It was easily the most buzzed-about and controversial moment of the unveiling of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first rankings. Listed in the No. 4 slot: the Alabama Crimson Tide.
While the committee showed last year with Florida State that it was willing to rank one-loss teams ahead of undefeated teams who played weak schedules, the Crimson Tide sit ahead of five unbeaten teams from Power Five conferences as well as every other one-loss team.
So, was the playoff committee correct to rank Alabama in the top four at this point in the season? SI’s college football writers weigh in:
Andy Staples: No
It’s only correct if the committee is working in a strictly predictive capacity, which is not what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to go based on the résumé the teams have put together so far, and Alabama’s doesn’t merit being No. 4. That could certainly change this weekend if the Crimson Tide beat LSU in Tuscaloosa, but why not wait until then? Las Vegas oddsmakers would agree with the committee because the answer would be yes from most people if you asked “Would Alabama beat Florida?” or “Would Alabama beat Stanford?” But if it’s strictly about résumé, Florida beat the team that beat Alabama by four touchdowns, also pounded Georgia and has a more respectable loss. Yet Florida is six spots lower. I don’t necessarily mind if the committee is acting in a predictive capacity, but Jeff Long needs to be up front about that if that’s the case.
We can also reasonably surmise that the predictive approach with Alabama won’t last through the weekend if the Tide lose to LSU. By its ranking, the committee is telling us it thinks LSU is better than Alabama. So if LSU wins close, Alabama shouldn’t drop by that logic. But I guarantee you Alabama will drop if it loses.
And that’s why this week’s ranking doesn’t make sense. The committee’s past behavior says it isn’t ranking in a purely predictive sense, but the committee took that approach with this one team this one week. If Alabama beats LSU, it’ll bail the committee out on this one. If Alabama loses, it will fall out of the top four even though the committee already told us it didn’t thing the Tide were as good as the Tigers.
Pete Thamel: It doesn’t matter
It's so early right now that none of this really matters. If Bama takes care of business, there will really be no debate.
Brian Hamilton: No
Alabama probably doesn't deserve to be No. 4, though I think it's more an exercise in hair-splitting than an egregious mistake. It would seem the committee is overvaluing Wisconsin and Georgia, who they'd argue were top 25 teams at the time they played the Crimson Tide but currently aren't even in the playoff rankings. If I'm Iowa, Florida, Memphis, TCU or, to a certain extent, Notre Dame, this is a curious decision. Data- and results-driven arguments for those teams as top four-worthy are as viable as Alabama's. The selection committee isn't infallible, but it is worth noting that the same “eye test” that probably boosted Alabama's position slid Ohio State into the fourth playoff spot a year ago. That turned out to be a fairly justifiable choice.
Lindsay Schnell: No
However, I'm hardly stressed because it's November. If we learned anything from the rankings last year, it's that they'll change. A lot. The Big 12's schedule is purposely backloaded, so Baylor—or TCU, or Oklahoma State—has time to climb higher. If anything, I think it's good to be ranked lower in the initial release because it's easier to impress the committee; the top four teams as of right now will be scrutinized to no end. In the meantime, though, I'm sure there are plenty of "SEC bias!" headlines to be written.
Zac Ellis: No
Alabama has the same record (7–1) as another top-10 team, No. 10 Florida. Except the Gators beat the Ole Miss team that beat the Tide and have a better loss at No. 2 LSU. So why does Nick Saban's squad get the benefit of the doubt? The only way to justify Alabama at a top four team at this juncture is with the “eye test.” Otherwise, the Tide's résumé doesn't fit the bill.
Joan Niesen: No
It's not that I don't think Alabama is good or that it couldn't beat Clemson or any other top-ranked team head-to-head. I'm not even saying that the Tide can't or won't appear in the final CFP rankings if they win out. (A one-loss team that's played through the meat of its schedule in late November looks much better than a one-loss team the week after Halloween.) But Alabama's loss is to an Ole Miss team that's fallen to Florida and Memphis. Where's Florida, who has only lost to No. 2 LSU, on this list? Or even Notre Dame, whose sole loss came to top-ranked Clemson?
Ben Glicksman: Yes
Alabama being ranked No. 4 reaffirms my belief that these weekly selection shows are worth doing. On first glance, I felt it was preposterous; it makes approximately zero sense that the Crimson Tide, who are 7–1 with a home loss to Ole Miss, are slotted six spots higher than Florida, which is also 7–1 and beat that same Ole Miss team by 28 points. That holds up about as well as any ranking of Pixar movies that doesn’t include Ratatouille in the top four, but that’s beside the point. The point is, after giving it some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this was absolutely the correct decision, though not for the reasons you may think.
