Five takeaways from the first College Football Playoff rankings, which had No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Notre Dame in the initial field while No. 5 Michigan, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 8 Washington State, No. 9 Kentucky and No. 10 Ohio State are on the outside looking in.
Where CFP controversy could happen
We tend to root for chaos here. And it’s easy to see a hair-pulling debate forming itself on the fringes of College Football Playoff standings. If LSU loses at home to Alabama this weekend, they’ll have two losses and likely exit the conversation. (Bad news for LSU is that no team ranked No. 3 in the initial rankings have reached the playoff.) So what if No. 4 Notre Dame has a loss and No. 5 Michigan wins the Big Ten title and its only loss is to Notre Dame? That would be a debate for the ages. The other potential thorny scenario is if LSU wins at home against Alabama on Saturday. Could Alabama not go to the SEC title game and lack a top-15 victory and still reach the College Football Playoff? (You can already hear the grumbling from every other corner of the country.)
Why Alabama’s No. 1 ranking could matter
The College Football Playoff committee recognizes greatness when it sees it. Just like the committee picked Alabama last season over Big Ten champion Ohio State, they slid the Crimson Tide into the top spot despite a generally weak schedule. With first-year starter Tua Tagovailoa under center, Alabama has scored on 41 of the 61 drives that he’s led. He’s yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter. Alabama’s only win over a ranked team came against Texas A&M, but they’ve been consistently dominant enough to earn that top spot. Alabama will cruise home to a playoff spot if they remain undefeated. Where this spot should be comforting to Crimson Tide fans is if they trip up at LSU this weekend. This top spot should give them the cushion to still make the playoff if LSU wins the SEC West and goes on to win the SEC title.
Why teams shouldn’t panic over first CFP rankings
These don’t really matter. This is an ESPN-fueled ratings grab on a sleepy Tuesday, an ancillary benefit of its billion-dollar investment.
Many of the issues folks have screamed about in the past appear laughable in retrospect. Recall that the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings in 2014 featured No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss in the top four. In 2015, LSU was No. 2. In 2016, it was No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Texas A&M. None have reached the College Football Playoff. These are designed for clicks, irrational Finebaum callers and, thankfully, podcast fodder. (We’ll provide plenty of that tomorrow.)
Overall, the erstwhile Ralph Russo of the AP reports that eight of the teams in the first four seasons to make the initial top four didn’t reach the playoff. In other words, there’s a lot of golf left to play.
Should Pac-12 be happy?
The Pac-12 got a mixed bag of news. The league has been plagued by both an officiating scandal this season and now is nearly absent from the College Football Playoff standings. Only No. 15 Utah and No. 8 Washington State are in the standings for the Pac-12. The smidge of good news for the Cougars is that there’s a chance if they win the rest of their games and beat Utah in the Pac-12 title game they could sneak into the top four with some chaos in front of them.
“The committee was impressed with [Washington State’s] work,” committee chair Rob Mullens said, noting a close loss at USC. The absence of Washington, Oregon and Stanford from the rankings hurts the overall perception of the conference, however. The biggest factor working against Washington State will be its non-conference schedule, as they played Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington outside the league. Even as a one-loss conference champion, that will haunt them in the final conversation.
Where Central Florida fits into playoff conversation
UCF has a long way to go at No. 12. They have a 20-game win streak, including 7-0 this season. (They had a game at North Carolina cancelled because of a hurricane.) The good news for UCF is that it’s starting five slots higher than it did last season. The Knights are essentially outside the conversation right now with no marquee games to help catapult them into the conversation. UCF proved last season they could play with strong teams, as they beat up SEC West champion Auburn in the Peach Bowl. But for now, it’s difficult to see a road into the top four for them to reach the league title game. Mullens noted the lack of quality competition for UCF. That will start to change on Thursday when they host Temple (5-3).
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