Inaugural CFP rankings frightful for three Power Five conferences

It’s early. Remember that. Things will change.

But it’s never too early for fan bases to panic when it comes to the College Football Playoff rankings. And there are three entire conferences that had to have a collective twinge of trepidation when the selection committee’s first top 25 was revealed Tuesday night.

The Big 12 is on the outside looking in. The Big Ten is on the outside looking in. The Pac-12 is on the outside looking in.

So who is on the inside looking out? The Southeastern Conference, times two, with No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama. An independent, in No. 3 Notre Dame. And the Atlantic Coast Conference, thanks to defending national champion Clemson, at No. 4.

College football’s privileged class, the Power Five conferences, are accustomed to getting their way. In each of the previous three years of the playoff, four of those leagues have been represented in the four-team bracket. How would the lead pack of pursuers – No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 8 TCU – like seeing three conferences left out of the party?

Chris Petersen, Urban Meyer, Lincoln Riley and James Franklin are on the outside of the playoff looking in at the moment. (Getty)
Chris Petersen, Urban Meyer, Lincoln Riley and James Franklin are on the outside of the playoff looking in at the moment. (Getty)

It could happen, though it would require a lot of chalk the rest of the way.

If both undefeated SEC teams get in – the league champion at 13-0 and its runner-up at 12-1, after a competitive championship game – that would blow a few gaskets. (Remember that one of the biggest catalysts for the creation of the playoff was the 2011 BCS Championship Game that pitted SEC teams Alabama and LSU against one another, to the exclusion of the rest of America.) If independent Notre Dame gets in, with its own scheduling philosophy and own TV network and the clout to tell every league that desired it “no thanks,” that would blow a few gaskets as well.

And if both those things happen in the same year? If commissioners Jim Delany and Bob Bowlsby and Larry Scott are left out of the ultimate party at the expense of the cocky SEC and arrogant Fighting Irish? The blown gaskets could number in the gazillions.

Perhaps the committee simply cribbed this week’s Forde-Yard Dash rankings, which are identical Nos. 1-7. But it’s more likely that this esteemed collection of individuals had its own firm grasp on which wins to weigh more, how to view losses and weighing overall strength of schedule.

In other words, yes, the committee got it absolutely right in its first appraisal of this 2017 season to date.

Again, things can and will change. But the most controversial potential inclusions in the playoff (two from the SEC plus Notre Dame) not only are already in position, but they all have enough big-time games remaining to justify staying there.

Top-ranked Georgia still has a road game remaining against No. 14 Auburn, and then the theoretical SEC championship game against No. 2 Alabama. That’s after already beating No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 16 Mississippi State.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide has at least two games left against teams in the CFP Top 25: No. 19 LSU this week and No. 14 Auburn on Nov. 25. Take care of business and there would be that SEC title game clash with Georgia.

(‘Bama might need to win them all, because it has zero wins over the current CFP Top 25. For the moment, Georgia is better positioned to withstand an SEC championship loss and still have the résumé for inclusion.)

And third-ranked Notre Dame still has games left against No. 10 Miami and No. 21 Stanford, both on the road. The Irish already have beaten No. 24 Michigan State, No. 20 North Carolina State and No. 17 USC, and have the one-point loss to Georgia.

Among the top four, Clemson is the one that should be looking over its shoulder. The Tigers face No. 20 North Carolina State this Saturday, but that’s the only remaining ranked opponent until a potential Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

Meanwhile, fifth-ranked Oklahoma has two remaining opponents currently in the CFP top 11: No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday and No. 8 TCU the following weekend. Win both and the Sooners almost certainly would be ticketed for the Big 12 title game against another highly ranked opponent.

The committee showed sound logic in ranking Oklahoma ahead of No. 6 Ohio State – a 15-point road win over the Buckeyes has to hold sway in a head-to-head comparison in which both teams have the same record (7-1). The Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten will need some help to make their way into the top four.

And, as expected, the Pac-12 has almost no chance of getting there. The league has five teams in the Top 25, but none higher than Washington at No. 12. The league has no one to blame for that but itself.

So give the committee credit for a completely defensible initial Top 25. And a rather provocative one at the same time. Three Power Five leagues can go ahead and start their anxiety engines heading into November.

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