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Five Thoughts on the First College Football Playoff Rankings

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The month of November may end up having more games between College Football Playoff contending teams than the first two months combined.

Besides being great entertainment, those November matchups — starting this week with Alabama-LSU, Florida State-Clemson and others — will clear up a top 25 that is short on any real answers.

That the selection committee’s first College Football Playoff top 25 is a bit of a mess is to be expected and it’s by design. The Big 12 and Big Ten have backloaded schedules. Rivalry games and conference championship games promise to blow up the rankings as well.

With that said, here’s what we learned out of the first set of rankings:

1. The Big 12 got bad news

Sorry, Baylor, the committee still thinks your non-conference schedule should keep you out of the Playoff. Despite dominating results, the Bears are ranked behind two one-loss teams, Alabama and Notre Dame. Yet committee chair Jeff Long said No. 6 Baylor and No. 8 TCU’s explosive offenses gave those teams an edge over No. 9 Iowa, another undefeated team with a stronger strength of schedule. That said, Baylor is ahead of undefeated Michigan State, a team that has played close games against lesser competition despite a win over No. 17 Michigan.

2. The Big 12 got good news

No. 6 Baylor, No. 8 TCU, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 15 Oklahoma will all play each other in the final month of the season. That’s an awful lot of résumé building for one month of the season. Alabama and LSU have similar opportunities, as does Ohio State, but the Big 12 has the most to gain.

3. The committee’s analysis of strength of schedule and big wins is still lacking

Repeatedly, Long justified rankings with wins over teams with winning records. Alabama has defeated three (Wisconsin, Georgia and Texas A&M) and Florida has defeated two (Ole Miss and Georgia). Though Long later clarified that the Tide beat a Georgia team with Nick Chubb on the road while Florida did not face Chubb, this continues a troubling trend of the way the committee defines strength of schedule and landmark wins. A case could be made for Florida with a win over No. 18 Ole Miss and loss to No. 2 LSU should be ahead of Alabama, whose best win is over No. 19 Texas A&M and whose loss is to the Rebels. No. 3 Ohio State has three wins over teams with winning records: Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Penn State. The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide probably pass the eye test for members of the committee — and that’s fine — but a blanket statement about opponents’ winning record is flimsy reasoning.

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4. Iowa is already in trouble

The committee, this week at least, seems enamored with explosive offenses and wins over .500 teams. The Hawkeyes aren’t going to turn into Baylor and TCU overnight, and their remaining schedule has no teams with winning records on the schedule. Iowa’s two remaining 4–4 opponents (Indiana and Minnesota) are a combined 1–7 in the Big Ten. A Hawkeyes win over an undefeated Michigan State or Ohio State would seem to bring few guarantees.

5. We’ll see the Group of Five race take shape in real time

The early polls last year didn’t have Group of Five teams in the top 25 until the final weeks. The first committee this season had four: No. 13 Memphis, No. 22 Temple, No. 24 Toledo and No. 25 Houston. Remember, a team has to be the highest-ranked champion not simply the highest-ranked team. Conceivably, the AAC could have enough teams beat each other up, including an unranked team in the league title game, to allow a potential MAC champion Toledo to take a major bowl slot.

CFP Bowl Projections

National Semifinals

Orange: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama

Cotton: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Ohio State

CFP Host Bowls

Rose: Michigan State vs. Stanford

Sugar: Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta: Notre Dame vs. TCU

Peach: Iowa vs. Memphis