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The initial College Football Playoff Rankings for the 2021 season are set to be released Tuesday night, so we do not want to wait that long to get a taste of how the CFP Selection Committee will be ranking the top 25 teams in the nation. This is a warm up act for the warm up act, which are all of the CFP Rankings releases before the final one after conference championship week.

Check out the first College Football Playoff Rankings release here.

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer playing havoc with schedules as it did last season, we are back to the committee use its regular criteria. Here are some of key points those members decide when ranking teams besides overall record:

  • Strength of schedule
  • Conference championships (when decided)
  • Head-to-head
  • Results vs. common opponents
  • Results vs. ranked opponents

Thankfully, the committee's definition of "ranked opponents" is different than what you're used to seeing. The rankings they use are the prior week's CFP Rankings. They do not consider where teams are ranked when the games were played either in the CFP, AP Top 25, etc. Using game-time rankings is the most worthless way to determine "ranked opponents". In fact, the committee specifically forbids the use of any poll that has a preseason starting point.

Notice that "game control" is not listed in the criteria. It never has been considered despite the term coming out of the mouth of the committee chairman at times. I was able to ask about that specifically at a mock CFP Selection Committee exercise I attended in October only to be met with blank stares as if they had never heard the term used. (The CFP does not have a way to measure "game control" -- I saw the data -- and they do not talk about it.)

With all of that in mind, here is how I expect the CFP Rankings to look upon their initial release Tuesday night. These rankings are heavy with SEC and Big Ten teams only because they have not weeded each other out yet.

Note: This prediction is based only on results to this point. It does not reflect the final projection for the playoff. The complete bowl playoff and bowl projections through the end of the season can be found here.