Here’s why: These early November rankings are, by their very nature, meaningless. Every commentator on last night’s show was quick to point that out, as was basically everybody shouting on Twitter. The show might as well have featured a disclaimer. Keep in mind, this is only a starting point. Chaos is coming, and we’ll all change our minds as stuff continues to happen over the next five weeks, anyway.
So, given that this means nothing—the initial top four last year featured Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss, only one of which went on to make the playoff—I’m all in favor of having weekly rankings that destroy any preconceived notions about how things are supposed to work and set the stage for a second half that should be completely bonkers. Since we’ve accepted this show exists mainly to get fans riled up, shouldn’t we embrace it when it achieves that beyond our wildest expectations? Our biggest complaint with the BCS system was that unbeatens were ranked higher than one-loss teams regardless of their paths to that point. Now our complaint is exactly the opposite, which is fine and good, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun yelling at people than it is at computers.
Given the résumés alone, Alabama’s one-loss case is iffy at best. First-half wins over Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Tennessee aren’t what we thought they’d be in the preseason, but they’re sure better than victories over Texas Tech, Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State (Baylor's résumé). Does that mean Bama deserves to be in this spot? Probably not. But is Bama one of the four best teams in the country? Quite possibly!
All of this will sort itself out. Alabama will play LSU this weekend. Ohio State still has to play Michigan State, and Stanford still has to play Notre Dame. All of the Big 12’s top contenders still have to play one another, as the league’s scheduling approach this year was to throw every one of its good teams into a nonstop November cage match and hope one of them walks out alive.
Sit back and enjoy the ride. Even in the playoff era, college football makes no sense, and that’s why it is the greatest.
Colin Becht: No
I applaud the selection committee for choosing a one-loss team with quality wins over some undefeated squads who haven’t beaten anyone of note. But they chose the wrong one-loss team. It should have been Florida, whose No. 10 ranking baffles me.
The Gators’ seven-point loss at No. 2 LSU is much less damaging that the Crimson Tide’s six-point defeat to No. 18 Ole Miss at home. Both teams have one win over a ranked team, Alabama’s victory over No. 19 Texas A&M and Florida’s triumph over No. 18 Ole Miss. While the Tide deserve credit for picking up their best win on the road, that shouldn’t be enough to make up for the more glaring difference in quality of loss. It’s not that Alabama is grossly overrated at No. 4 (I’d put the Tide at No. 5, personally), but Florida has to be ahead for now. Ultimately this will fix itself, though; either the Tide will beat LSU on Saturday and earn their top four ranking or lose and fall.
Chris Johnson: No
It’s not clear why Alabama was ranked higher than SEC counterpart Florida at No. 10. One can argue that the Tide beat a common opponent, Georgia, when the Bulldogs still had star running back Nick Chubb and were playing their starting quarterback, Greyson Lambert. But is Georgia’s apparent decline in form more important than the fact that the Gators crushed another common opponent, Ole Miss, who beat the Crimson Tide? Not to mention the fact that Florida’s only loss came by one score on the road to an LSU team the committee ranked No. 2 while Alabama fell at home to the No. 18 Rebels? Before concluding its deliberations Monday, the committee probably held hands and shouted “Roll Tide!”
Gabriel Baumgaertner: No
It feels like a pick designed to stir controversy. With LSU-Alabama and the first meaningful Big 12 games of the season this weekend, the rankings are nothing more than a ratings ploy and debate topic. The only significance they currently have is where non-Power Five teams are placed. We (again) learned that only unfettered chaos will get one of those teams into even the top eight slots.
Ben Estes: No
I understand TCU and Baylor being left out for now due to their strength of schedule, but including Alabama just doesn’t make sense. Committee chair Jeff Long pointed to the Tide’s three “quality wins” over teams with better-than-.500 records, but that’s a problematic definition of that term. Besides, undefeated Michigan State has five such victories, one-loss Notre Dame has three and Florida has two. It’s hard to see why Alabama was elevated over those teams, especially when you consider the Irish’s loss came at No. 1 Clemson and the Gators’ came at No. 2 LSU (The Tide fell to No. 18 Ole Miss at home). A one-loss SEC champion Bama should be in the field, but the Tide don’t deserve inclusion with their current résumé.