CFP Rankings Analysis: SEC Looks Like It Can Land Two Teams in the Playoff Once Again

Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame are atop the first College Football Playoff rankings of 2018. How can Michigan, Ohio State or Georgia eventually get there?
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The College Football Playoff rankings have made their triumphant return, here to appease the "we don't get no respect" masses. The top looks mostly like we expected it to look, with the current playoff field consisting of 1) Alabama, 2) Clemson, 3) LSU, and 4) Notre Dame. (Go ahead and argue about it accordingly.)

During the four previous seasons of the College Football Playoff, the first set of rankings have always included a team that fell out of the top four by the end of the season as well as a lower-ranked team that eventually surged to the final four. (Remember when Mississippi State reached the college football mountaintop in 2014?) In other words, things change.

That being said, here's the intel we can glean from the committee's first rankings of 2018.

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Can a conference send two teams to the playoff?

Yes, and once again it's the conference whose fans enjoy bugging the rest of us with their "S-E-C" chants. Like last season, the seeds are planted for the SEC to send two teams to the playoff if the right amounts of water and sunlight are provided.

How can this happen? Two different ways, actually:

1. LSU beats Alabama this weekend and wins out to take the SEC West crown. LSU then beats the winner of this weekend's Georgia-Kentucky game in the SEC Championship Game. Meanwhile, Alabama wins out after its loss to LSU. That would leave LSU at 12-1 with an SEC title in tow and Alabama at 11-1 and as a very formidable at-large option for the committee come Selection Sunday.


2. Alabama beats LSU and reaches the SEC title game with an undefeated record. The winner of the Georgia-Kentucky clash wins out and defeats Alabama in Atlanta for the conference crown. This scenario would leave two SEC teams with identical 12-1 records.

We're not saying the scenarios above would automatically put two SEC teams in the playoff for the second consecutive season—a 12-1 Big Ten champ (Ohio State or Michigan) to go along with undefeated Clemson and Notre Dame would put a dent in these dreams—but it's certainly plausible.

The Big Ten looked like it had a decent shot at putting two teams in the playoff when the season began, but the Big Ten West imploded and the East will have a single one-loss team at best. (The permutations required to get a two-loss team into the playoff are just too much for us to process right now.)

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West Virginia is in best position to surge from outside the Top 10 into the final Top 4

West Virginia travels to No. 17 Texas this weekend and closes the season at home against No. 7 Oklahoma. If the Mountaineers can win those two difficult matchups and take care of business in its other two games (TCU and at Oklahoma State), it would head to the Big 12 Championship Game with a formidable 10-1 record. Win that, and a 11-1 WVU could hold up its résumé against just about everyone else. (It also wouldn't hurt if currently No. 24 Iowa State finished strong.)

Washington State has a lower ceiling than the other one-loss Power 5 teams

Wazzu came in higher than we thought it would, but upon close inspection it's clear the Cougars still need lots of help to reach the top four. Even if Mike Leach's bunch wins out to earn a Pac-12 crown at 12-1 it would need to cross its fingers for a struggling Washington team to win every game leading up to their Apple Cup meeting to end the regular season and for Utah to keep rolling to a 10-2 regular-season record and Pac-12 South title. Those scenarios would hand the Cougs three quality wins, albeit with two coming against the same Utah team.

Unfortunately, that perfect scenario would still likely leave them behind a combination of a 12-1 Big Ten champ, undefeated ACC champ Clemson and an undefeated Notre Dame squad. Why? Starting the season against Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington doesn't exactly endear you to committee members.

Now, if we get complete madness from the Big Ten, ACC and/or SEC all bets are off and we may get some very fun play-calling during the national semifinal.

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The full rankings are below.

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. LSU
4. Notre Dame
5. Michigan
6. Georgia
7. Oklahoma
8. Washington State
9. Kentucky
10. Ohio State
11. Florida
12. UCF
13. West Virginia
14. Penn State
15. Utah
16. Iowa
17. Texas
18. Mississippi State
19. Syracuse
20. Texas A&M
21. NC State
22. Boston College
23. Fresno State
24. Iowa State
25. Virginia