For the first time this college football season, fans will be given a glimpse to how the members of the selection committee for the College Football Playoff have weighed the potential playoff contenders to date.
A couple of things to remember when these rankings are revealed;
Tonight’s ranking is based on the silly hypothetical phrase “If the season ended today…”
Remember that this is simply an assessment of everything we have seen on the field to this point in time, and the results on the field and the strength of schedule are used as major components for ranking teams in the selection committee’s closed-door meetings. So if Baylor is not ranked as highly as they are in either of the major polls, you can point right to the overall strength of schedule as the first reason why.
The top four teams tonight will likely not be the final four teams
There really is only one ranking that matters from the College Football Playoff selection committee, and it is not the one that will be revealed tonight, next week or the week after that. The only ranking that matters is the final ranking of the season that sets up the playoff field and the major bowl matchups. The committee starts from scratch each week, so a weekly ranking system is purely for entertainment purposes, and time-wasting debating purposes.
Of last year’s playoff contestants, only one was ranked in the first playoff ranking of the season (Florida State). The others were ranked fifth (No. 2 seed Oregon) sixth (No. 1 Alabama), and 16th (No. 4 Ohio State).
In reality, the top playoff contenders all still have their biggest hurdles ahead of them
The rankings may be unveiled tonight, but they could look drastically different next week and the week after that. The top playoff contenders all still have their biggest games coming up on the schedule. Clemson takes on Florida State this week in the ACC game of the year. Alabama takes on LSU in what should be a pivotal game in the SEC West and playoff picture. Ohio State and Michigan State are still set to play each other this month. Stanford take son Oregon and Notre Dame before the season is over. In addition, the Big 12 still gets to see games between TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as the month of November unfolds.
The point is, no matter how these rankings look tonight, there is still so much to be played out on the field before these rankings really carry any value or substance. Tonight is simply a half-hour commercial for the College Football Playoff, because ESPN paid a boatload of money for the rights and they are going to milk it for every dime they can. (I really can’t blame them for that, as it has given me something to write about this morning as well. Yay content!)
OK, but who will be the top four tonight?
Last year the College Football Playoff rankings were first revealed in Week 10, which is once again the case this season. Mississippi State was the number one team in the first ranking, followed by Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. That top four was pretty close to the top four in that week’s AP Top 25, although No. 3 Alabama in the AP poll was passed over by the AP’s No. 7 team, Ole Miss. Alabama was No. 6 in the first CFB Playoff rankings. Right now, the top four teams in the AP Top 25 are Ohio State, Baylor, Clemson and LSU, followed by TCU, Michigan State, Alabama and Notre Dame.
Will there be any real surprises in the top spots when the playoff ranking is unveiled? Probably not. Maybe Ohio State will be passed over by a team like Clemson or LSU, but the defending national champions are probably still a safe bet to be in the top four somewhere. Baylor might end up being on the outside looking in based on overall strength of schedule, while Clemson and LSU each have top 25 wins on their list of achievements so far.
Michigan State and Iowa will be interesting to see how the committee evaluates each. The biggest wins for the Spartans came against Oregon, a team that took a downward spiral but may be finding its mojo at a good time, and Michigan, thanks to a miracle play. Iowa is undefeated, with wins against Pittsburgh and Wisconsin serving as the highlights. Iowa may have a stronger leg to stand on had the Panthers not lost Thursday at home against North Carolina.
When push comes to shove, here is how I think the top teams could be ranked by the committee tonight:
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Notre Dame