The first rankings by the College Football Playoff selection committee followed the mainstream sentiment with three SEC West teams in the top four.
The only mild surprise was the three teams included. Auburn debuted at No. 3 despite a single loss to Mississippi State on the road on Oct. 18. Ole Miss landed at No. 4 on the strength of a win over Alabama on Oct. 4.
Here’s how the first top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
Auburn at No. 3.
The Tigers ended up as the highest-ranked one-loss team ahead of Alabama, Ole Miss and Oregon. The selection committee put significant weight on the Tigers’ 20-14 road win over Kansas State, a team the selection committee ranked ninth. Auburn’s only loss is on the road to No. 1 Mississippi State 38-23
Ole Miss at No. 4
The selection committee showed it wouldn’t follow the lead of the polls by ranking Ole Miss at No. 4, two spots ahead of Alabama. Both polls, which have no role in the playoff process, ranked Alabama No. 3. The AP had Ole Miss at No. 7, the coaches had the Rebels even lower at No. 9. Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 on Oct. 4.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
The committee placed Oregon at No. 5 despite a loss to Arizona, a team ranked 12th. Committee chair Jeff Long cited a win over Michigan State at home and UCLA on the road as contributing to a strong “body of work” in his interview on ESPN. In interviews with reporters, Long also noted the injury to starting left tackle Jake Fisher in the loss to Arizona. Fisher is now healthy. The Ducks control their own path to the Playoff as the three SEC teams start to weed themselves out.
No reason for the Crimson Tide to worry about being No. 6. The Tide still have two of the top three teams on their schedule, both at home. If the committee liked the head-to-head win for Ole Miss over Alabama, it will love a Tide team with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
TCU and Kansas State
The pair of Big 12 teams that were nowhere to be found in preseason top 15, but both landed in the top 10. The Horned Frogs and Wildcats have wins over Oklahoma and narrow losses to fellow one loss teams (Baylor for TCU, Auburn for Kansas State).
Who Should Worry:
We don’t know what would be considered a major climb from the first playoff poll to the final one, but Ohio State could present an interesting test. The Buckeyes, who lost at home to 4-4 Virginia Tech, started at No. 16. Entering Tuesday, Ohio State knew it needed to beat No. 8 Michigan State for a shot at the playoff. Now, the Buckeyes have to wonder if even that will be enough.
The Irish were ranked sixth in the AP poll but 10th in the playoff poll due to the lack of significant wins. A good showing in a loss in Tallahassee wasn’t enough to move up any further.
East Carolina and Marshall appeared to be the clubhouse leaders for the Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s bowls, but Marshall probably needs one-loss East Carolina to lose again ... at least. Marshall was unranked while ECU landed at No. 23. The Thundering Herd has one of the weakest schedules in the country while East Carolina beat Virginia Tech and North Carolina and lost to South Carolina.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Ole Miss
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Auburn
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Fiesta: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Orange: No. 21 Clemson^ vs. No. 6 Alabama
Peach: No. 23 East Carolina* vs. No. 8 Michigan State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl