Clemson leads way in first playoff ranking
NEW YORK — Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings of the season.
Notre Dame was fifth and Baylor was sixth on Tuesday night.
Clemson, LSU and Ohio State are among 11 unbeaten teams in FBS, nearly quadruple the number there was last season when the committee started ranking teams. Alabama and Notre Dame each have one loss.
Memphis was the highest ranked team from a Group of Five conference at No. 13.
Last year the top four teams in the first playoff rankings were Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi. Only the Seminoles reached the playoff. Ohio State, the eventual national champion, was 16th in the first rankings.
Takeaways from the first playoff rankings.
The committee really warmed up to the Crimson Tide.
Alabama lost to Mississippi in September and then Florida pounded Ole Miss in Gainesville. But the Tide landed in playoff position, while Florida was 10th and Ole Miss was 18th.
"Alabama from our point of view had a stronger schedule in the games they have won," said selection committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas. "They have three wins against teams with better than .500 records. They're close even though they may be separated by a number of ranking spots."
If you think Alabama is positioned to simply win out and get in the playoff, think again.
Ole Miss is still in control of the SEC West race, so Alabama will need the Rebels to lose just to reach the SEC championship game. At 11-1 with no conference championship, Alabama is likely to get jumped by teams that do win conference titles, including whichever team wins the SEC.
The committee is told to emphasize conference championships, especially when teams have similar resumes.
Remember, the committee showed last year it does not lock teams into positions. Florida State dropped while not losing and TCU was third going into the last weekend of the season and finished sixth, despite blowing out Iowa State.
Waiting on the Big 12
The Big 12 has four teams (Baylor, No. 8 TCU, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 15 Oklahoma) in the top 15 and they all play each other in November.
Long said it was difficult to judge the strength of those teams because their big games are still to come. The good news for the Power Five conference that got left out of last season's final four is all of those teams are in good shape to get in the playoff if they win out.
The bad news is one loss by the Big 12 champion might be too much to get into the playoff.
Baylor, again, played a terribly weak nonconference schedule, and Oklahoma State did the same. TCU's best nonconference opponent was Minnesota, which is struggling.
If you're looking for this season's Ohio State, which went from 16th in the first poll to making the playoff, Oklahoma is a good pick.
If the Sooners can sweep TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State down the stretch, they would have a strong late statement.
Memphis has a shot to get into the playoff. It's still a long shot, but it is not totally unrealistic, especially considering the respect the committee gave to other American Athletic Conference teams.
What do the Tigers need, other than a perfect record and an American Athletic Conference championship?
— Ole Miss winning the SEC would help a lot. Memphis' victory against the Rebels resonated with the committee.
"The victory over Ole Miss and Ole Miss's subsequent victory over Alabama really helped move Memphis into that consideration," Long said. "They have two other wins against teams with better than .500 records, so that stood out at us at this time."
— Temple and Houston not getting upset. The Owls came in 22nd in the committee rankings and the unbeaten Cougars were 25th. Memphis plays both in November and could get Temple again in the American championship game.
If the Owls and Cougars can avoid bad losses, they will give the Tigers the chance for three quality wins.
The Pac-12 is going to need some help getting a team in the playoff.
No. 11 Stanford (7-1) and No. 12 Utah (7-1) were the committee's highest ranked Pac-12 teams. Both are well positioned to surge, but they might have too much traffic in front of them to get into the top four.
Best-case scenario for the Pac-12: A Stanford-Utah conference title game produces a 12-1 champion and either the Big 12 contenders knock each other off and create a one-loss champion or the SEC champion ends up with two losses.
Eyeing the Irish
The committee really liked Notre Dame's two-point loss at Clemson, and it will keep the Irish in the playoff hunt as long as they keep winning.
Notre Dame plays Stanford in the regular-season finale, which could give it a leg up on the Pac-12. The Irish have already beaten Southern California. Could an 11-1 Notre Dame trump an 11-1 Big 12 champion? That might be the Notre Dame's path to the playoff.