With the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, we will now shift to a weekly team-by-team analysis of the contenders. As always, there were a few surprises with the debut poll, but nothing so egregious it can’t be sorted out by the end of the season. Georgia is too high, BYU is too low, but all in all there’s not a ton of room for griping.
One thing we will be interested in tracking this particular season is the committee’s reliance on the “eye test” vs. its Strength of Schedule and Strength of Record metrics. It seems almost a certainty that these numbers — typically heavily relied upon by the committee — are guaranteed to be flawed to some degree this season due to the notable lack of interconference matchups. How flawed? Honestly, who knows. Have they always been flawed anyway? Fair question. Regardless, stacking up teams from different conferences this season is not an enviable task.
That’s not even to mention the huge disparity in games played between teams in different leagues at a given point in time. This season’s Playoff race could be a wild ride.
Let’s dig in.
NOTE: We will only provide individual breakdowns for teams that have a reasonable shot to make the Playoff.
***“SOR” denotes strength of record
***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule
1. Alabama (7-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 23)
The Crimson Tide are the clear No. 1 team at this point with two top-10 wins and no games closer than a 15-point disparity, so we have no problem with their place atop the rankings. The devil’s advocate position might note that both of those wins were at home, and that the combined record of their opponents outside of those two games is 13-22. Add in an alarming 48 points allowed to Ole Miss, and it’s hard not to get a bit of a 2018 vibe from this version of Alabama. Long story short, are they the best team right now? Yes. Will they be the best team at season’s end? TBD.
2. Notre Dame (8-0; SOR: 3; SOS: 69)
When you really look at these rankings, it hits you how few teams are actually in the running for a Playoff spot even at this early juncture. With that in mind, you could pretty easily convince us that if Notre Dame wins out and loses to Clemson in competitive fashion in the ACC Championship, the Irish would still find their way comfortably in the Playoff field. This assumes an Alabama win over Florida, of course, but who else would the committee select in this scenario? Texas A&M? Cincinnati? This would be assuming the Aggies even win out, which is far from a guarantee. And while we like the Bearcats, past committees have done nothing to make us think they would jump a one-loss Notre Dame. All this is to say, if the Irish can win their last two regular-season games (not the easiest, but doable), they would be in great shape.
3. Clemson (7-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 70)
The Tigers seem to be a logical choice at No. 3, but this ranking comes despite SOS and SOR numbers that would normally give the committee some pause about them. This is where we wonder how much weight committee members may give these metrics this year. Or maybe we are overthinking it, and a combination of Clemson’s pedigree and the nature of its loss to Notre Dame were enough to earn them some benefit of the doubt.
4. Ohio State (4-0; SOR: 7; SOS: 47)
Ohio State fans were presumably less than thrilled to see Clemson ahead of them in the opening poll, but it’s simply an issue of sample size coupled with a less than convincing win over Indiana this past week. The Buckeyes showed a serious chink in the armor against the Hoosiers in allowing Michael Penix Jr. to throw for nearly 500 yards and five touchdowns, where a more dominant performance possibly could have earned them a higher spot. Regardless, the Buckeyes seem to be in good shape to make the Playoff as an undefeated team.
5. Texas A&M (5-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 36)
The Aggies are the unfortunate “stuck” team that we see in most seasons who essentially lost the wrong game and now have a serious upward mobility problem. They would need to win out and have Alabama somehow lose two games to make it to the SEC Championship Game. If enough chaos reigns elsewhere, it’s not impossible for the Aggies to make the field without making a conference championship appearance (we have seen this before). However, they don’t have an “Alabama” or “Ohio State” name attached to their profile, and their one loss was a complete blowout against the Crimson Tide. Let’s just say the Aggies are not in an enviable position.
6. Florida (6-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 43)
The Gators, on the other hand very much control their own destiny for a Playoff berth. They just need to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship and avoid stumbling along the way. It’s difficult to see Florida having any shot at inclusion with two losses, but we can’t rule it out entirely with so many games still to play.
7. Cincinnati (8-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 84)
When you combine the Pac 12’s lack of games, the Big XII’s ineptitude, and Cincinnati’s own performance and quality of wins, it seems this season would be the most ripe yet for a Group of Five team to crash the Playoff party. The Bearcats have rolled through a notably deep AAC and have a chance to put a cherry on top of an undefeated season in two weeks with a road win over Tulsa, which debuted at No. 25 in the CFP poll. They could then theoretically play Tulsa again in the AAC Championship Game to add more firepower to a resume that is currently one of the better ones we have seen from a G5 team in the Playoff era. Would that be enough to get Cincinnati into the Playoff? It would obviously depend what happens elsewhere, but a few well-placed losses by teams ahead of them in this poll would make things very interesting.
8. Northwestern (5-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 21)
One of the more surprising teams of the season is Northwestern, which is 5-0 and currently in the catbird seat in the Big Ten West. The Wildcats have three winnable games left, and a hypothetical matchup with Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship would give them an excellent opportunity to storm into the four-team field. Another example of how much credence the committee is giving to its metrics, Northwestern currently ranks No. 1 (!) in Strength of Record yet finds itself just eighth in the rankings. Some of that could be a relative lack of games, and some could be the “eye test”, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on.
9. Georgia (5-2; SOR: 12; SOS: 9)
Quite frankly a joke to see the Bulldogs ranked this highly. No matter, as it would take a nearly impossible sequence of events for them to sniff the Playoff.
10. Miami (7-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 46)
The Hurricanes aren’t technically out of contention, but they either need Clemson to falter or Notre Dame to falter twice to have a chance to make the ACC Championship Game and play their way in. That said, Miami itself is always susceptible to losing at any moment.
11. Oklahoma (6-2; SOR: 20; SOS: 58)
12. Indiana (4-1; SOR: 15; SOS: 38)
13. Iowa State (6-2; SOR: 21; SOS: 51)
14. BYU (9-0; SOR: 10; SOS: 109)
15. Oregon (3-0; SOR: 14; SOS: 44)
16. Wisconsin (2-1; SOR: 30; SOS: 33)
17. Texas (5-2; SOR: 23; SOS: 40)
18. USC (3-0; SOR: 8; SOS: 16)
19. North Carolina (6-2; SOR: 34; SOS: 64)
20. Coastal Carolina (8-0; SOR: 13; SOS: 107)
21. Marshall (7-0; SOR: 19; SOS: 120)
22. Auburn (5-2; SOR: 28; SOS: 37)
23. Oklahoma State (5-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 30)
24. Iowa (3-2; SOR: 35; SOS: 35)
25. Tulsa (5-1; SOR: 17; SOS: 67)
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 13 Iowa State @ No. 17 Texas - Noon (Friday)
No. 2 Notre Dame @ No. 19 North Carolina - 3:30 p.m. (Friday)
No. 22 Auburn @ No. 1 Alabama - 3:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh @ No. 3 Clemson - 3:30 p.m.
LSU @ No. 5 Texas A&M - 7 p.m.