foe this season. In the underachieving Big Ten, MSU probably will not face another top-10 opponent between now and Dec. 7, the day the bracket is finalized.

Next week, it will be fascinating to see how the Spartans are rewarded — or limited — by committee members if they beat Ohio State, the only ranked opponent left on MSU’s regular-season schedule.

In terms of Tuesday’s developments, the message to Big 12 fans is to pay attention to Saturday’s game in Fort Worth. The TCU-Kansas State winner will become the league team with the inside track to a playoff berth in December. And that team will be well-positioned to pull it off if that team can win its remaining games.

CFP Top 10

1. Mississippi State 8-0
2. Florida State 8-0
3. Auburn 7-1
4. Oregon 8-1
5. Alabama 7-1
6. TCU 7-1
7. Kansas State 7-1
8. Michigan State 7-1
9. Arizona State 7-1
10. Notre Dame 7-1
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