Central Florida's ascent livens up an otherwise stagnant playoff rankings

Alabama head coach Nick Saban Marvin Gentry / USA TODAY Sports

November gridlock persisted this week when the College Football Playoff rankings kept a top eight identical to last week, which was a week in which it kept the top 10 identical to the previous week. Only the first appearance in the top 10 by any Group of Five program, with UCF's bob from No. 11 to No. 9, provided any curious bubbling.

No. 1 Alabama (11-0), No. 2 Clemson (11-0), No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) and No. 4 Michigan (10-1) remained in the top four spots aspiring toward the four-team playoff to be announced on Sunday, Dec. 2. Just beneath those lurked No. 5 Georgia (10-1). The 13-member selection committee, in its weekly meetings in Grapevine, Tex., discussed transposing Alabama and Clemson but decided against, chairman Rob Mullens said, but did not include Notre Dame into that discussion even though the Fighting Irish have the strongest win in the country this season (over No. 4 Michigan) plus three other wins against top-25 teams.

"When you look at those, we see Alabama and Clemson, through Week 12, as more complete teams, with strengths on both sides of the ball," said Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, describing the Alabama-Clemson discussion as ongoing and weeks-long. Alabama has appeared in the top four in 25 of the 29 rankings so far during the five seasons of the College Football Playoff concept, with Clemson appearing in 22 and nobody else appearing more than eight times.

After the top five came perhaps a mini-controversy when No. 8 Washington State (10-1), which continued to gather note as a formidable side when it ran up a 55-14 halftime lead on a 5-5 Arizona team toward a 69-28 win last Saturday night, remained in the spot it has held for all four times this season. The committee left the Cougars behind No. 6 Oklahoma (10-1) and No. 7 LSU (9-2).

The committee members - five athletic directors, five former coaches, one university president, one former player and one journalist - left Oklahoma at No. 6 even after it finished a three-game run in which it has allowed 46 points to Texas Tech, 47 to Oklahoma State and 40 to Kansas. Oklahoma ranks No. 87 in total defense, No. 78 in yards-per-play defense and No. 86 in scoring defense.

LSU remained ahead of Washington State for the Tigers' stout collection of victims, which include No. 5 Georgia, set against the Cougars' schedule. In non-conference games, LSU scheduled and defeated Miami (Fla.), which has struggled at 6-5, but which is a Power Five member, unlike the three non-conference conquests of Washington State (Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington). Washington State will get a chance at masking that shortcoming Friday when it gets a visit from No. 16 Washington (8-3) in the annual Apple Cup fracas.

Before this season, no team from the Group of Five, the sport's second tier, had exceeded No. 12 in any of the 25 rankings across the first four seasons. UCF bucked that last week when it inched from No. 12 to No. 11. Then, after its 38-13 blasting of then-No. 24 Cincinnati on Saturday night, the Knights leapfrogged Ohio State to take up the No. 9 spot vacated by West Virginia, which slid only to No. 13 after its 41-31 lead turned into a 45-41 loss at Oklahoma State. No. 13 West Virginia (8-2) plays Oklahoma on Friday in Morgantown.

Left at No. 10 was Ohio State (10-1), which clung to a 52-51 overtime win at Maryland when the latter missed a two-point-conversion pass to end a long afternoon of play. Much like Oklahoma, the Buckeyes suffer from some eyesore defensive numbers, ranked No. 73 total, No. 92 in yards-per-play allowed and No. 52 in scoring. "While UCF may not have the depth of talent that Ohio State has," Mullens said, "the committee felt they're playing more as an all-around team than Ohio State, after Week 12."

Week 13, of course, will bring Ohio State the chance at upward mobility when No. 4 Michigan arrives in Columbus.

As to why the committee continues to rank Oklahoma at No. 6 and Ohio State at No. 10 when the two share traits of runaway offense (Nos. 1 and 2 in total yardage per game) and troubled defense, Mullens said of Oklahoma, "Their only loss is to a ranked Texas team (No. 14) on a neutral site." Ohio State's only loss occurred at Purdue (5-6), by a 49-20 blowout.

Notable with the list Tuesday was its number of four-loss teams - five - when, at this stage last season, there were none. That exemplifies the top-heaviness of the sport this season, the large gap from the primo contenders to the others ranked, and the difficulty some poll voters have had in finding obvious teams to fill out lists.

Still, where the Associated Press and coaches' polls released on Sunday included Army at Nos. 23 and 24, respectively, the Knights (9-2) did not make a debut in the committee's top 25. That left Navy as the only service academy thus far to appear on the list, as it did for five weeks in 2015 (peaking at No. 15) and for three weeks in 2016 (peaking at No. 19).