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Eyes on the Nation: Projecting the first College Football Playoff rankings

What hints do we have at the criteria the committee will use?

Missouri v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Everyone picks college football’s four best teams differently.

In the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff, the nation argued about whether Ohio State, Baylor or TCU deserved the final spot. In 2016, the Buckeyes somehow earned the No. 3 seed over Penn State, who won the Big Ten and head to head.

Even defending national champion Alabama found their way into the final four, despite a double-digit loss to rival Auburn to eliminate them from the SEC Championship.

How can the past inform us on how the College Football Playoff Committee will determine the top seeds?


Straight from the CFP website:

When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without inventing margin of victory)”

The first sentence is key. The four criteria listed are tiebreakers, not the whole enchilada. Other selection documents on the NCAA website cite the use of analytics such as Bill Connelly at Football Outsiders.

That means the committee bases if teams are comparable with metrics such as S&P or FPI, right? The evidence doesn’t really support that.

  • Ohio State, despite ranking as the top S&P team last year, was considered incomparable to Alabama. Not to get too ahead of myself, but a 31-point loss to Iowa will do that to you.
  • Michigan State was slotted at No. 14 in S&P in 2015, five spots below Pac-12 champion Stanford.

The sad reality on how the committee picks is it’s via the most elementary of methods.

Who has a better record?

Last year, the Crimson Tide’s 11-1 mark bested the Buckeyes’ 11-2 record. The year before, Urban Meyer’s 11-1 team topped the 11-2 Nittany Lions.

In 2015’s less complicated year with four conference champions, 11-1 Oklahoma edged 11-2 Stanford — even though they seized the Big 12 and Pac-12, respectively. Notably, Iowa’s 12 wins that year even put them above the Cardinal, though the Hawkeyes tripped up in the Big Ten Championship.

Finally, Ohio State — a frequent beneficiary of the committee’s decisions — and their 12 victories outpaced Baylor and TCU’s 11.

It’s stupidly simple. Look at records, regardless of any of the tiebreaker criteria. 12 is more than 11, and so on.

College football somehow found a more archaic way of selecting tournament teams than college basketball with the RPI.

With that said...


  1. Alabama, 8-0, (Projected undefeated and SEC Champion)
  2. Clemson, 7-0, (Projected undefeated and ACC Champion)
  3. Notre Dame, 7-0, (Projected undefeated and football royalty)
  4. LSU, 7-1, (Best win: Georgia by 20)
  5. Michigan, 7-1, (Projected Big Ten Champion, two straight ranked win by double-digits, best loss to Notre Dame)
  6. Georgia, 6-1, (Projected to make SEC Title game, only loss to LSU)
  7. Texas, 6-1, (Projected Big 12 Champion, but loss to Maryland hurts. Head-to-head over Oklahoma keeps them above)
  8. Oklahoma, 6-1, (Only loss to Texas by three, unbeaten rest of season, wins conference and puts pressure on No. 4 spot)
  9. UCF, 7-0, (Projected undefeated and best Group of 5, boost from 13-0 season in 2017)
  10. Ohio State, 7-1, (Record puts them over Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, etc.)

I’m sure everyone will agree on this and be satisfied...


  • Florida State (4-3, 2-3) against No. 2 Clemson (7-0, 4-0) (noon, ABC)

One Clemson loss knocks them out of the playoff discussion. The ACC is dreadful past them. It frees up a spot for a one-loss team such as Michigan, which will hold more ranked victories should it run the table.

Also, Willie Taggart is the Seminole head coach, and a Harbaugh acolyte.

  • No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1) against No. 7 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) (3:30 p.m., CBS)

If the Gators upset the Bulldogs in Jacksonville, the chance of two SEC teams in the playoff diminishes greatly. Georgia with two losses is not surpassing a projected one-loss Michigan.

Florida, meanwhile, has no chance at beating Alabama in Atlanta should Dan Mullen shock the South with an SEC Championship game berth.

  • No. 17 Penn State (5-2, 2-2) against No. 18 Iowa (6-1, 3-1) (3:30 p.m., ESPN)

Michigan wants a chance to beat another ranked team. The Nittany Lions could shoot up in the polls with a top-25 tilt against the Hawkeyes.

  • Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3) against No. 6 Texas (6-1, 4-0) (8 p.m., ABC)

The Pokes can end another outside playoff contender with one game in Stillwater. That would put the ball in Oklahoma’s court to run the table — likely in back-to-back weeks at West Virginia in late November and a Big 12 Championship rematch with them or the Longhorns.

  • Navy (2-5) against No. 3 Notre Dame (7-0) (8 p.m., CBS)

This is a personal pick. For those who don’t know, I served for over four years as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy.

The Midshipmen try to defend “home” base in a neutral-site match in San Diego, one of America’s greatest military towns.

This is the rare year where head coach Ken Niumatalolo will likely miss a bowl. However, Navy has managed four victories over the Irish since 2007, including the last “home” game in Jacksonville in 2016.

Go America.