College Football Playoff expert picks: Should Ohio State, LSU or even Clemson be No. 1?

We're getting set for the sixth edition of the College Football Playoff, and while there's not a ton of controversy surrounding the selection of the field, there is one burning question hanging over the festivities: Who's No. 1? The four teams are already known, but now it's almost time to find out the positioning -- which can be more important than some may think. 

In most years, deliberating over who's No. 4 dominates the oxygen in the room. Not this time. Not with what appears to be three undefeated teams that could legitimately win it all. As it stands through Week 14, the order is No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson.

If we're being honest, though, there are two serious possibilities for No. 1. That's a debate between the Buckeyes and Tigers ... of LSU. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney may lament over what he feels are slights towards his reigning national championship team, winners of 28 straight. But the simple fact is the ACC champions don't have the resume of either of the other two undefeated teams. (That is in no way, however, a commentary on how well they've been playing lately.) 

So where does that leave us? Let's take a look at the basic numbers. For the sake of humoring Swinney, we'll include Clemson in the discussion as well. Top 25 wins are based on the CFP Rankings after Rivalry Week. Strength of schedule is via Sagarin.

TeamOhio StateLSUClemson





Top 25 wins




Best wins

No. 8 Wisconsin (2x), No. 10 Penn State, No. 14 Michigan

No. 4 Georgia, No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Auburn, No. 12 Alabama

No. 23 Virginia

Strength of schedule




Again, the debate is geared more closely between Ohio State and LSU, and the resume test reflects that. Since the Buckeyes were No. 1 heading into conference championship games, there's a question as to whether LSU did enough to jump them going into Selection Sunday. Was beating No. 4 Georgia -- the best win Saturday -- by 27 points better than what Ohio State did? The Buckeyes needed to rally from behind to beat No. 8 Wisconsin, marking the second win over the Badgers this year. Or should Ohio State's overall body of work be enough to keep it at No. 1, regardless of how it won?

This is a worthwhile debate because, unlike most years, who's No. 1 will matter. It will likely mean the difference between facing Clemson or Oklahoma in the semifinal game (not to mention where the game will be played). The committee has a tough choice, and our college football experts are here to help.

Here's how our College Football Playoff and bowls expert Jerry Palm has the top four projected. Palm has gone 19 for 20 predicting CFP teams in their correct slots through five years of the playoff.

College Football Playoff projection

Date Game / Loc. Matchup Prediction

Jan. 13

National Championship
New Orleans

Title game Semifinal winners

Dec. 28

Peach Bowl


(1) Ohio State vs. (4) Oklahoma

Dec. 28

Fiesta Bowl
Glendale, Ariz.


(2) LSU vs. (3) Clemson

College Football Playoff expert picks

Here's how our college football staff would vote if they were on the CFP Selection Committee.

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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