There have been means of ranking college football teams since the beginning, and these polls have played a very large role in determining national champions, often too much so. As we usher in the College Football Playoff era, the top-25 poll determined by the playoff committee is the most revealing and important ranking so far devised.
The first-ever of those rankings were released on Tuesday. Mississippi State, as it does in the regular polls, stands on top. But the CFP Top 25 is different. It is determined by the same 12 people who will later decide the four who will play in the playoff. You get an idea of what they are thinking along the way, what they deem important, and the answer of the age-old debate of perception vs. reality.
You may agree or disagree with the format, or even the worthiness of a weekly poll, but these rankings are important to the process—not to mention they provide hours of debating fun for college football fans everywhere.
Questions have surfaced about the broadcaster of the playoff, ESPN, having bias in favor of the SEC—especially in light of the formation of the new SEC Network by ESPN last August. Short of scandal, what ESPN loves more than anything is to cover frontrunners, and the SEC is full of them. In the initial CFP poll, three of the magic four (and four of the top six) are from the conference.
Mississippi State and defending champion Florida State, the only two remaining undefeated teams from the Power Five conferences, are one and two. Auburn and Ole Miss round out the top four. It is the top four who will be granted a chance to compete for the championship come January. Auburn plays Ole Miss this Saturday night in Oxford. The Rebels lost at LSU last week, but still garnered a playoff position based on the season as a whole.
Just outside the top four are Oregon and Alabama. The Tide are third in the regular polls but out of the top four. Alabama’s loss was to Ole Miss, and head-to-head seems to be very important to this committee. Rounding out the top 10 are TCU, Michigan State, Kansas State and Notre Dame. Notable here is that Michigan State’s lone loss was at Oregon; Kansas State’s was to Auburn; and Notre Dame’s was controversial at Florida State. Who you play seems to be rewarded as well.
The second 10 consists of Georgia, Arizona, Baylor, Arizona State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Utah, Oklahoma, LSU and West Virginia. Georgia is a team to watch, atop the SEC East. It was announced they would get Todd Gurley back for the Auburn showdown on November 15. A surprise here could be how low OSU stands, but their lone loss was to 4-4 Virginia Tech at home. They play at Michigan State in two weeks and can prove themselves then.
The initial committee rankings have a bottom five of Clemson, UCLA, East Carolina, Duke and Louisville. Louisville hosted Florida State on Thursday in a potential trap game for the Seminoles. ECU is the highest ranked team outside the Power Five. For the team who does that at the end, they will be at least awarded with a prestigious New Year’s bowl trip. Marshall, undefeated and ranked in the usual polls, is unranked by the committee due largely to a weak schedule. No opponents from a Power Five league at all.
The rankings are released each Tuesday night, with the final rankings set for Sunday, December 7.