Tuesday night saw the long awaited release of the season’s first College Football Playoff Rankings, and not a moment too soon! The only ranking that truly matters is out and while questions remain, one thing we know for certain is that it will be looking quite different by next Tuesday…OK so maybe they were a week too soon if that was your concern. Three matchups put top-25 teams against each other, including top ranked Clemson, a top-4 matchup in LSU-Alabama and two undefeateds in TCU-Oklahoma State. Only one top-4 team is guaranteed to remain there by the next ranking.
Perhaps most importantly, Tuesday provided a look into the what the Selection Committee values when deciding who is deserving of a good spot. In just its second year, questions about what the committee looks for and what it considers important still require more data. Will they put emphasis on how “good” a loss is? Will a conference champion count more than a head to head victory? Do they hate undefeated teams from Texas?
It is clear that the Committee loves strength of schedule, a point that has been made multiple times this season but was finally seen on Tuesday. Undefeated Baylor is ranked second in the AP poll, but fell to 6 in the playoff rankings behind a pair of one-loss teams. The Bears have been critiqued for an easy non-conference schedule and despite their impressive offensive efficiency, they were snubbed from the top 4, along with conference member TCU. Both teams did not play an out of conference game against a team that currently has a winning record (including 1-7 SMU and an FCS team each). Margin of victory is clearly not enough when it comes against low-caliber opponents, and should either team lose in a tough November, a weak early season schedule could keep them from a higher ranking.
Notre Dame’s spot at number 5 will be an interesting story line as the season continues. Since next week’s rankings will not have both LSU and Alabama, the Irish are poised to move up a spot with a win. If they slide into the top four by the next rankings, would the Committee move them out of a playoff spot without a second loss and without a conference championship? We saw Ohio State leapfrog into the number 4 spot last year, but there was only one other week where a top four team fell out of the top four without a loss. Granted, this year has a number of undefeateds remaining, but teams that keep winning tend not to drop too far.
The value of a loss will be heavily debated in the coming weeks as well. As more undefeated teams lose, who they lose too becomes an important question. Just ask Oklahoma. If LSU loses to Alabama, their only lose will be to a team ranked in the top three (as of the next rankings). Is that loss worse than Notre Dame’s narrow defeat against the top ranked Tigers? Is a loss to a great team like the Crimson Tide better than an undefeated record against a light schedule?
The point is: questions remain. And we won’t have many answers for a few weeks still. It’s easy to forget that the college football playoff is only in its second year, and the kinks still need to be ironed out. At this stage, there is still too much speculation and too much football to be played to place too much in these initial rankings.
Besides, these things tend to sort themselves out by the end, or at least we hope for the Committee’s sake. At least November is finally here to give us a glimmer of clarity. And not a moment too soon.