Five Gut Reactions To The Initial 2017 College Football Playoff Rankings

By Dan Hope on October 31, 2017 at 8:48 pm
College Football Playoff Rankings

Although there is still more than a month left in the college football season, we can now start to make educated guesses about which teams will make the College Football Playoff and what each team still in the hunt still needs to happen in order to make it.

The College Football Playoff committee released its first set of rankings on Tuesday evening, giving us an idea of which teams' résumés will be favored by the committee when they release the rankings that matter on Dec. 3.

Ohio State is ranked sixth in the initial rankings, behind No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Clemson and No. 5 Oklahoma.

What should you take away from these rankings in terms of how they affect Ohio State and how the playoff might ultimately stack up? 

Here are five immediate takeaways from our first look at how the playoff contenders stack up in the committee's eyes.

Quality Wins Matter

The first thing that stands about who's ranked No. 1 in the playoff rankings is that the CFP committee really is putting stock into who teams have beat, rather than deferring to reputation or polls. It was widely expected going in that Alabama, because of its standing as a perennial playoff team and being ranked No. 1 in both major polls, would come out on top of Tuesday night's rankings. Yet Georgia ended being the top-ranked team on Tuesday night, and that has everything to do with who the Bulldogs have won games against in comparison to Alabama.

The Bulldogs already have a road win over Notre Dame and have also beaten No. 16 Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, have yet to beat any teams currently ranked in the top 25.

While CFP chairman Kirby Hocutt said the committee had a passionate discussion about which team should be No. 1, it ultimately doesn't matter, as the two teams will play each other in the SEC Championship Game if they win out. It does show, however, that the committee cares about who you've beaten.

Notre Dame has beaten four teams currently in the top 25 and its only loss is to Georgia, so there's no controversy in the Fighting Irish being ranked No. 3.

The argument can be made, however, that Ohio State should be ranked ahead of Clemson, considering that Ohio State's only loss is to Oklahoma while Clemson's only loss is to an unranked Syracuse. That, too, however, appears to go back to how many quality wins the Tigers have: Clemson has beaten two teams currently ranked in the top 25 (No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Auburn) and six teams with records over .500, while Ohio State only has one win over a top-25 team (No. 7 Penn State) and two wins over teams with winning records (Penn State and Army).

Head-to-Head Wins Matter, Too

The argument for Oklahoma being ranked over Ohio State, and Ohio State being ranked over Penn State for that matter, came down to one simple factor given that all three teams have only one loss: Oklahoma has beaten Ohio State, while Ohio State has beaten Penn State.

"Oklahoma's win over Ohio State and Ohio State's win over Penn State were important to us," Hocutt said on a conference call Tuesday night. 

While head-to-head wins haven't been a be-all, end-all for the CFP committee – you'll remember last year, when Ohio State got in over Big Ten champion Penn State despite the Nittany Lions' head-to-head win over the Buckeyes – they are often factored into who should be ranked above who when both teams have an equivalent number of losses. That makes it likely that Oklahoma will remain ahead of Ohio State if it continues to win, especially considering that the Sooners play their next two games against No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 8 TCU.

Do The Buckeyes Need Help to Move Up?

Alabama and Georgia both have undefeated records, and it's plausible that Notre Dame, Clemson and Oklahoma could all win out. That means all five teams currently ranked ahead of Ohio State could finish the season with one loss or less.

Ohio State only has one game left on its regular-season schedule against a team currently ranked in the top 25 (Michigan State), which might not leave it with enough ammunition to move ahead of any of those teams if they win out. 

The reality is, though, that winning out will be much easier said than done for any of those teams. Notre Dame still has to play road games against No. 10 Miami and No. 21 Stanford. Oklahoma has the aforementioned games against Oklahoma State and TCU, and both Oklahoma and Clemson would have to win conference championship games. 

As long as one of those teams loses, it should clear the path for the Buckeyes to get in if they win out. It would be a surprise if the team that loses in the SEC Championship Game, even if it only has one loss, got in over Ohio State if the Buckeyes win the rest of their regular-season games and the Big Ten Championship Game, which would likely give the Buckeyes another win over a team currently ranked in the top 10 (No. 9 Wisconsin) and would give them 11 straight wins to end the season.

Penn State Still Alive, But Definitely Needs Help

As our own Beau Bishop suggested on Tuesday's Eleven Warriors Web Report, Penn State is still alive in the playoff conversation despite its 39-38 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions, however, probably do need a good bit of help to get in.

In Penn State's case, a one-loss SEC Championship Game loser almost certainly would get in ahead of the Nittany Lions unless Penn State can somehow get in and win the Big Ten Championship Game, which would require Ohio State losing two more games. The Nittany Lions probably need the Buckeyes to lose at least one more game, because the CFP committee has yet to put two teams from the same conference in during the same year. Assuming the Nittany Lions don't get back to their conference championship game, they would also be in danger to get jumped by TCU, Wisconsin, Miami or Oklahoma State if any of those teams win out and win their respective conference championship games.

If enough happens, though, it's plausible the Nittany Lions – considering where they are ranked – could still get in. If Ohio State and Wisconsin both lose, they could get in as the Big Ten's sole representative even if they don't play in the conference championship game. But they would also likely need at least two losses between Notre Dame, Clemson and Oklahoma.

Could an Undefeated Wisconsin Get Left Out?

Wisconsin hasn't played any teams that are currently ranked in the CFP Top 25, which is why it is currently ranked No. 9 despite having an 8-0 record. The Badgers also aren't set to play any top-25 teams before the end of the regular season, which will make it tough for them to move up without teams losing in front of them.

It would still be a shock if Wisconsin was left out if it was to win out and then win the Big Ten Championship Game, which would likely mean beating Ohio State. That would likely be enough to propel a 13-0 Badgers team to at least the No. 4 spot.

Only one win over a top-25 team makes it possible that Wisconsin could get left out, but it would likely only be in the same scenario that could potentially leave Ohio State out: Notre Dame, Clemson and Oklahoma all winning out, which could leave all of them ranked ahead of an undefeated Wisconsin along with the SEC champion. Barring all of those teams winning out, Wisconsin should have a clear path to making the CFP, though the Badgers would likely be underdogs in a prospective conference championship game matchup with the Buckeyes right now.

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