The College Football Playoff rankings are nearly here.
The Playoff committee will unveil the first set of rankings on Tuesday, a made-for-TV event since the four-team Playoff started in 2014. The first set of rankings is guaranteed to elicit two reactions from college football fans:
Step 1: Scream that the rankings don’t matter.
Step 2: Proceed to argue about the rankings anyway.
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It works every time — especially the first time those rankings are unveiled every year. Remember, the poll always matters.
With that in mind, here are five arguments the College Football Playoff committee could start depending on how those rankings look Tuesday. Who’s ready to argue?
Alabama or LSU No. 1?
Anything to spice up this week’s “Game of the Century” between No. 1 and No. 2.
LSU should, and probably will be, listed at No. 1 in these rankings. The Tigers have top-10 victories in hand against Texas, Florida and Auburn. LSU is No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and should be given that benefit of the doubt knowing Alabama’s opponents have a combined record of 28-41 (.406).
Take another look at the Coaches Poll and keep in mind that committee is full of former coaches and athletic directors. The Crimson Tide were voted No. 1 in the Coaches Poll, and even though it’s not a metric, everyone in that room knows Alabama has won the last eight meetings. How does Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle injury impact those rankings? Will the committee show flagrant “Bama bias?”
All of those factors are in play, and the good news is these two will settle it on the field Saturday. Just don’t be surprised if the committee throws some kindling on the Playoff rankings for social media to burn all week.
Justifying Ohio State’s ranking
The truth is Ohio State has an even better case at No. 1 than either LSU or Alabama at this point. The Buckeyes have been labeled the “most complete team” in the country on more than one occasion, they have three legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Chase Young, Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins and their opponents to this point have a combined record of 39-28 (.582).
The Buckeyes have beaten those opponents with a point differential of plus-323 — the only unbeaten Power 5 team with a differential of more than 300. Alabama (267) and LSU (231) rank third and fifth, respectively. Clemson (293) is second with nine games under its belt, and Penn State (231) is fourth; the Nittany Lions will play Ohio State on Nov. 23.
It will be interesting to hear committee chairman Rob Mullens’ explanation for Ohio State’s ranking, no matter where it falls in the top three.
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Clemson outside the top four?
The Tigers are 9-0, have won 24 straight games and are the defending national champions. Clemson is seeking a third national championship in four years.
Clemson plays in the ACC, and the competition around Dabo Swinney’s team might be a penalty of sorts. Their opponents have a combined record of 38-40 (.487). The only ranked team Clemson has defeated is Texas A&M, and they are in the SEC. Would that be enough for the committee to drop the Tigers behind a second Big Ten team in Penn State? That’s an argument that’s going to happen either way.
The term was coined sometime during the conference’s run of seven straight BCS championships, and it’s stuck in the Playoff era. Is it real or a myth?
Here’s what we are almost sure of concerning Tuesday’s rankings. Either Alabama or LSU will be No. 1. The conference will likely have the highest one-loss team in Georgia and the highest two-loss team in Auburn. Texas A&M — which has lost to Clemson, Alabama and Auburn and still has to play LSU — could sneak in as the highest three-loss team.
Whether that’s a product of an inherent bias within the committee is irrelevant. That’s a trend that started with the first-ever rankings in 2014 when the committee put Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss in the top four ahead of eventual SEC champion Alabama, which was No. 6 in those rankings. Don’t expect that trend, or for the clamoring from the other Power 5 conferences, to stop.
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Pac-12 vs. Big 12
The Pac-12 was left for dead early in the season, but the conference has two one-loss teams in the mix in Oregon and Utah. Considering Mullens is Oregon’s athletic director, we don’t think those two teams will be completely disrespected in the initial rankings.
Just keep an eye on where the committee stacks the Ducks and Utes against Oklahoma — a three-time Playoff contestant saddled with a 48-41 loss to Kansas State — and Baylor, the lone unbeaten team left in the Big 12.
In other words, will Oregon be ranked ahead of Oklahoma? Will Utah be ranked ahead of Baylor? Those are hidden clues in the top 10.
These are two conferences that will need their champion to win out and emerge as the best one-loss team in the field knowing that the losers of Alabama-LSU and Ohio State-Penn State might have a better Playoff case than the champion from those conferences.