Reading between the lines of this week’s College Football Playoff ranking is easy if you try. The selection committee set up the chess moves for Sunday’s final ranking by positioning schools to protect decisions it might have to make. It’s best to read the ranking from the bottom up. The committee is protecting Alabama’s weak SOS resume by keeping FOUR-loss Mississippi State at No. 23 even after a loss to Ole Miss. The more intriguing move was propping Fresno State to No. 25 despite the fact the Bulldogs are not ranked in the AP or USA Today indexes and are ranked, get this, No. 56 in the latest Sagarin Ratings. Using other indexes once used in the BCS system, Fresno State (9-3) is ranked 35 in the Colley Matrix, 39 in Massey and 41 in Anderson-Hester.  Fresno State is important to Alabama, however, because it lost to the Crimson Tide this year. If the committee wants to justify Alabama making the playoff without winning its division, it can say it beat three ranked teams—LSU, Mississippi State, Fresno State–in the current CFP top-25. See? Funny how things change: Two months ago, scheduling Fresno State was being used against Washington and Alabama. But that was before Fresno got on a hot streak and started knocking off the San Diego States and Boise States of the world.  Another quagmire facing the committee is what happens if No. 6 Georgia beats No. 2 Auburn in the SEC title game? How far does Auburn drop?  Can Auburn possibly dip below No. 5 Alabama in the final ranking? Watch out if Auburn loses a close game and falls below Alabama and the SEC gets two teams in the playoff. And one of those teams is NOT Auburn. Tiger fans will go berserk considering the Tigers handily defeated Georgia AND Alabama in the regular season. USC fans have been told by everyone their playoff hopes are doomed. Fair enough. The Trojans do have to jump six spots this weekend from No. 10 to get in. There is a path, though, if TCU defeats Oklahoma in the Big 12 title and USC scores a decisive win over Stanford. Rankman, thanks in part to generous contributions from viewers like you, will be in Santa Clara on Friday to cover the Pac 12 championship game. Now on to this week’s Rankming ranking:

  

1: Auburn (10-2): School levied $250,000 fine and additional landscaping fees after students break through hedges and storm the top spot of this week’s ranking.  (4)

2: Clemson (11-1): Tigers of 2016 and Canes of 2017 will gather before ACC title game to discuss inconsequential defeats to Pittsburgh.  (3)

3: Oklahoma (11-1): Mayfield said it was “just the competitor in me” that caused him to push an old lady out of the blue-light special line at Kmart. (5)

4: Wisconsin (12-0): Players credit increased team speed to new goat-milk shakes provided by Rebecca of Hornibrook’s Farm. (6) The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.