Predicting the First College Football Playoff Rankings of 2018

Alabama and Clemson will likely be atop the first of five weekly rankings leading up to Dec. 2, when the playoff field is set. After the Tigers and Tide, Notre Dame, LSU, Michigan and Georgia can all make a case for cracking 2018's first top four. How will it shake out Tuesday night?
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After nine hard-fought weeks filled with upsets, otherwordly QB play, Peak Dad-level postgame dancing and plenty more, we get to start yelling about playoff rankings once again this week at long last.

The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first set of rankings on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, live on ESPN. It would be shocking if the top two isn't some ordering of Alabama and Clemson. Likewise, unbeaten Notre Dame will be somewhere in the top four. The real debate begins with what team deserves to get the other playoff spot right now.

Here are some of the big questions ahead of the first CFP rankings.

What's the initial pecking order of the one-loss Power 5 teams?

First, let's look at the games that stand out for each one-loss major-conference team: its wins over teams currently in the AP Top 25 and the opponent it lost to.


The first thing that jumps out from the table above is that many of these teams still have the résumé-building parts of their schedules in front of them.

LSU hosts Alabama and Michigan faces Penn State this weekend. Kentucky and Georgia decide the SEC East crown on Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan clash at the end of the regular season, the day after West Virginia and Oklahoma meet and Washington State takes on in-state rival Washington. And that's all just the games these eight teams have left on their schedules against currently ranked teams. Unmentioned potential landmines remain in conference play for all of them. This is all a long way of saying you shouldn't worry too much about the way the initial rankings shake out. However, based on what we know so far, here’s what we’ll predict for the top of 2018’s first rankings.

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. LSU
4. Notre Dame
5. Georgia
6. Michigan
7. Oklahoma
8. Kentucky
9. Ohio State

Washington State and West Virginia have two of the worst losses among this group, so don’t be surprised if two-loss teams with better résumés—like Florida and Penn State—hear their names called before the Cougars and Mountaineers on Tuesday night. ("But Ohio State was destroyed by 4-3 Purdue!" You say. Yes, but brand names help.)

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How many one-loss Power 5 teams will be ahead of undefeated UCF?

All of them. And UCF is likely to find itself even lower than that, with two-loss teams (see above) in front of them as well. The Knights came into 2018 with a so-so non-conference slate that included Florida Atlantic, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The UNC game was cancelled by Hurricane Florence, FAU has disappointed at 3–5 and Pitt is just 4–4. UCF does not have a true quality win on the board, and its best shot at picking some up will come against AAC foes that have already lost a game: Cincinnati and USF back-to-back to end the regular season and a potential meeting with Houston in the conference title game. Sorry, Knights fans, you will fall short of the playoff again, even if you run the table.

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How realistic is Washington State’s shot at the playoff?

It has become popular to make fun of the Pac-12 for not having a real shot at the playoff. Usual conference standard-bearers USC, Washington, Oregon and Stanford all have anywhere from two to four losses right now, leaving Mike Leach and Wazzu as the only team that could finish 12–1. Would a 12–1 Pac-12 champion receive consideration for the playoff? Yes, but probably not above an undefeated or one-loss Notre Dame or undefeated and one-loss champions from the SEC, ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten. The Cougars can climb up to No. 4 by December, but they’ll need 2007-level chaos in order for that to happen.