Previewing the Debut of the 2019 College Football Playoff Rankings

It’s hard to imagine a college football slate on a November weekend that was as, shall we say, muted, as Week 10, which saw nine of the top 25 teams sitting at home with a bye week, including four of the top five teams and five of the top 10.

Look, Saturday was fun but sort of in the way that it’s fun to have a substitute teacher for a week in grade school.

You still have to show up and things will be predictably out of control at times, then you’re going to come back the next week and realize that nothing really changed in the grand scheme of things based on what happened the week before.

Georgia-Florida was the week’s headlining game, an SEC matchup that was always going to eliminate the loser from College Football Playoff contention and set up the winner to likely face the winner of LSU-Alabama in Atlanta.

Oregon and Utah survived road trips to USC and Washington, respectively, and the fact that they both did is crucial for the conference as a whole. Having the two schools meet in the Pac-12 Championship as 11-1 division winners would guarantee the conference a 12-1 conference champion that would deserve playoff consideration.

This column has been used to advocate for the enjoyment of college football minutiae from a 130-team perspective, not just the four teams that make the playoff. Achievements like Oregon State winning three of its last four games, all on the road, to have sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 North and Indiana winning its fourth straight Big Ten game to improve to 7-2 (you’d have to go back to 2007 to find a season in which the Hoosiers won seven games, and 1993 before that).

But with the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season making their debut on Tuesday night, it’d be silly not to focus on the playoff picture and it’s ironic that one of the quietest weekends in recent college football memory came just before the CFP rankings are revealed.

First, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember just how much, or how little, the first set of rankings from the selection committee really mean, as well as some facts and figures from the five-year sample size we have.

  • Eleven of the 20 teams that have debuted in the top four of the selection committee’s first College Football Playoff rankings have gone on to make the playoff – Florida State (2014), Clemson (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), Alabama (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), Georgia (2017), Notre Dame (2018). We’ve seen as few as one (2014) and as many as three (2017, 2018) start in the top four and also finish in the top four that season. We can say with some level of certainty that the top four teams in the committee’s rankings on Tuesday probably won’t finish in the top four.
  • The lowest-ranked teams in the committee’s initial CFP rankings that ultimately made that season’s playoff were No. 16 Ohio State (2014) and No. 15 Oklahoma (2015). The 2016, 2017 and 2018 playoff races haven’t been as eventful with all four playoff teams coming from the committee’s initial top six in 2016, top five in 2017 and top seven in 2018. If you’re looking for the most likely teams to climb into the top four this season, I’ll highlight Georgia, Oregon, Utah and Oklahoma, which will likely be ranked between No. 6 and No. 9 in some order on Tuesday. However, Minnesota, Baylor and Wake Forest are theoretically the most likely candidates to make a 2014 Ohio State or 2015 Oklahoma-esque push for the playoff if they were to win the rest of their games, including their respective conference championship games. I just don’t think that will happen, however.
  • The first College Football Playoff rankings ever featured three (!) SEC teams in the top four and none of them were named Alabama, LSU, Georgia or Florida (!!). No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 4 Ole Miss were on potential playoff trajectories through nine weeks, along with No. 3 Auburn. Five years later, the Mississippi schools are a combined 7-11 (4-8 SEC) and that’s with the benefit of sharing a division with an Arkansas team that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2017.
  • Speaking of the SEC, it’s one of two Power Five conferences that only has one program that has never appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings, along with the ACC. Vanderbilt and Wake Forest are the only schools in those conferences, respectively, that have never cracked the committee’s top 25 rankings. In total, there are just 11 Power Five programs (out of 64) that haven’t been ranked in the CFP rankings and five of them play in the Big Ten. Wake Forest will almost certainly remove itself from that list on Tuesday. The 7-1 Demon Deacons should appear in the late-teens or low-20s in the first CFP rankings of 2019.
  • While the SEC has only had two schools make the playoff (that’s not meant as a slight, it’s just to set the context here), its schools have had an incredibly high ceiling in terms of where they peak in the selection committee’s rankings: Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State have reached No. 1; Auburn and LSU have been ranked No. 2; Ole Miss and Texas A&M have been No. 4; Florida (No. 8) and Kentucky (No. 9) have been viewed as top-10 teams, while Missouri (No. 16), Tennessee (No. 17), South Carolina (No. 24) and Arkansas (No. 25) have been peaked inside the top 25. That’s seven teams, or half of the conference, that have been ranked in the committee’s top four at some point since 2014. That’s as many teams as the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 combined: ACC (three), Big 12 (two), Big Ten (five), Pac-12 (two).
  • LSU is the only team that has debuted in the top four twice then failed to make the playoff. If LSU loses at Alabama in Week 11, there’s a chance that the Tigers will debut in the committee’s top four three times in the first six years of the playoff, only to drop from the top four by the end of the season. The Tigers started at No. 2 in 2015 and No. 3 last year. In total, five different SEC programs have been ranked in the top four of the initial CFP rankings before falling out of the playoff picture – Mississippi State (2014), Auburn (2014), Ole Miss (2014), LSU (2015, 2018) and Texas A&M (2016). The team that has been ranked No. 3 in the first CFP rankings has never made the playoff – Auburn (2014), Ohio State (2015), Michigan (2016), Notre Dame (2017) and LSU (2018).


