Reactions to the First College Football Playoff Rankings of 2018

    The first set of College Football Playoff rankings of the 2018 season were announced Tuesday night, so it's time for fans across the country to analyze,

    October 30, 2018

    The first set of College Football Playoff rankings of the 2018 season were announced Tuesday night, so it’s time for fans across the country to analyze, overreact and speculate on what the rankings mean.

    Here are our reactions.

    Alabama, Clemson continue to dominate in the CFP era

    For the fifth straight set of College Football Playoff rankings, dating back to Week 12 of last season, Alabama or Clemson is ranked No. 1 by the committee. On Tuesday, Alabama earned the No. 1 spot, followed by No. 2 Clemson.

    The Crimson Tide or Tigers have earned the top spot in 21 of the 26 College Football Playoff rankings released by the committee since 2014.

    The committee values good wins

    It may have surprised some fans to see LSU at No. 3 and undefeated Notre Dame at No. 4., but that gives us some insight into how this year’s committee evaluates the value of strong wins.

    Notre Dame beat No. 5 Michigan at home and LSU beat No. 6 Georgia at home. If anything, those wins might “cancel out” in the committee’s eyes when determining which team is better. The committee has the Wolverines ranked slightly higher than the Bulldogs, but LSU’s win over Georgia was by a larger margin (20 points) than Notre Dame’s win over Michigan (seven points).

    Despite losing to Florida, now ranked No. 11, LSU has also beaten No. 18 Mississippi State. None of Notre Dame’s other wins came against a team that’s currently ranked by the committee.

    Can Notre Dame finally reach the playoff?

    The Fighting Irish have been ranked this high in the College Football Playoff rankings in the past. Notre Dame debuted at No. 3 last year, No. 5 in 2015 and No. 10 in 2014. Along with TCU, Notre Dame is one of two schools to be ranked in the committee’s top 10 in its first rankings in three separate seasons without ever making the playoff.

    This time Notre Dame is No. 4 with a great win in Week 1 over No. 5 Michigan in its back pocket. The Fighting Irish close the season at Northwestern, home against Florida State and No. 19 Syracuse, and at USC. If they run the table, picking up a win over a ranked Syracuse team and a pair of respectable road wins in the process, you’d have to like Notre Dame’s chances of claiming one of the four seats at the table.

    But one loss could doom its playoff hopes.

    Is this the year that Notre Dame finally finishes what it started and contends for a playoff berth and national championship?

    Washington State is a contender, but its ceiling may be low

    The Cougars are ranked No. 8 in the first playoff rankings — three spots higher than this week’s coaches poll and two places higher than the AP Top 25. Washington State is ranked higher than fellow 7-1 teams Kentucky and Ohio State, which are No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

    However, No. 15 Utah is the only other Pac-12 team ranked by the committee as of Week 10. The Cougars have already beaten the Utes, so the only way — as of now — for Washington State to pick up another win over an opponent ranked by the committee is to beat Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    Meanwhile, No. 9 Kentucky plays No. 6 Georgia this week, and No. 10 Ohio State will host No. 5 Michigan in the final week of the regular season. If won by the lower-ranked team, both games would be a more impressive win (according to the committee’s current rankings) than any victory Washington State could add to its resume this season.

    UCF’s schedule weighs down its ranking

    Last season was likely a wet blanket thrown on the fire fueling UCF fans’ dreams of a College Football Playoff appearance. Now, the reality is probably setting in for the Golden Knights faithful that a playoff berth in the current four-team model is extremely challenging, if not impossible.

    Despite a 7-0 start, UCF is ranked No. 12, eight spots below the next lowest ranked undefeated team.

    Look at UCF’s schedule and you’ll see why: The Knights haven’t beaten a single team ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of the matchup, let alone the playoff selection committee’s rankings. Non-conference wins over South Carolina State (FCS), Florida Atlantic (3-5) and Pitt (4-4) aren’t going to be enough to make a serious push for the playoff.

    Maybe UCF is ranked lower than it should be.

    Maybe UCF is appropriately ranked.

    But until the Knights play against Power 5 competition (maybe even multiple times in a season), it’s simply too hard to gauge how good they really are and their ranking says as much.

    If history is our guide, Iowa marks the cutoff for the playoff

    The sample size for big-picture College Football Playoff takeaways is small since the current model of naming a national champion has only been around for four years.

    But in that time, the biggest jump that an eventual playoff team has made from the playoff selection committee’s first rankings is from No. 16 to No. 4 when Ohio State climbed 12 spots in 2014 to reach the playoff and eventually win the national championship.

    If we use the No. 16 ranking as the cutoff until a lower-ranked team makes a bigger climb than the Buckeyes did, then Iowa is the lowest ranked team, hypothetically, that could reach the top four. Of course the Hawkeyes already have two losses, so we’re by no means predicting them to make the playoff, but you get our point.

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