Difficult questions about where to rank Tennessee and how to compare Southern California and Clemson makes this the most challenging USA TODAY Sports NCAA Re-Rank 1-131 of the regular season, at least when it comes to splitting hairs between the many one- and two-loss teams outside the top four.
This top four faced tough tests but survived to move one step closer to the College Football Playoff. But the Volunteers’ defensive collapse and loss to South Carolina creates a new debate at No. 5.
The re-rank went with Clemson over USC, citing the Tigers’ deeper list of quality wins and strong performances since losing to Notre Dame. The thin gap between these two signals the debate that could unfold should the Tigers and Trojans be battling for the fourth spot in the playoff field after Michigan and Ohio State meet this Saturday.
And then there’s the issue of how to treat the Volunteers.
Recent results always carry additional weight, so it’s hard to overlook the 63-38 loss to the Gamecocks. At the same time, LSU and Alabama posted meaningless wins against Alabama-Birmingham and Austin Peay, respectively.
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Most importantly, Tennessee beat both teams. The Volunteers took the shootout against Alabama but was miles better than LSU in last month’s 40-13 win.
In the end, getting destroyed by South Carolina doesn’t outweigh those head-to-head wins when all three teams are 9-2 heading into the final Saturday before conference championship games.
Elsewhere in the rankings, Texas leaps to No. 25 after handling Kansas, North Carolina drops seven spots to No. 18 after falling to Georgia Tech and Iowa jumps 11 spots to No. 34 after topping Minnesota to take control of the Big Ten West.