The first College Football Playoff Rankings for the 2017 season are out and there were a lot of close decisions to sort out. There were also some inconsistencies, which is common with only nine weeks down and five weeks to go until the four playoff finalists are determined.
We will get to that in shortly, but first, let's start with the usual disclaimer. Nothing in these rankings is meaningful in terms of where teams may be ranked at the end of the season. It is possible that the current top four teams could win out -- with the exception of an Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game -- and still not be the top four teams at the end. Even if they are, the order may change. This isn't like the top 25 polls where you hold your position unless you lose. In any given week, a team could lose and move up or win and move down. We have seen examples of each over the first three years of this system.
Georgia edged Alabama for the No. 1 spot with its victory over No. 3 Notre Dame standing as the best win in college football this season. Clemson checked in at No. 4, while undefeateds Wisconsin and Miami start out at the bottom of the top 10 with six one-loss teams separating them from the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide. Head-to-head wins are reflected at the top of the rankings with Oklahoma, Ohio State and Penn State falling in order at Nos. 5-7.
Let's take a look at the entire top 25. Additional analysis follows the rankings below.
College Football Playoff Rankings, Oct. 31
- Georgia (8-0)
- Alabama (8-0)
- Notre Dame (7-1)
- Clemson (7-1)
- Oklahoma (7-1)
- Ohio State (7-1)
- Penn State (7-1)
- TCU (7-1)
- Wisconsin (8-0)
- Miami (7-0)
- Oklahoma State (7-1)
- Washington (7-1)
- Virginia Tech (7-1)
- Auburn (6-2)
- Iowa State (6-2)
- Mississippi State (6-2)
- USC (7-2)
- UCF (7-0)
- LSU (6-2)
- NC State (6-2)
- Stanford (6-2)
- Arizona (6-2)
- Memphis (7-1)
- Michigan State (6-2)
- Washington State (7-2)
There does seem to be a strength-of-schedule theme to these rankings. Georgia is No. 1 over No. 2 Alabama because it has played a stronger schedule to this point and has a better win. However, No. 4 Clemson has two wins better than any of No. 3 Notre Dame's victories, a better collection of wins overall, and at least an equal schedule with the Irish to this point. Clemson's loss is worse, though, and that seemed to be enough to put the Tigers below the Irish.
No. 5 Oklahoma is ahead of No. 6 Ohio State despite a significantly worse schedule overall, one which includes both Kansas and Baylor, which are a combined 1-15. Oklahoma won at Ohio State, as we all know, but in 2014, Baylor beat TCU and had to wait until the final rankings of the season before the committee determined that their schedules were equal enough for the head-to-head to matter. Things have changed in 2017 -- for this week, anyway.
I think you could quite reasonably argue that No. 8 TCU should be ahead of Oklahoma at this point. The Horned Frogs have played a better schedule and have better wins. Their loss to now-No. 15 Iowa State came on the road. Oklahoma's one good win is better than TCU's best (at Oklahoma State) but not that much better. The Sooners get their own shot at the No. 11 Cowboys in Bedlam this week.
All that said, in the end, 12-1 Oklahoma will definitely be ahead of 12-1 Ohio State if they both get to that point. I do not really have a problem with it being that way now either, but it is just one of those ways in which the committee is inconsistent.
Strength of schedule is definitely what held down undefeated No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Miami. The Hurricanes' schedule will get a nice boost the next two weeks when they play No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame. They would do very well to still be undefeated after that. Wisconsin's strength of schedule is pretty much doomed. They won't play a team in the current rankings until the Big Ten title game. The only teams they have played so far with a record above .500 are Northwestern and Florida Atlantic.
UCF debuted at No. 18 and is the highest rated Group of Five team. Fellow American Athletic Conference member Memphis is also in the top 25 at No. 23. The Knights won the first meeting between the two teams, which was postponed by Hurricane Irma. They could meet again in the conference title game. No other Group of Five teams are in the rankings, leaving the AAC as the heavy favorite to represent the group in a New Year's Six game.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of this playoff system is that everyone focuses on conferences, specifically which one(s) are left out of the top four. It's a game of musical chairs: five major conferences, four seats. This is really about teams, though, not conferences.
In the rankings this week, the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten are all left out because two SEC teams are in the top four along with Notre Dame. There is a lot of football left to be played, though. Even for the Pac-12, which has No. 12 Washington as its top-rated team, there is still hope. Oklahoma started 15th in 2015 and made the playoff. Ohio State started 16th in 2014 and didn't just make the playoff, it won the national championship.