Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama comprised the top four in the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday. The biggest headline is the surprise inclusion of the one-loss Crimson Tide.
The College Football Playoff selection committee released its first set of rankings on Tuesday night. Here are three thoughts from the playoff’s first top 25:
1. Clemson is an early No. 1, but its margin of error is slim
Earlier this season the ACC looked like it might be on the outside looking in for a playoff spot. Now the College Football Playoff selection committee sees Clemson as the best team in the country.
The 8–0 Tigers arrived at No. 1 in the committee’s first top 25 fresh off two impressive conference wins. They beat Miami and NC State by a combined score of 114–41 over the last two weeks, and now coach Dabo Swinney’s program looks very different than it did in a tight 20–17 win against Louisville on Sep. 17. Meanwhile, Clemson’s 24–22 win over Notre Dame, which came in at No. 5 in the first rankings, was likely also a huge selling point in its case for No. 1.
But the ACC’s lack of depth might come back to bite Clemson. Save for its win over the Fighting Irish, the program has no other victories against teams in the committee’s current top 25. This Saturday, however, the Tigers face Florida State, which sits at No. 16 and is the only other ACC member present in the first set of rankings. That’s why if Clemson somehow stumbles between now and the ACC title game, a one-loss ACC champion likely won’t make the playoff. You can bet Swinney’s program understands what’s at stake in the coming weeks.
2. A one-loss Alabama making the top four is a joke
No. 4 Alabama is the only one-loss team that cracked the committee’s top four, but its selection is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Crimson Tide lost to an Ole Miss squad that has since dropped two games of its own. Meanwhile, they boast only one win over another team in the current top 25 (No. 19 Texas A&M).
Is Alabama really a top-four team? Why is it better than No. 10 Florida, which is also 7–1 but lost to No. 2 LSU and beat the Ole Miss team that topped the Crimson Tide? At this point is feels like coach Nick Saban’s team isn’t penalized for losses like other programs. Alabama could go on to win the SEC title, but the selection committee is supposed to assess the landscape of the season up to this point. That’s why ranking the Crimson Tide as a top-four team at this juncture doesn’t pass the smell test.
3. The committee delivered a message to the Big 12 and Pac-12
Two Power Five leagues missed out on the top four in the committee’s first rankings: the Big 12 and the Pac-12. That issued a clear message to both conferences.
For the Big 12, its two highest rated teams were No. 6 Baylor (7–0) and No. 8 TCU (8–0). Both programs are unbeaten, but at this point in the season they’ve also combined for zero wins over top-25 teams. The committee values strength of schedule, and so far, the top Big 12 contenders have played a bunch of cupcakes. The good news is the league’s schedule is backloaded, so both the Bears and Horned Frogs have plenty of time to get back in the committee’s good graces.
The road might be more difficult for the Pac-12. That conference couldn’t even slide a team into the top 10. No. 11 Stanford and No. 12 Utah landed as the conference’s highest-ranked teams, which is a problem if you’re a fan on the West Coast. Currently the Pac-12 is the only Power Five league without an undefeated team. If Stanford and Utah are truly its only contenders for a playoff spot, the Pac-12 can’t afford for both teams to lose. Otherwise, as the committee made clear on Tuesday, that conference won’t play for the national title.