The stage has been set. With conference championships to come, the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings continue to center on the eight teams with any hope of reaching the national semifinals.
Now we wait.
No. 1 Georgia plays No. 8 Alabama for the SEC championship. No. 3 Washington has a rematch with No. 5 Oregon to decide the final Pac-12 championship. No. 2 Michigan plays No. 16 Iowa to decide the Big Ten. No. 4 Florida State looks to win the ACC and complete an unbeaten regular season against No. 14 Louisville.
At some point after midnight on Sunday, we'll know exactly what teams the committee will unveil atop the final rankings. Barring an unexpected barrage of upsets, the playoff will put forth perhaps the most star-studded, accomplished field in the history of the four-team format.
Here are the winners and losers from the second-to-last playoff rankings of the year:
The top five (and No. 8)
While the race for the national semifinals does go eight teams deep, only six members of this elite group can say the following: win and we're in. This begins with Georgia, Michigan, Washington and Florida State, presenting the committee with the chance to put forth an undefeated-only playoff field. Oregon is also in with a win against the Huskies. But you can't make the same case for No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Texas, which will need help to crack the top four — the Buckeyes in particular. Then there's No. 8 Alabama, which didn't budge in the rankings after a miraculous Iron Bowl win against Auburn and can make a late-in-the-day leap with an SEC championship.
That SMU didn't land in the rankings despite completing an unbeaten run through American play qualifies as good news for No. 24 Liberty. It's been a banner, borderline unforgettable year under new coach Jamey Chadwell, who inherited one heck of a foundation from current Auburn coach Hugh Freeze and led the Flames to a perfect march into the Conference USA championship game against New Mexico State. Beating the Aggies for the second time this season would move the needle for the committee, especially after New Mexico State went into Auburn this month and dealt Freeze's new team an epically embarrassing 21-point defeat. But don't look for the good news to continue: Liberty won't move ahead of Tulane should the Green Wave take home another AAC crown and will almost certainly be leapfrogged in the final rankings by SMU should the Mustangs score the win.
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After capping the year with a rout of Arkansas, the only thing Missouri can do now is wait to see how the committee maps out the New Year's Six. In specific, the Tigers are keeping tabs on how they compare to one team in particular, Mississippi, since the Rebels are the other two-loss SEC team in the mix to join the loser of Georgia and Alabama in one of these major bowls. Good news: Missouri landed at No. 9 for the third week in a row while the Rebels moved up two spots to No. 11. Barring a late change of heart from the committee, the Tigers will find a home in the New Year's Six slate.
The Group of Five
The committee continues to include No. 21 Tennessee, for some reason, has brought No. 23 Clemson back into the rankings and placed Kansas State at No. 25 after the Wildcats' defensive meltdown in a loss to Iowa State. (That they stayed in the rankings is more good news for Missouri.) Doing so has come at the cost of overlooking a number of deserving teams from the Group of Five, beginning with SMU. Other teams with an argument include Toledo, which lost a close one to Illinois in September but has been rolling since, and Troy, winners of nine in a row.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings winners, losers: Top five looks good