It’s probably a good idea to not take the College Football Playoff selection committee’s words and decisions from one season and apply them to another. They have a difficult job, sure, but there have been times where the selection criteria feel like they’re a bit of moving target.

With that being said, I read through the official selection committee protocol and here are some reminders about how the selection process works:

  • “The committee’s task will be to select the best teams…” People often debate “best” versus “most deserving,” whether it’s on Twitter or talk radio. Sometimes a team can be one of the four best and one of the four most deserving but the committee’s goal is to pick the four best. Keep that in mind when you watch No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, and potentially an undefeated Penn State travel to a likely undefeated Ohio State later in November. We’ve seen Ohio State and Alabama make the playoff with an 11-1 record despite not playing for their respective conference championship and we could have an 11-1 team make the playoff this season.
  • “There will not be one single metric to assist the committee. Rather, the committee will consider a wide variety of data and information.” I often cite ESPN’s SP+ rankings when discussing or writing about teams but there’s no official metric that the selection committee adheres to, like the men’s basketball selection committee uses the NET rankings, for example. You can argue for your team on Twitter by using whatever stat you can find that supports your team making the playoff. There’s a chance the committee is using that same stat and there’s a chance they’re not considering it at all.
  • “Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance” is one of the committee principles uses to distinguish “otherwise comparable teams.” Just keep that in mind if a playoff contender has a key injury down the stretch or has dealt with serious injuries so far this season.
  • Eleven schools will require at least one selection committee member to be recused from voting involving that school. Recusals are required if a committee member or an immediate family member is compensated by a school, provides the school with professional services, or is on the coaching or administrative staff or is a football student-athlete at a school. The complete list is below.
School Committee Member
Arizona State Paola Boivin
R.C. Slocum
Arkansas State Terry Mohajir
Florida Scott Stricklin
Georgia Tech Todd Stansbury
Iowa Gary Barta
Mississippi State Scott Stricklin
NC State Ray Odierno
Oklahoma Frank Beamer
Joe Castiglione
Oregon Rob Mullens
Texas A&M R.C. Slocum
Virginia Tech Frank Beamer


1st & 10

  1. Virginia Tech’s Divine Deablo has one of the best names in college football (seriously, just say it out loud one time) and his 98-yard fumble return before halftime was potentially a 14-point swing that almost allowed the Hokies to beat Notre Dame in South Bend. It was one of the cleanest bounces and catches I’ve seen on a fumble return.
  2. Florida put in backup quarterback Emory Jones for one play on 2nd & 10 at Georgia’s 23. Predictably, he kept the ball on a quarterback keeper that was shut down for a two-yard gain. The Gators put starter Kyle Trask in on the next play. It was kind of an ironic move to pull against Georgia, which used former quarterback Justin Fields in a similar way last season. That kind of strategy seems to wave a giant red flag to the opponent when the backup, change-of-pace quarterback comes in for a play or two in, or near, the red zone. He’s most likely going to run the ball and the defense knows it. Then, when the play is less successful than imagined, he’ll go back to the sideline, unable to get in a rhythm or take much from the in-game experience. If you’re a coach who’s going to utilize the dual-threat backup’s legs deep in the opponent’s territory, you might as well give him multiple plays or else, what’s the point of playing him at all?
  3. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy so it’s hard to overstate his abilities but CBS studio analyst Houston Nutt said Saturday that “this guy is the next Tom Brady.” I don’t want to slow down the Joe Burrow hype train but that feels like one statement that’s worth pumping the brakes on.
  4. Clemson running back Travis Etienne rushed for his career-high rushing total in the first half against Wofford in Week 10. He finished with nine carries for 212 yards and two touchdowns on an absurd 23.6 yards per carry. That means that Etienne’s two highest single-game rushing totals of his career – 212 yards against Wofford and 205 against Georgia Tech – have come on nine and 12 carries, respectively. In 37 career games, he has averaged at least 10 yards per carry on 12 occasions.
  5. This Derrick Brown open-field tackle is ridiculous. I’ve probably watched it at least 10 times. Brown ran to Auburn’s sideline only to realize that he wasn’t supposed to come off the field so he turned around and ran back onto the field after the ball had been snapped and laid out an Ole Miss running back who thought he had daylight on a screen pass. He thought wrong.
  6. Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly told reporters that quarterback Ian Book’s game-winning touchdown run against Virginia Tech was the first time Book had scored in a two-minute drive all year, including practice. There’s trying to light a fire under your quarterback and then there’s unnecessarily and publicly throwing him under the bus to the media.
  7. This reverse that Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm dialed up on 3rd & 5 with his Boilermakers trailing Nebraska by three points in the final 75 seconds was a great play design. There were four players who theoretically could’ve received the ball on the play and the ball went to the one player, David Bell, who was going in the opposite direction of the other three.
  8. In related news, Nebraska won’t appear anywhere close to my 2020 way-too-early preseason top-25 rankings. The Huskers fell to 4-5 on Saturday after losing their third straight game and four out of their last five. Friends don’t let friends rank sub-.500 Nebraska in the preseason.
  9. This tweet from the official Air Force football account is the kind of pettiness I expect from team accounts after a win in a rivalry game.
  10. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe we should’ve known that Willie Taggart was going to get fired after Florida State’s official team account tweeted this after losing to rival Miami.


MORE: Florida State Fires Willie Taggart In Year Two | Possible Replacement Coaches