The first edition of this season's College Football Playoff Rankings was released Tuesday night, and the main portion of the top 25 went almost exactly as expected. Alabama opened the late-season rankings in the No. 1 spot, followed by No. 2 Notre Dame. After those two undefeateds, one-loss Clemson checked in at No. 3 with Ohio State in at No. 4 likely due to the Buckeyes only having played four games to this point.
CFP Selection Committee chairman Gary Barta explained that Clemson's dominance over every team it faced other than Notre Dame, coupled with the Tigers being down numerous starters against the Fighting Irish, led the committee to give them the nod for the No. 3 spot.
If the top four was to hold, no matter the order, it would mark the first time that two playoff teams would come out of the ACC as Notre Dame is considered part of the league this season. However, right on the heels of that top four is two more SEC teams, giving the conference three of the top six in the initial CFP Rankings.
No. 5 Texas A&M is the first team out with its lone loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, while No. 6 Florida's only defeat is at the hands of the Aggies. With the SEC Championship Game still to come, the Gators likely control their own destiny as long as they are able to win out.
Cincinnati opens the CFP Rankings as the top-rated Group of Five team at No. 7, the highest point reached by any non-Power Five team the history of this top 25. The Bearcats' high ranking is due in large part to their strong schedule, the manner by which they have defeated opponents and the fact that the Big Ten and Pac-12 got off to late starts.
Independent BYU is not getting much respect for its 9-0 record (against a relatively weak schedule) at No. 14, while Oregon is the highest Pac-12 team at No. 15 as it has only played three games thus far in 2020.
Let's take a look at the entire CFP Rankings top 25. Keep on reading for analysis from CBS Sports bowls expert Jerry Palm.
College Football Playoff Rankings, Nov. 24
- Alabama (7-0)
- Notre Dame (8-0)
- Clemson (7-1)
- Ohio State (4-0)
- Texas A&M (5-1)
- Florida (6-1)
- Cincinnati (8-0)
- Northwestern (5-0)
- Georgia (5-2)
- Miami (FL) (7-1)
- Oklahoma (6-2)
- Indiana (4-1)
- Iowa State (6-2)
- BYU (9-0)
- Oregon (3-0)
- Wisconsin (2-1)
- Texas (5-2)
- USC (3-0)
- North Carolina (6-2)
- Coastal Carolina (8-0)
- Marshall (7-0)
- Auburn (5-2)
- Oklahoma State (5-2)
- Iowa (3-2)
- Tulsa (5-1)
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Rankings analysis by bowls expert Jerry Palm
If there is one theme throughout this first set of rankings, it's that strength of schedule still matters, even if it cannot be mathematically measured this season in any legitimate way. That will have to be measured by perception instead.
While Ohio State may be ranked behind Clemson because of the Tigers' loss at Notre Dame came while shorthanded, I would say it has more to do with the fact that the Buckeyes have played just one good team so far and nearly blew that game. Their other three opponents -- Rutgers, Nebraska and Penn State -- are a combined 2-12. Tougher days are surely ahead; however, their game with 2-1 Maryland was canceled. Ohio State's other cross-division game is at Illinois this Saturday.
Indiana is also suffering from a strength of schedule problem. The Hoosiers opened at 13 after the loss at Ohio State, which was their most impressive performance of the season. Indiana's four wins have come against the bottom four teams in the division, which are a combined 4-15, and three of those wins came in games against each other.
Cincinnati's spot is likely its ceiling. The Bearcats have a better chance of getting jumped than moving up. There was a case for Northwestern to be ahead of them this week, and if the Wildcats keep winning, that will happen.
However, Cincinnati having a ranking that high in the first rankings is a sign of growing respect for the AAC. The strength at the top of that league has slowly been getting better over the years. There are more competitive teams now than ever before, and the committee is recognizing that.
BYU at No. 14 is very much a strength of schedule issue. The Cougars' schedule is filled with middle-of-the-pack Conference USA and Sun Belt teams, along with Houston, a short-handed Boise State and North Alabama. The reason they are ranked even as high as they are is because of the large margins of victory. Otherwise, BYU would be around where Coastal Carolina and Marshall are in the rankings. I do not know if it can find a game that might make an impression on the committee, but BYU is a longshot for a New Year's Six game if it cannot.
The only truly surprising ranking was Georgia at No. 9. I don't have an explanation. Barta mentioned that the Bulldogs lost to two highly ranked teams and have a win over Auburn, which is near the bottom of this week's rankings. However, they were not nearly competitive enough in those losses to merit being ranked so close to those teams. Georgia hasn't really looked good in about a month and a half, even when it wins.
There is no explanation for Iowa, which was not even on the list of teams I considered for my predicted rankings this week. The Hawkeyes have lost to the two good teams they played, if you think Purdue is good, and beat three league bottom feeders. Why not Louisiana instead? The Ragin' Cajuns are 7-1 with a win at No. 13 Iowa State and just a three-point loss to No. 20 Coastal Carolina.
Keep in mind that these rankings do not work like the AP Top 25 where teams generally hold their spots if they continue to win and move up when teams ahead of them lose. There is some of that type of movement, but I expect even more volatility than usual among teams that are continuing to win due to the chaotic schedules caused by the pandemic.