We thought we had an obvious top 4 entering the release of the first College Football Playoff poll of the season. We were wrong. The committee called on audible on putting the four undefeated Power Five teams in the current Playoff field and slotted one-loss Texas A&M ahead of Washington. Expected? No. Justifiable? Eh ... you decide. We also have five Big Ten teams in the top 12 ... soooo there is plenty to dissect.
It would have been a stunner if the Crimson Tide were anywhere but No. 1. You could argue Clemson’s paper resume may be a bit stronger, but Alabama has consistently passed the eye test to a degree no other team has.
We thought the Tigers would check in at this spot, as their quality wins are impossible to ignore. Clemson has undoubtedly looked sloppy at times, but going 8-0 against their schedule to this point was no small task.
Michigan has looked dominant for much of the season and actually has three top-15 wins according to the committee’s rankings. The entirety of its schedule, however, doesn’t match Clemson’s in quality, and overwhelming margins of victory against the likes of Rutgers, Hawaii and UCF can’t make up for that.
4. Texas A&M
The Aggies’ positioning was the true shocker exiting the unveiling of the first Playoff poll. It’s not unprecedented for the committee to rank a one-loss team ahead of a major-conference undefeated, but we must admit this is a bit puzzling. A&M is essentially being absolved of its loss to Alabama and treated like an undefeated team. It would be one thing if the Aggies had a collection of high-end wins to offset the loss and give it the edge over a team with a weak schedule like Washington, but all they really possess is a top-10 road win over Auburn and three formerly good home wins that have soured over time (Tennessee, UCLA, Arkansas). I hate to be the guy screaming SEC bias, but that’s about the only explanation for this one.
Last week, we addressed our concern with Washington’s strength of schedule and how it put them as the clear No. 4 behind the other three aforementioned undefeated teams, but we never dreamed it would result in the Huskies being ranked behind a one-loss Texas A&M when the first CFP poll was released. Even a resume-boosting road win at Utah this week apparently wasn’t enough for the committee to slot them in the top four. The good news for Washington is that winning out and claiming the Pac 12 Championship will assure a Playoff spot when it’s all said and done. The bad news is that their margin for error may be smaller than we thought, if not nonexistent.
6. Ohio State
Ohio State is another team that controls its own Playoff destiny, so where it sits at this point is largely irrelevant. It’s interesting, however, that they are sandwiched in between A&M and Louisville - which have very similar resumes - and not either ranked above both or below both. They have a likely Playoff elimination game this week against Nebraska.
As many pundits lauded Louisville as clearly the best one-loss team in the nation and a true threat to become the first non-conference-champion to make the Playoff, we told you that the Cardinals needed to rack up blowout wins and pray. Sadly for the Ville, it looks like we were right. The Cardinals are not necessarily out of contention, but their realistic paths to the Playoff are fewer than most thought prior to the release of these rankings. The Cardinals, as we have posited repeatedly, are the ultimate eye test team. Their strength of schedule is lacking (and will not improve), and as dominant and fun to watch as they have been much of the season, their resume is basically a home win over the current No. 22 team and nothing else of substance. Louisville was dealt a huge blow here, and while we didn’t necessarily expect it, we addressed the warning signs that ultimately led to it.
While a two-loss team has yet to make the Playoff in its first two season, Sconny has the makings of the kind of team that could pull it off. Their two losses are close, hard-fought ones to top-6 foes Michigan and Ohio State, and they have a pair of top-15 wins to bolster their resume. If Wisconsin wins out against a relatively soft schedule and Nebraska suffers another loss (say, this week at Ohio State), the Badgers could get a rematch with the Wolverines or Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship. Depending on what else transpires in other conferences, a two-loss Big Ten champ isn’t out of the running.
My, how far we have come. If I had told you after Week 3 that Auburn would crack the top 10 in the first CFP poll ... well, I can’t even fathom your reaction. But here the Tigers are, and they are more than just a nice story. Despite their two losses, if they win out - which would include an upset of Alabama and potentially an SEC title - they would be very much in the Playoff discussion.
We told you Nebraska would be exposed sooner or later, and Wisconsin finally knocked the Huskers from the ranks of the unbeaten. We expect a loss this week at Ohio State to all but eliminate them from Playoff contention.
The Gators are an absolute enigma. While they are one of just a handful of one-loss teams, they don’t possess a single quality win. Heck, I wouldn’t even say they have a decent win. They are still in good position with just the one loss and will have chances down the stretch to notch impressive wins that they desperately need, but I just don’t see how they can be ranked in the top 15 at this point.
12. Penn State
Laughable, really. This ranking is a reward for beating Ohio State, plain and simple. In fact, you can make the argument that Temple is Penn State’s second-best win. The Nittany Lions are playing well at the moment, but that doesn’t give the committee cause to ignore the past. They have an early-season loss to Pitt and were absolutely destroyed by Michigan. The love fest typically reserved for the SEC belongs to the Big Ten this season.
I think the Tigers are improving, but this is just too high for a team whose best win is over 3-5 Ole Miss. They get a crack at Bama this week to state their case.
You can pretty much bury the Big XII at this point, as it would take a ridiculous amount of chaos for one of the conference’s teams to climb back into position for the Playoff. Oklahoma is still the league’s best team, which should tell you all you need to know about the plight of this year’s Big XII.
Colorado being ranked No. 15 is a telltale sign of just how top-heavy college football is this season. The Buffs are truly no worse an offender than teams 11-14, but this is a two-loss team whose best win is a 10-5 triumph at Stanford. Yuck.
Utah had a real opportunity to position itself in the top 10 with a win over Washington, but the Utes allowed a back-breaking punt return touchdown in the final minutes that sealed their fate. It’s Washington or bust for the Pac 12’s Playoff hopes now.
A loss to Texas is never a good thing for a Playoff resume, but that’s what Baylor got this past weekend. With one loss, the Bears are technically not out of the race (We know a team that made the Playoff last season with a loss to Texas), but winning out is imperative.
18. Oklahoma State
I guess we are just going to ignore the loss to Central Michigan? Last week’s win over West Virginia was convincing and all, but it’s the only substantive thing this team has accomplished.
19. Virginia Tech
The Syracuse loss really hurt the Hokies here, as they could be hovering around the top 10 if it weren’t for that. They control their own destiny for the ACC Championship, but a Playoff berth isn’t in the cards.
20. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are essentially in the same position as Baylor. If they win out, they have an outside chance to make the Playoff. The issue is ... actually winning out.
21. North Carolina
Probably about right for the Heels. You have to rank them behind Virginia Tech because of the thrashing the Hokies handed them in Chapel Hill, and ahead of Florida State by virtue of their road win over the Noles.
22. Florida State
FSU put forth a valiant effort Saturday night, but the quality win continues to evade them despite their tough schedule.
23. Western Michigan
The Broncos are officially the highest ranked Group of Five team, and a New Year’s Six slot may be theirs to lose. ROW THE BOAT.
24. Boise State
The upset potential was there with Boise traveling to play a quality Wyoming team, and the Broncos made a tragic mistake in taking a safety in the final minute that decided the game. The Broncos were in prime position for a New Year’s Six bowl, but they may not control their own destiny now.
25. Washington State
The Cougars have won six straight games after early losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State and have serious spoiler potential in the Pac 12.