After the initial College Football Playoff rankings were released, I took a look at how the final rankings differed from the first listing during 2014 and 2015. With another regular season complete, we have a little more information about how the selection committee operates.
During the first two seasons of the CFP, the only real contenders for the playoff were teams who won their conference. The field was slightly more open in 2016, but really only one extra team entered the fray. In the end, the overall movement of teams within the rankings this season was not too different from the previous years.
- SEC champion Alabama (12-1); initial rank: 6, final rank: 1
- Pac-12 champion Oregon (12-1); initial rank: 5, final rank: 2
- ACC champion Florida State (13-0); initial rank: 2, final rank: 3
- Big Ten champion Ohio State (12-1); initial rank: 16, final rank: 4
- Big 12 co-champion Baylor (11-1); initial rank: 13, final rank: 5
- Big 12 co-champion TCU (11-1); initial rank: 7, final rank: 6
- ACC champion Clemson (13-0); initial rank: 1, final rank: 1
- SEC champion Alabama (12-1); initial rank: 4, final rank: 2
- Big Ten champion Michigan State (12-1); initial rank: 7, final rank: 3
- Big 12 champion Oklahoma (11-1); initial rank: 15, final rank: 4
- Pac-12 champion Stanford (12-2); initial rank: 11, final rank: 6
- SEC champion Alabama (13-0); initial rank: 1, final rank: 1
- ACC champion Clemson (12-1); initial rank: 2, final rank: 2
- Non-champion Ohio State (11-1); initial rank: 6, final rank: 3
- Pac-12 champion Washington (12-1); initial rank: 5, final rank: 4
- Big Ten champion Penn State (11-2); initial rank: 12, final rank: 5
- Big 12 champion Oklahoma (10-2); initial rank: 14, final rank: 7
There was a decent amount of controversy during the last couple weeks of the season, but the final rankings were actually fairly mild. The biggest difference from the previous two seasons was the inclusion of Ohio State in the playoff, a team that did not win their conference. Their initial ranking set them up for this opportunity, and their climb in the rankings was similar to what was seen in the first two years.
The 2016 final rankings were actually much closer to the initial rankings than what we saw in 2014 and 2015. All four playoff teams were ranked in the top six in the initial release, which was not the case during the first two seasons. However, the profile of qualifying teams essentially remained the same, as two-loss schools stayed on the outside looking in.
Continuing the trend, a couple teams who started in the top four were unsuccessful in holding their spot. In the first two seasons, at least one team fell to the back of the top 10 and at least one team experienced a much harsher drop. This season it was Michigan who had a smaller slip while Texas A&M fell all the way out of the rankings.
We did learn that the committee will take a team who did not win their conference, but otherwise this year’s playoff race went mostly to form. Having one loss or less seems like the biggest requirement to make the playoff, and while the initial rankings are not set in stone, they do give a hint as to who might be left standing in the end.
Had Clemson and/or Washington lost last weekend, we might have gotten a deeper glimpse into the selection criteria, but instead the final rankings were not too shocking. Criteria like strength of schedule and head-to-head results do seem important, but we will have to wait another year to see just how crucial they may be.