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With the initial College Football Playoff Rankings for the 2021 season set to be released next Tuesday night, 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.

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 have a way to measure "game control" – I saw the data – but they do not talk about it.)

With all of that in mind, here is how the CFP Rankings would look if released this week. These rankings are top heavy with SEC and BIg Ten teams only because they have not weeded each other out yet.

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

College Football Playoff Rankings projection

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. Georgia's offense is no slouch, either; it has not been held below 30 points since the opener against Clemson. Florida would normally provide that test in Saturday's rivalry showdown, but the Gators are floundering.
Michigan has bounced back nicely from its pandemic-induced disaster of 2020. The Wolverines are rolling through the early part of their schedule, dominating on both sides of the ball. Only Nebraska has put a scare into them.    
This is a pretty high starting point for a team with a loss, but the Crimson Tide have looked every bit the quality team we expected from them except for that night in College Station, Texas. Many still expect Alabama to win the CFP.     
Another team with a loss that looks to be in its expected form. The Buckeyes struggled on defense early this season, and Oregon was able to take advantage of that. Ohio State has been laying waste to its foes ever since. Bigger tests are coming, though, with Penn State ahead this week.
This would be the highest-ever ranking for a Group of Five team, but the Bearcats have earned it. Navy was the first team to give them much trouble this season. Their win at Notre Dame will have to hold up if this ranking has any chance of going higher.    
Nothing comes easy for the Sooners. Changing quaterbacks helped for a game and a half, and then it was back to struggling. This time, it was 38.5-point underdog Kansas giving them fits until late in the game. They're still undefeated, though, starting the season 8-0 for the first time since 2004.
The Spartans have been one of the more pleasant surprises so far this season. Not much was expected in Mel Tucker's second year at the helm, but MSU is still unbeaten. They have a chance to really make their presence known this Saturday in a game that is always meaningful against in-state rival Michigan.
Quarterback Matt Corral has to be considered among the Heisman Trophy favorites at the midway point. He has led Ole Miss to a 6-1 start with its only loss coming at Alabama. He's playing through injury right now and will have to be in top form at Auburn on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish have what measures out to be a good schedule because there are horrible teams on it. Their loss is to Cincinnati, and all six of their wins have come against teams with three or four wins and three or four losses. Oh, look! They play another one on Saturday in North Carolina.
The Ducks have the big nonconference win at Ohio State, but their league is going to drag their strength of schedule down. The Pac-12 went just 9-16 vs FBS competition in nonconference play and had two losses to FCS schools. That is by far the worst mark of any major conference. Strength of schedule difference will keep Oregon behind the Buckeyes as long as they have the same record.
The Hawkeyes spent this week regrouping after suffering their first loss against Purdue. Things won't get much easier as they next face the team that knocked off the Boilermakers when they travel to Wisconsin. Iowa still controls its own fate in the Big Ten West.
The ACC is another conference that will see its teams suffer for a collectively poor nonconference performance. The league is 5-9 against Power Five competition so far with three games left against Notre Dame. The Demon Deacons are the last unbeaten team in the ACC.
The Cowboys took their first loss of the season at Iowa State. They can still get to the Big 12 Championship Game and will get a shot at Oklahoma before that.
The Wildcats had a week off to recover from the thrashing they took at Georgia. No shame in that. Georgia's doing it to everybody. UK could get to 11-1 this season without a win over a team in the final CFP Rankings. That would be a remarkable feat for an SEC team.
Baylor has already notched a couple of quality wins so far. The Bears knocked off Iowa State earlier this season and just beat BYU in their most recent game. Their only loss came to Oklahoma State, and they still get Oklahoma in a few weeks.    
The Aggies have one of the biggest wins of the season 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.
After early losses to Iowa and Baylor, the win over Oklahoma State on Saturday was big. The Cyclones now have a chance to get to the Big 12 title game. There is still a lot of work to do. This week kicks off a stretch of three games out of four on the road.
The Nittany Lions left Kinnick Stadium two weeks ago beaten and beat up. Quarterback Sean Clifford left that game early with an injury, and defensive lineman PJ Mustipher was lost for the season. Clifford came back against Illinois but did not look like himself in an FBS record nine-overtime loss. Any hope of a New Year's Six bowl rides on running the table now, just as the schedule gets even harder.
The Tigers are already battle tested having played at Penn State, LSU and Arkansas plus home against Georgia. They split those four, which is actually pretty good. They are not out of the woods yet.
The Razorbacks got off to a flying start this season with a blowout win over Texas and a victory over Texas A&M. Things have come back down to earth, though, with three straight losses before last week's scrimmage against UA Pine Bluff. They will likely work harder this week even though there is no game.
The Aztecs are undefeated and have two wins over Pac-12 teams and at Air Force. Although, as we noted earlier, wins over Pac-12 teams are not as helpful as they might normally be.
The Cougars have been fighting through some injuries lately but got a win at Washington State. They have four wins over Pac-12 teams, which would be more impressive in other seasons. 
The Panthers are the pick by many to win the ACC, but they are down this far in the rankings largely because of the loss at home to 5-3 Western Michigan, which has the best record of any of Pitt's opponents so far.
The Sun Devils had won three in a row before losing to Utah two weeks ago. They had this week off to get ready for the rest of conference play. ASU will likely be favored in the rest of their games but will need help with Utah to win the division.
This has been a breakout season for the Roadrunners, which are 8-0 including wins at Illinois and Memphis. They have this week off to get ready for a trip to UTEP, which is also undefeated in conference play.