Top Takeaways From First 2020 CFP Ranking: Committee Likes Cincinnati, but Not BYU

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In the most bizarre season in the modern era of college football, it’s only fitting that the top five teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings have played eight games (two), seven games, six games and four games.

Hello, 2020.

That should give you an idea of how irrelevant these rankings are. There’s a long way to go, and the COVID issues show little sign of slowing down (we’ve already had nine games impacted for this weekend and it’s Tuesday).

So, who knows if some of these top teams will actually complete the rest of their schedules. We know that any Pac-12 champion will have, at most, just seven games played, and a Big Ten champion Ohio State will, at most, have played eight games. We know the SEC is scrambling to reschedule missed games with its division leaders, Alabama and Florida, and we know that the Big 12, each of its teams saddled with at least two losses, is out of contention (but hey, it’s 2020; there are no certainties).

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The rankings did teach us a few things. For instance, the Committee is not a fan of BYU, which checks in at No. 14. It likes Cincinnati, at No. 7, and it respects the Aggies' win over the Gators on the field (they’re No. 5 and No. 6 respectively).

But enough about what the Committee did. Pat Forde and I offered some analysis on the rankings in the form of six burning questions.

Who is ranked too high?

Pat Forde: Georgia. The Bulldogs are the highest-ranked two-loss team at No. 9, despite both losses being solid beatings by an average of 16.5 points. The only victory of note was over Auburn, which should be categorized as pretty good but a long way short of great. Georgia hasn’t even passed the eye test, struggling virtually all season offensively and barely getting past a two-win Mississippi State team last Saturday.

Ross Dellenger: How about Oklahoma? At No. 11, the Sooners are the second-highest ranked two-loss team. OU has losses to 4–4 Kansas State and an Iowa State team that the Committee actually has behind the Sooners. Sure, OU is playing some good ball lately, but if you’re looking at the full body of work, it would seem that at least the Cyclones should be ranked above the Sooners. 

Who is ranked too low? 

Forde: BYU. Wow, were the undefeated and dominant Cougars disrespected at No. 14. Yes, the schedule is weaker than a cocktail in a Provo bar, but this is a team that has passed the eye test with flying colors. BYU is explosive offensively, tough defensively and owns the largest average margin of victory in the country at 33.7. The Cougars also have a fat 3.14 yards-per-play advantage over opponents to date. (Alabama, by comparison, is plus 2.78 yards per play.) The message is clear: If the Cougars want to move up, they’d better schedule another game in the coming two weeks. "Great motivation for our guys," coach Kalani Sitake said on ESPN's rankings show. "... We have two weeks open, and if there is anybody with an availability to play, we'll do it."

Dellenger: BYU is, indeed, the obvious one here, but for variety’s sake, let’s spotlight another team that deserves a better ranking: Oregon. Sure, the Ducks have only played three games, but we know about the talent on that squad. No. 15 seems ghastly low. The real problem for UO: It might not get much better from here. None of Oregon’s remaining three regular season opponents is ranked. The Ducks will need to win in style and hope that the Pac-12 South winner has a good resume (it’s likely Colorado or USC). 

What did the committee get right? 

Forde: Ranking No. 3 Clemson ahead of No. 4 Ohio State. Close call, but the Tigers’ lone loss came without their best player, and quite frankly the best player in college football—and it came in double overtime on the road. Clemson (7–1) also blew out No. 10 Miami. Ohio State’s schedule was really weak prior to playing Indiana Saturday, which was a survive-and-advance win by seven points. And the Buckeyes have only played three games to date.

Dellenger: Not only did the CFP get the top four accurate, but it also showed appropriate respect for both Cincinnati and the SEC. The Bearcats are at No. 7, the highest of any Group of Five team in the history of the rankings. Meanwhile, Texas A&M and Florida sit at No. 5 and 6, respectively, giving the league a path to get two teams into the CFP. Oh and their pick of Clemson at No. 3, above Ohio State, makes sense, too. The Tigers’ only loss was without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio state has played just half of the games that Clemson has. 

What Power 5 conference is in the best shape?

Forde: The SEC, same as it ever was. The league has four in the top 10, three in the top six and the No. 1 team, Alabama. There certainly is a path to getting two SEC teams in the field of four.

Dellenger: The ACC. With Clemson at No. 3 and Notre Dame at No. 2, the ACC is set up to get both programs into the CFP with one, big if: A Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson needs to beat Notre Dame, but not beat the Irish too badly. That could very well get them both in the CFP. However, the ACC would need the SEC to cooperate. The one-loss Irish could be stacked up against a one-loss Texas A&M, a one-loss Alabama or a one-loss Florida depending on the result of the SEC championship game.

What regular-season game will have biggest impact on playoff race? 

Forde: No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 25 Tulsa, Dec. 12. The fact that the Golden Hurricane got into the rankings is a lift for the Bearcats, because it elevates the importance of their game in Tulsa to end the regular season. Cincinnati is having a great season, but the demise of UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU as potentially ranked teams leaves Cincy in need of a standout victory on the resume.

Dellenger: If not for the regular-season qualifier, the answer here is the SEC championship game, which will likely again serve as a CFP quarterfinal. But in the regular season? We’ll go with a game this very week: Notre Dame at North Carolina. It might be the Irish’s toughest test until a potential showdown with Clemson in the ACC championship game. 

What is your top four? 

Forde: 1. Alabama, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Clemson, 4. Ohio State.

Dellenger: 1. Alabama, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Clemson, 4. Ohio State.