The thing that makes college football’s postseason so interesting is the way in which teams make the playoff. They don’t make it just based on record and numbers. All four teams are chosen to be in the playoff by the College Football Playoff Committee. The committee adds in new members every year, so each committee puts emphasis on different criteria for making the playoff. So, while you can say the initial rankings don’t mean much of anything, as the #1 and #4 teams still have to play each other, along with #2 LSU and #3 Alabama this week, they can tell us what the committee will value most. The biggest surprise was Penn State being ranked ahead of Clemson, the defending national champions. This year’s committee sent a statement with that ranking: last year doesn’t mean anything.
By putting Ohio State ahead of Alabama and Penn State ahead of Clemson, the committee told us that they are aware of who each team has played, and what they have looked like while playing. However, they won’t give you a boost over another team just because you were good last year. Sorry, Clemson, but you just haven’t looked as dominant this year. They have very few quality games on their schedule, and a one-point scare against North Carolina. Penn State has looked like one of the most complete teams in the country, and has quality wins at #18 Iowa and at home against #14 Michigan. While LSU can boast higher quality wins, with Texas, Florida, and Auburn are all wins on their schedule, Ohio State has just looked like the most dominant team in the country, beating #13 Wisconsin and #20 Cincinnati by a combined score of 80-7. That says something. They have three legitimate Heisman contenders in Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, and Chase Young. They have been tested rarely this season, but will have chances to stamp their resumé with #4 Penn State and #14 Michigan in back to back weeks. With all of that being said, Alabama certainly controls it’s own destiny, with games against LSU and Auburn, and an SEC championship game if they make it. Clemson will not miss the playoff if they run the table. It wouldn’t be possible to leave out an undefeated, Power 5 champion. Georgia controls their own fate as well. If they win out, they will be a one-loss SEC champion. They will deserve a bid as well. Oregon would also be able to make a case if they end as a 12-1 PAC-12 champ. They would have one loss to a good Auburn team at the beginning of the year, and would have a marquee victory likely against #8 Utah. Penn State and Ohio State play each other to likely decide the fate of the Big 10, unless Minnesota runs the table in the West, setting up a Big 10 championship between either Ohio State or a rematch against Penn State. Baylor is another surprising undefeated squad, and if they are able to win the Big 12, they could present a legitimate case to the committee. If Oklahoma finishes 12-1, they could still potentially make the playoffs, but would need help in the SEC and Big 10 to sneak in.
So, even if your team isn’t where you want them to be, or where you think they should be, it’s fine. These rankings, if history tells us anything, will not look the same come December. They just give us an insight into the mind of the committee this year, and what to expect moving forward. Plenty of teams are still in the mix, and there is a lot of important football to be played. The committee doesn’t care about last year. They are watching this year, and if a different team proves themselves against the top-tier teams, then there may just be new blood in the College Football Playoff.