6 things the College Football Playoff rankings taught us

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers beside the teams will change next week.

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines have quite the test in college football Week 1

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The second College Football Playoff rankings of 2018 are out, and the selection committee offered several valuable lessons about how it’s rating the teams.

As always, remember to not be overly concerned about the actual order right now. Numbers beside the teams will change next week.

Instead, focus on the small yet meaningful insights the committee provided.

There are apparent trends within the rankings. We’ve picked out those and added a few other observations of the latest CFP release.

 

No surprises at the top

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Heading into the unveiling, it was widely accepted Alabama would retain its No. 1 position. Anything to the contrary would’ve seemed ridiculous after a 29-0 dismantling of LSU. Clemson and Notre Dame followed the Crimson Tide, as expected. While there was a little uncertainty of whether Michigan would replace LSU’s vacated spot, most projections favored the Wolverines to round out the top four followed by UGA and Oklahoma. That’s exactly what happened. It’s not a dramatic lesson, but the sport’s viewership knows it has a similar perception of top teams compared to the committee.

 

Michigan can jump Notre Dame

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When spokesman Rob Mullens appeared on ESPN after the release, a discussion about Michigan and Notre Dame ended with a qualifier: “this week.” That simple addition may have floated past listeners, but it’s a clear indication of how highly the committee rates Michigan. Currently, the head-to-head result against Notre Dame matters. However, if the Wolverines win the Big Ten title, their strength of schedule and wins might be favored over the September result. At the earliest, a move wouldn’t happen unless Michigan beats Ohio State in Week 13. But it’s a real possibility.

 

Immense respect for SEC

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Call it bias or whatever you’d like, but SEC programs are respected at every loss interval. Yes, Alabama is the clear-cut No. 1, and Georgia deserves its place at No. 5. But after the shutout to Bama, LSU only fell to No. 7 — in front of three one-loss power-conference teams. Kentucky is the highest-ranked two-loss team at No. 11. Florida collapsed at home to a mediocre Missouri team yet dropped only four spots to 15. The Gators are the top three-loss team — one position ahead of Mississippi State — and 24th-ranked Auburn edged into the poll. It’s preferable to lose in the SEC.

 

And very little for Group of Five

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As far as non-power leagues are concerned, there was literally zero movement in the second CFP rankings. Central Florida stuck at its all-time high of 12, Fresno State remained at 23 and no other 8-1 program joined the poll. No Utah State, which is winning games by an average of 32.9 points. No Cincinnati, which has the sixth-best scoring defense in the country. UAB and Buffalo were unlikely to crack the Top 25 anyway, but not even Utah State or Cincinnati? The deck is stacked against Group of Five teams, and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

 

Washington State is the odd team out

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Among one-loss squads, Washington State is soundly in the middle. Mike Leach’s club holds a No. 8 ranking, same as the opening-week spot. But the committee feels Oklahoma has a better strength of schedule and wins, and those metrics will only improve if the Sooners finish 12-1. Plus, No. 9 West Virginia and No. 10 Ohio State are waiting on regular-season clashes with OU and Michigan, respectively. Wazzu lacks a marquee win, and the best possible remaining victory is No. 25 Washington. Barring extreme chaos, the Cougs will not be in the College Football Playoff.

 

Head-to-head is shaping the rankings

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers

Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Until the value of conference titles can be weighed, the committee is staying consistent when programs have the same number of losses and played each other already. North Carolina State is behind Syracuse but ahead of Boston College. Florida is above Mississippi State, which defeated Auburn, which beat Washington. Michigan State toppled Penn State, which edged Iowa, which thwarted Iowa State. None of those programs are ordered incorrectly compared to previous results. There are plenty of reasonable gripes, but head-to-head having this much impact is excellent to see.

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