Now that the College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken, at least for the first time this season, let the debating, bickering and second-guessing begin.
Perhaps the most surprising development from the initial rankings was that one-loss Texas A&M earned the No. 4 spot and unbeaten Washington the No. 5 spot. The Aggies have played a more difficult schedule, but it’s also hard not to be impressed with how well the Huskies have played this season.
The good news for the Huskies is that they don’t need any help. If they win out, including winning the Pac-12 championship, they’re going to be in the top 4 of the final rankings. So take a deep breath, Washington fans. It’s still all out there in front of you.
Alabama checking in at No. 1 was no surprise, and the Crimson Tide are joined by three other SEC West Division mates in the top 13. In addition to Texas A&M at No. 4, Auburn was No. 9 and LSU No. 13. One other thought: For what is supposedly a weaker SEC this season, the league still placed five teams in the top 13 — Florida was No. 11.
Even though Auburn and LSU each have two losses overall and are ranked below Texas A&M, the two sets of Tigers might be in a better position than the Aggies to move into the final top four. That’s because Auburn and LSU both still have shots at No. 1 Alabama, whereas Texas A&M has already lost to the Tide.
The committee got it right with Clemson at No. 2, even though No. 3 Michigan has been more consistently impressive in everybody’s favorite category — the old eye test. If it’s truly about who you beat and where you beat them, then the Tigers could even make a case for the No. 1 spot. They’re No. 1 in FPI’s strength of record metric and own true road wins over No. 9 Auburn and No. 22 Florida State, not to mention a home win over No. 7 Louisville.
As dominant as the Wolverines have looked for much of the season, they’ve only had to leave the state of Michigan once to this point, and that was to face 2-6 Rutgers. Now, if Michigan goes on to win out — beating No. 6 Ohio State and winning the Big Ten championship — the Wolverines could surpass the Tigers, who really don’t have any more big-stage games remaining. What’s more, Michigan has beaten three of the committee’s top 15 teams, same as Clemson.
Louisville’s only loss was on the road at Clemson, and not many teams want to have to deal with Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson at quarterback. But the Cardinals probably need as much help as anybody among the one-loss teams. They don’t have any marquee games remaining and haven’t played their best football the past two games.
If you’re rooting for chaos, the easiest way for that to happen would be for one of the top teams, say Alabama or Clemson, to lose in their conference championship games. That could open the door for Louisville or maybe even two teams from the same conference.
Before any of the debating gets too heated, keep in mind that the initial rankings can be fool’s gold. LSU and Ohio State (at Nos. 2 and 3) were in the top four of the initial rankings a year ago, and neither team made the playoff. By contrast, Oklahoma was No. 15 in those initial rankings and climbed 11 spots in the final five weeks to make it.
In 2014, three of the top four teams in the initial rankings — No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss — didn’t make the playoff, and Ohio State (No. 16 in those initial rankings) came out of nowhere to make the field.
Who might be that team this year?
Well, Oklahoma is No. 14, and though the Sooners need some help, they’re in good shape to win the Big 12. At this point, it appears that Oklahoma would probably be the Big 12’s best chance to make the playoff, but the Sooners are still a long shot.
We’ll have plenty to debate with these rankings, but the one lesson to be learned from past seasons is that there is still a lot of football to be played and anything can — and probably will — happen.
Committee throws a curveball in first CFP playoff rankings – ESPN