CFP Rankings #1: What Just Happened?

Last night, the committee for the College Football Playoffs released their first rankings for the season. I entered the night with a few basic assumptions. I figured there was no way Alabama wasn’t number 1 and that Ohio State couldn’t possibly be out of the top 4 after defeating #2 Penn State in the biggest game of the college football season.

However, as is usually the case with tournament committees, my predictions for the top 10 were about as wrong as they could have been. I knew the rankings were going to be wild when undefeated Power-5 teams Wisconsin and Miami were ranked 9 and 10 respectively. Penn State was the #7 team in the rankings after dropping their last game to the Buckeyes. This was not a surprise but what followed that was very surprising.

Oklahoma defeated Ohio State 31-16 earlier in the season but this Ohio State team is also very different now than they were in week 2. Oklahoma dropped a game at home to a then-unranked Iowa State. Iowa State later knocked off Top 5 TCU and now stand at #15 in the first CFP rankings of the season. Oklahoma is a very good team and deserve to be where they are but it seems unlikely that they stay ahead of Ohio State if the Buckeyes run the table.

Another surprise in last night’s ranking release was the fact that Clemson was in the Top 4. Clemson looked dominant to start the season but have the worst loss of any team in the top 10. They lost to an unranked Syracuse team who currently stands at 4-4. Syracuse lost a game earlier this season to Middle Tennessee State University, a 3-5 team that is 5th in the East Division of the Conference USA. The fact that the committee has Clemson over teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma, and even Penn State is a tragedy because Clemson’s loss is by far the worst of all of these 1-loss teams. I expect Clemson to also make the playoffs if they run the table despite the loss to Syracuse.

The biggest surprise last night came at the #3 position. While it is true that Notre Dame only has 1 loss and it came against a great Georgia team in a 20-19 thriller, they also have played a fairly weak schedule and don’t deserve to be in the Top 5. Their remaining schedule has 2 laughers and 2 legitimate matchups that could seal their fate. In two weeks, the Irish travel to Miami to play the #10 Hurricanes who are currently undefeated. To end the season, they must go on the road again to face Stanford and Heisman candidate Bryce Love. Notre Dame is still considered an Independent, meaning that they don’t have conference games and therefore won’t have a conference championship. The committee has wavered on how strongly they feel about conference championships, allowing Ohio State to make it in 2014 after winning the Big 10 Championship game 59-0 against Wisconsin but then snubbing Penn State in 2016 despite the Nittany Lions beating Ohio State head-to-head and also winning the Big 10. If Notre Dame wins out, they will almost be guaranteed a spot in the CFP but one small stumble and they are out.

Alabama has been the #1 seed in the CFP for 3 consecutive seasons in which they have won one title. Replacing the Crimson Tide, especially when undefeated, at the top seems sacrilegious. This Alabama team hasn’t played a close game this season and it doesn’t look like they are going to unless they get Georgia in the SEC title game. However, the committee shocked everyone in the country by placing the Georgia Bulldogs as the #1 team in the first rankings of the season. I watched the ranking release with friends and an unsettling quiet settled over the room as we found out Alabama wasn’t at the top spot. Our jaws hit the floor and we became immediately worried about where our Buckeyes would end up. Of course, I have no doubt that the Crimson Tide will end the season as #1 and will ultimately find themselves back in the title game for the 3rd consecutive season.

This week has many exciting games, including the Bedlam rivalry between the #5 Oklahoma Sooners and the #11 Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater. This game has serious playoff implications and should mean everything to both teams. There is still a lot more football to be played this season and the playoff rankings may end up looking very different from what we saw last night.

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