The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2016 season have been released. Let’s take a deep dive into the selection committee’s work.
The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2016 season were released on Tuesday night. And to the surprise of no one, Alabama was selected as the top team in the country by the 12-person selection committee.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide stood atop the initial Top 25, while Clemson and Michigan followed at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. And then Washington came in at No. 4, right? Actually, Texas A&M was the surprising occupant of the fourth spot, as the Aggies were rewarded for their lone loss being to the best team in the country.
Washington fans have no need to panic, though, as there is plenty of football left to be played. As always, though, we were reminded on Tuesday night that the committee undertakes a very subjective process that provides a lot of talking points for those who cover the sport.
Since the debut of the playoff era, the committee has discussed the various criteria that it uses to slot the teams within the rankings. However, through the first few seasons, it became obvious that this is very much a process steeped in subjectivity. After all, we are dealing with a human-based committee and not a group of computer models.
So, factors such as head-to-head record, strength of schedule, how dominant a team looks, etc. are taken into account, but they can be applied in different ways—or even overlooked in certain situations. Each week is different from the next, and scenarios can change. It’s important to keep that in mind.
Here are some thoughts on the first set of rankings that were released by committee chair Kirby Hocutt and Co. earlier on Tuesday evening.
During the rankings release show Hocutt said that the committee believes that Texas A&M has played a tougher schedule than Washington up to this point, so that’s why the Aggies are above the Huskies right now. But Chris Petersen’s squad still has games left against an improved USC team, Washington State and the Pac-12 South champ in a possible league title game, which will help its cause. Not helping its cause is the fact that Oregon and Stanford are down this year, so those wins don’t look as great as they normally would have over the last several years.
Bottom line: if Washington is 13-0 with a Pac-12 title, the Huskies are in as a Power Five champion. Conference titles carry weight and are valued by the committee, but said titles can’t exist until the final rankings are ready to be released. A one-loss U-Dub squad, though, would have to seriously worry because the committee seems to be punishing the Huskies’ non-conference schedule. But could you imagine if A&M has a TCU-like drop in the final rankings as the Horned Frogs did two years ago?
Jim Delany’s league placed five teams in the Top 12 of the first CFP rankings: No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 12 Penn State. Coming into the season, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes appeared primed to carry the Big Ten banner, which they have done so far. But the Badgers beat LSU in the season opener and have a pair of close losses to the Wolverines and Buckeyes; the Cornhuskers have just an overtime loss to the Badgers; and the Nittany Lions knocked off the Buckeyes and seem to have turned a corner for James Franklin. While these rankings are not the be-all end-all, it is a sign of the league’s strength that so many teams are ranked as high as they are right now.
Bad news for Louisville
It was not a great night for Bobby Petrino’s squad. The Cardinals checked in at No. 7, which isn’t welcome news considering they have already played their toughest games. They smoked Florida State, whose three losses don’t exactly help, but they lost to Clemson. While a close loss to Clemson is nothing to sneeze at, Louisville needs a lot of help. It can’t win the ACC Atlantic if the Tigers don’t falter, so Louisville is going to need a lot of help to move up and to even fight off some of the teams that check in this week behind the Cards. Tough spot for Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The Big 12’s lone wolf
Oklahoma checks in at No. 14 this week, and the Sooners are essentially the Big 12’s best shot to get into the national semifinals despite having two losses. OU dropped the season opener to Houston, which is scuffling after having its own CFP hopes dashed, as well as a game against Ohio State. But with No. 17 Baylor and No. 20 West Virginia falling out of the ranks of the unbeaten last week, OU is positioned at least for a New Year’s Six bowl game—and perhaps more. It still needs a lot of help, of course.
The Pac-12 has two teams in No. 15 Colorado and No. 16 Utah that could prove dangerous to Washington in a potential Pac-12 title game, but they ultimately may be mere spoilers. The SEC trio of Auburn (9), Florida (11) and LSU (13) are the ones to really watch, especially Auburn and LSU because those are the teams that still have ‘Bama on the schedule. Florida could potentially reach the SEC title game, too, so these teams will have a chance to really shake up the CFP rankings by year’s end.