What the First College Football Playoff Rankings From the Last Four Seasons Tell Us

The first College Football Playoff rankings for the 2018 season will be announced Tuesday night, so we examined the committee’s initial rankings from the last four seasons to see what we can learn. Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • On average, only two teams ranked in the top four of the committee’s first rankings will make the College Football Playoff. Eight of the 16 teams to debut in the top four have gone on to make the playoff.
  • Five of the eight teams that have not made the playoff after being ranked in the top four of the committee’s initial rankings were SEC schools. Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M have each dropped after being ranked in the top four of the committee’s initial rankings. Keep that in mind if Alabama and LSU are both ranked in the top four on Tuesday.
  • The schools that made the biggest jumps from the initial rankings to the top four of the final rankings were Ohio State (from No. 16 in 2014), Oklahoma (from No. 15 in 2015) and Michigan State (from No. 7 in 2015). If you’re a fan of a one-loss team that’s ranked outside of the top six in the committee’s rankings on Tuesday, there’s still hope.
  • Tuesday’s rankings could feature the second-fewest number of undefeated teams for the first edition of a season’s CFP rankings. There are just four candidates this year: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and UCF. There were 11 undefeated teams in the committee’s first rankings in 2015, five in each of the last two seasons and only two in the first-ever CFP rankings in 2014.
  • Notre Dame and TCU hold the distinction for the most top-10 debuts in the committee’s rankings without making the playoff. The Fighting Irish were No. 10 in the first rankings in 2014, No. 5 in the initial 2015 rankings and No. 3 in the committee’s Week 10 rankings last season. TCU was No. 7 in 2014, No. 8 in 2015 and No. 8 last year. Auburn and Wisconsin have each started in the top 10 of the committee’s rankings twice.
  • Three teams that have debuted in the top 10 of the playoff selection committee’s initial rankings were not ranked in the final rankings just five weeks later. Don’t be surprised if one team that’s ranked in the top 10 on Tuesday falls completely out of the playoff conversation by December.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of the top 10 teams in the playoff selection committee’s initial rankings and where those schools were ranked in the final rankings.

2014

Remember four years ago when there were three SEC schools ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first-ever rankings? Mississippi State was No. 1, Auburn was No. 3 and Ole Miss was No. 4.

Of course, the rankings didn’t finish that way as Alabama climbed from No. 6 to No. 1 to be the only SEC team represented in the first playoff.

School Initial CFP Ranking Final CFP Ranking
Mississippi State No. 1 No. 7
Florida State No. 2 No. 3
Auburn No. 3 No. 19
Ole Miss No. 4 No. 9
Oregon No. 5 No. 2
Alabama No. 6 No. 1
TCU No. 7 No. 6
Michigan State No. 8 No. 8
Kansas State No. 9 No. 11
Notre Dame No. 10 NR

2015

Clemson was undefeated through the ACC Championship in 2015, holding the No. 1 spot in the committee’s rankings from Week 10 through Week 15. LSU dropped dramatically, Ohio State fell in the rankings after a home loss to Michigan State and it was business as usual for Alabama with a 12-1 record entering the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

School Initial CFP Ranking Final CFP Ranking
Clemson No. 1 No. 1
LSU No. 2 No. 20
Ohio State No. 3 No. 7
Alabama No. 4 No. 2
Notre Dame No. 5 No. 8
Baylor No. 6 No. 17
Michigan State No. 7 No. 3
TCU No. 8 No. 11
Iowa No. 9 No. 5
Florida No. 10 No. 19

2016

The initial CFP rankings in 2016 turned out to be an accurate predictor of the eventual playoff field as the four playoff teams were all ranked among the committee’s top six teams in Week 10.

Michigan and Texas A&M, ranked No. 3 and No. 4 initially, respectively, dropped in the rankings while Washington and Ohio State climbed into the top four from No. 5 and No. 6 in the committee’s first rankings.

School Initial CFP Ranking Final CFP Ranking
Alabama No. 1 No. 1
Clemson No. 2 No. 2
Michigan No. 3 No. 6
Texas A&M No. 4 NR
Washington No. 5 No. 4
Ohio State No. 6 No. 3
Louisville No. 7 No. 13
Wisconsin No. 8 No. 8
Auburn No. 9 No. 14
Nebraska No. 10 NR

2017

The top of the playoff selection committee’s Week 10 rankings last season were consistent with the final rankings as the four playoff teams were ranked in the top five of the initial rankings. Georgia and Alabama – the top two teams in the rankings in Week 10 – claimed the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the playoff, while Clemson and Oklahoma took the top two spots.

Notre Dame made the most notable drop from No. 3 in Week 10 to No. 14 in the final rankings.

School Initial CFP Ranking Final CFP Ranking
Georgia No. 1 No. 3
Alabama No. 2 No. 4
Notre Dame No. 3 No. 14
Clemson No. 4 No. 1
Oklahoma No. 5 No. 2
Ohio State No. 6 No. 5
Penn State No. 7 No. 9
TCU No. 8 No. 15
Wisconsin No. 9 No. 6
Miami No. 10 No. 10