Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season.
After meeting for a day and a half at a hotel outside Dallas, the 13-member CFP selection committee released the first of its five weekly top 25s before the four-team field is set for the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 2.
Michigan is fifth, followed by Georgia and Oklahoma, in the rankings announced Tuesday night.
Washington State was eighth, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team. It’s the highest ranking for the Cougars since the CFB format was introduced in 2014.
The top four teams were no surprise. The same four teams are Nos. 1-4 in the latest Associated Press college football poll, except with Notre Dame third and LSU fourth.
Next week’s rankings figure to look a lot different. Four games matching top-20 teams will be played Saturday, including Alabama at LSU.
UCF was the highest ranked team from outside the Power Five conferences at 12th. The highest ranked team from the so-called Group of Five conferences is guaranteed a spot in the New Year’s Six bowls, but the Knights, riding a 20-game winning streak, want to be included in the playoff discussion this year.
Last season they started 18th and rose to 12th by the final rankings.
Kentucky was ninth. The Wildcats host Georgia on Saturday in a game that will decide the SEC East.
Ohio State was 10th.
If form holds, two of the top four teams in the first CFP ranking of the season will go on to play in the national semifinals.
Coaches began downplaying the significance of the rankings even before they were revealed on national television.
“I didn’t even know that was tonight. I didn’t realize that was going on,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart told reporters. “But I should have talked to my team about that. I didn’t bring it up to them. So who knows what they’ll be thinking tonight.”
Ranking teams is a time-honored tradition in college football, going back to first Associated Press poll in 1936. But what, if anything, can be learned from the first four years of CFP rankings?
Of the 16 teams the committee ranked in the top four of its initial rankings from 2014-17, half made the playoff. No team ranked third in the first CFP rankings has ever made the playoff.
Last season, for the first time, three teams (Georgia, Alabama, Clemson) started in the top four and finished there. Clemson was the only team to be somewhere in the top four in all six rankings from the committee.
In 2015 and ‘16, two teams in the committee’s first four made the playoff. Both of those years, Alabama and Clemson started in the top four and never slipped out. Clemson was No. 1 in every committee top 25 in 2015 and Alabama was top-ranked in all six 2016 rankings.
The very first committee rankings, in 2014, had just one eventual playoff team. They included three teams from the Southeastern Conference (though not the one that eventually made the playoff) along with Florida State.
That year, the committee created a bit of a stir when, in its third ranking, it dropped unbeaten national champion Florida State to No. 3 behind No. 2 Oregon, which had lost a game. It seemed to send a signal the committee would be different from traditional polls that tended to honor win-loss record above all. The second-to-last rankings had Florida State at fourth, behind three teams that had already lost. The Seminoles went into the Rose Bowl semifinal as the No. 3 seed and lost to Oregon.
Among the eight teams over the past four seasons that were part of the initial committee top four but did not make the playoff, only one was unranked on selection Sunday. Texas A&M in 2016 was somewhat of a surprising No. 4, and then proceeded to lose three of its final four games. Auburn (2014), LSU (2015) and Notre Dame (2017) were the other teams to start in the committee’s top four, but wind up not even making a New Year’s Six bowl.
The playoff team that made the longest climb from first committee ranking to final was Ohio State, which started 16th in 2014 and made the semifinals as the fourth seed – and won the championship. Oklahoma in 2015 was 15th in the first top 25 and fourth on selection Sunday.
The last two seasons, none of the eventual playoff teams were ranked worse than sixth (Ohio State in 2016) in the committee’s first ranking.
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