College Football Playoff Rankings prediction

The Bulldogs are the dominant team in college football so far this season. They have an elite defense that has yet to give up more than 13 points in a game. Most recently, Georgia forced three turnovers in 3 minutes late in the first half against Florida. The offense turned the first two into one-play touchdown drives, and the defense returned the third for a score itself. That turned an otherwise close game into another rout.    
The Spartans won their biggest game of the season so far, coming from behind to beat Michigan 37-33. That gives MSU the quality win that it was missing. Being undefeated against a good schedule with a win against a team highly ranked on this list means the Spartans should be second only to Georgia this week.    
This would tie the record for the highest starting point for a team with a loss, but it is not that unusual. It has happened three other times, excluding the 2020 season, but this would be just the second time a team started this high in the rankings having lost to a team ranked below them. The Crimson Tide are so good that many still expect them to win the CFP.    
The Buckeyes passed a big test on Saturday with a win over Penn State at home. It is their first win over an opponent that is likely to remain ranked this season. Ohio State is the opposite of Georgia in that it has the best offense in the nation so far. Alabama is No. 2.    
This would be the highest ranking ever for a Group of Five team, but the Bearcats have earned it. The win over Notre Dame is holding up so far, and even though they have the second-lowest lowest ranked strength of schedule of any team in this top 25, they have handled this schedule like a top-five team should.    
The Sooners took advantage of a team that had just fired its coach and got its second blowout in the last three games. The change of quarterbacks seems to be working well, but it is hard to tell with their schedule. Their SOS is only slightly higher than that of the Bearcats, but Oklahoma does not have the quality win that Cincinnati does. The Sooners' best win came at Kansas State.    
The Wolverines were on-brand for the Jim Harbaugh era in losing at Michigan State on Saturday. He is now 3-4 against the Spartans and 0-9 away from home against top 10 teams. Of course, those are not easy games to win.    
The ACC is a conference that will see its teams suffer in the rankings for a collectively poor nonconference performance. The league is 5-10 against Power Five competition so far with two games left against Notre Dame. The Demon Deacons are the last unbeaten team in the ACC and have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. They have yet to be held under 35 points in a game.    
Speaking of poor nonconference performance, the Pac-12 has been a hot mess this season. The league is a miserable 9-16 vs. FBS competition -- that's not just Power Five but FBS. Only Conference USA and the MAC have worse records against that group. Throw in not one but two losses to FCS schools and you can see why the Ducks' strength of schedule may get worse every time they play. The difference in strength of schedule will keep Oregon behind the Buckeyes as long as they have the same record. The Ducks are already more than 30 spots behind OSU in those rankings, and the Buckeyes have yet to hit the meat of their schedule.    
The Fighting Irish have what measures out to be a good schedule because there are no horrible teams on it. All of their opponents except Cincinnati and Florida State (3-5) are either 4-4 or 5-3. I do not expect the committee to be fooled by the Irish's SOS ranking, but that Wisconsin win is starting to look better.    
The Cowboys bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 55-3 pasting of Kansas. They control their own fate for the Big 12 Championship Game because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Baylor.    
Baylor has two wins over teams in these rankings. The Bears defeated Iowa State and BYU at home earlier this season. They will also get Oklahoma at home in a few weeks, so there is a chance for advancement.    
The Tigers have played a good schedule that features wins over Ole Miss and at Arkansas. Their only losses came at Penn State and at home to Georgia. If they win out, which means beating Alabama, the Tigers will play for the SEC championship.
Ole Miss lost at Auburn 31-20 for its second defeat of the season. The other was at Alabama. It does have a quality win over Arkansas, but we will have to see how well that holds up as the season winds down.    
The Aggies have one of the biggest wins of the season, which came over Alabama a few weeks ago. That has sparked a three-game winning streak. Nobody knows if Haynes King, the starting quarterback who was injured in the game at Colorado, will be back this season, but Zach Calzada has filled in nicely. The Aggies are back in action this week and hosting Auburn.    
The Cougars lit up Virginia's defense for 66 points in a win at home. BYU is already the king of the Pac-12 with four wins against the conference and a game left at USC. Maybe they should just be declared the Pac-12 South champions. BYU has played two games against teams in these rankings. It lost at Baylor and beat Utah at home.    
The Hawkeyes got smoked for the second game in a row. This time, it was Wisconsin taking them to the woodshed in a 27-7 defeat. The takeaways that have fueled the Iowa offense have turned into giveaways. Iowa has turned the ball over seven times in the last two games and only gotten one in return.    
The Wildcats came out of an off week following the tough loss to Georgia and got beat again, this time at Mississippi State. The Wildcats would still have a shot at a New Year's Six game, but finishing 10-2 is a must. The SEC East belongs to the Dawgs.    
The Nittany Lions lost their third straight game, falling at Ohio State, 33-24. That loss does not hurt much, nor does the one at Iowa, but the loss to Illinois in between has derailed what could have been a good season.    
The Razorbacks got off to a flying start this season with a blowout win over Texas and a victory over Texas A&M. Now, they are in last place in the SEC West, but they are only 1-3 and all four of those games were played against teams in the top 15 of these rankings.    
The Badgers looked left for dead after Michigan ran them out of the Big House a month ago. Three straight wins have followed, each more impressive than the previous one. Wisconsin may be the favorite again in the Big Ten West, just like it was to start the season.    
The Bulldogs have turned things around since back-to-back losses to end September. They have now won three out of four with the loss coming to Alabama. Two of those wins are against teams ranked higher on this list.    
The Cougars have played the worst schedule of anyone in these rankings, but the win over SMU was big. It gives Houston the leg up in the race to play Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game.
The Cyclones just hang in the rankings after a loss at West Virginia. The win over Oklahoma State is saving them for now, but their schedule is being hurt by games with UNLV, Kansas and FCS Northern Iowa.    
The Utes effectively have a two-game lead in the Pac-12 South because the team one game back is Arizona State and Utah has the tiebreaker with the Sun Devils. It is hard to pick a second-best team in this conference, and I will not be surprised if Oregon is the only ranked team at the end of the season.