8 most interesting observations from CFP rankings

By David Kenyon
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Exploring the “why” behind some of the committee’s decisions.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Every unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings leads to discussion, but the first edition is an important look into the committee’s thinking.

Before we get invested, let’s remember one thing: The numbers beside the teams won’t matter in a week’s time. We’re most interested in exploring the “why” behind some of the committee’s decisions.

Why was Team A ranked where it was? Were any schools considerably higher or lower than expected? Did the committee seem to favor one thing over another?

For better or worse, precedents are set for 2018.

Now, we can only watch and see if the CFP committee stays consistent.

 

Committee dramatically higher on UCF this year

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UCF boasts a prolific offense and rarely leaves a doubt which team is superior on a given weekend. After finishing undefeated last year, the Knights have rattled off a 7-0 start. The committee, however, is only supposed to consider the games played this season. There’s absolutely no way 2017 isn’t factoring into UCF checking in at No. 12, considering it was the program’s peak ranking last year. Currently, the Knights’ strength of schedule ranks 124th out of 130 nationally. Don’t misunderstand, this is an improvement for the committee. But it’s a stark contract to 2017, so consider us skeptical it’ll last.

 

LSU’s wins outweigh one loss

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Wins over Miami and Auburn should not be branded as top-10 victories, considering those programs aren’t even playing like top-25 squads. Third-ranked LSU, though, held an edge on Notre Dame thanks to a larger list of triumphs over winning teams. The Tigers have six such victories compared to Notre Dame’s three. It’s both reasonable and not something to worry about, if you’re an Irish fan. LSU can only contend for a top-four slot if it defeats Alabama this weekend. Conversely, the Tigers can be assured of immense respect in the final rankings if they’re 12-1.

 

Respect for ACC will help Clemson

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The committee apparently loves the ACC’s depth. Beyond the No. 2 ranking for Clemson, the league had four schools ranked. Syracuse led the group at 19, followed by North Carolina State (21), Boston College (22) and Virginia (25). Head-to-head wins seemed to rule the order of those, with Virginia’s loss to Indiana likely the reason it brought up the back. Clemson already has victories over Syracuse and NC State, so the committee clearly thinks of those as quality wins. With an upcoming date at BC and potential ACC title clash with Virginia, the Tigers won’t need to worry about strength of schedule being an issue.

 

Oklahoma needs a little help

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The No. 7 Sooners have earned a College Football Playoff spot in two of the last three years, but their outlook is complicated. As the rankings stand, Alabama and Clemson are undeniable choices if they finish undefeated. Notre Dame would be a shoo-in at 12-0, and if Michigan ended 12-1, its only loss would be at ND with victories over Penn State and Ohio State. Oklahoma would be considered a comparable team to Notre Dame and Michigan, and the Sooners’ resume lags behind. First and foremost, OU needs to keep winning — yet hope a couple of losses happen elsewhere, too.

 

Three-loss SEC teams are valued

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Jimbo Fisher’s debut season at Texas A&M has gone about as well as possible. It’s quite easy to suggest that when two losses happened to be against Alabama and Clemson. Otherwise, the No. 20 Aggies are 5-1 with a reasonable loss at Mississippi State, which is 18th in these initial CFP rankings. All three of the Bulldogs’ shortcomings happened against top-15 teams. That’s a great sign for Alabama and LSU, since both programs could earn a pair of top-25 wins. Throw in the impending winner of the clash between the Crimson Tide and Tigers, and the result is a strong resume.

 

Iowa State is a sneaky-important team

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The Cyclones opened the season 1-3, but that September schedule was challenging. They understandably dropped games to Iowa, Oklahoma and a then-healthy TCU. Since then, Iowa State has earned wins over Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech — all of which are 5-3 or better. But you may notice in that schedule how No. 24 Iowa State has encountered most of its toughest competition. Save for a clash with Texas, the Cyclones’ remaining opponents are 4-11 in Big 12 action and FCS school Incarnate Word. Iowa State gives both Oklahoma and Iowa a great win if it finishes strong.

 

Love for Washington State, not West Virginia

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Not every one-loss record is created equal. That’s the message from the committee, which placed 7-1 Washington State at No. 8 but slotted in West Virginia at No. 13. This, despite the Mountaineers ranking 56th in strength of schedule compared to 88th for Wazzu and vocal CFP critic Mike Leach. So, it’s apparent Washington State’s marquee wins — Utah (15), Oregon and Stanford — outweigh WVU’s unimpressive list highlighted by Texas Tech. Good news, though, Mountaineers fans: Knocking off Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in November would change that perception significantly.

 

Florida leads the two-loss teams

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Dan Mullen’s first year at Florida will end without an SEC East Division title. By no means has 2018 been a failure for the 11th-ranked Gators, though. With losses only to No. 6 Georgia and No. 9 Kentucky, Florida is still a revered mid-tier team. That absolutely makes sense, given its victories over Mississippi State and LSU earlier this season. No other two-loss program can match that pair of ranked triumphs. And if the Gators ultimately finish 10-2, LSU won’t be dinged much — if at all — for losing on the road to what would be a top-10 Florida squad.

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