College Football Playoff Rankings projection: Ohio State, LSU jockey for No. 1 spot

The first College Football Playoff Rankings will not be released until Tuesday, Nov. 5, but we do not want to wait that long to get a taste of how the CFP Selection Committee would vote today if they were ranking the top 25 teams in the nation. As such, we are here to project what the top 25 of the CFP Rankings would look like it was released two weeks early.  It is a warmup act for the warmup act, which are all of the CFP Rankings releases before the final one following conference championship Saturday.

In this space, we try to emphasize the same criteria the committee uses. That will be difficult because, as we have learned, the committee can be all over the map. Sometimes, it decides that head-to-head matters; sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, strength of schedule matters; sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, relative dominance matters; sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes it's about game control -- whatever that is -- or recency bias or ... ah, you get the idea.

What we have learned is that this process is highly subjective. It is much more subjective than the process that the basketball committee uses, which is what the football committee was modeled after.  With all of that in mind, here is how the CFP Rankings would likely look if the committee released it today.

Note: Predictions in this story are based only on results to this point, so they do not reflect the final forecast for the playoff. My current playoff and bowl projections can be found here.

College Football Playoff Rankings projection
The Buckeyes are laying waste to everybody.  Nobody has gotten within 24 points of Ohio State so far, and the Buckeyes' average margin of victory is over 41 points per game.  That leads the nation by wide margin.  They have not beaten any opponents ranked as high as LSU's best wins, but their overall strength of schedule is still slightly better.    
The question about the Tigers has always been whether their offense is good enough to win a national championship because their defense always seems to be.  This year, that problem is reversed.  Nobody has held LSU below 42 points in a game yet, but the defense has given up 38 twice (Texas and Vanderbilt) and 28 to Florida.  Those wins over Texas and Florida matter.    
The Crimson Tide have dominated a less-than-stellar schedule to this point.  They have the second-best average margin of victory, although it is 9.5 points per game below Ohio State.  Obviously, the question for Alabama is the status of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who injured his ankle in the win over Tennessee and will miss the Arkansas game this week.  More important is his availability for LSU on Nov. 9.     
The Nittany Lions have grinded out wins against Pitt, Iowa and Michigan, and they have throttled the also-rans on their schedule to this point.  Unlike most of the other teams near the top of these rankings, their defense is ahead of their offense.  Penn State's strength of schedule is partly why it is this high in the rankings, and it is only going to get tougher.  Three of the Nittany Lions' next four games are on the road and two of those are against the Big Ten's unbeaten teams, Minnesota and Ohio State.  First, though, a trip to Michigan State this Saturday.    
Despite a win over Texas, the Sooners' schedule has been pretty soft to this point.  They have been dominant against that schedule, though.  It was once thought that the Big 12 was a two-team race, but Baylor's hot start has changed that.  Oklahoma has a back-loaded Big 12 schedule, which includes a game against the Bears in Waco on Nov. 16.    
The Tigers are suffering in the rankings due to a poor schedule and a near miss against North Carolina, which is something none of the teams ahead of them have yet experienced.  The schedule will not be improving, either, as the rest of the ACC is at least two steps behind Clemson.  The Tigers are the defending national champions, but that does not mean anything this year.  Last year's team won that title, not this year's group.    
The Gators are the top rated one-loss team in these rankings.  Their only defeat came at LSU, and they have a win over Auburn.  For now, that head-to-head result has Florida ahead of the Tigers. The Gators will be tested again in two weeks against Georgia.    
Nobody will have played a tougher schedule when this season is over.  The Tigers have already defeated Oregon and Texas A&M, and their only loss is the aforementioned defeat at the hands of Florida.  They still have a trip to LSU this week and home games with Georgia and Alabama later.  Auburn could finish 8-4 and still be a top-15 level team.  A win over LSU this week would vault them into the national championship conversation.    
The Ducks have not lost since the season opener to Auburn in Dallas.  Since then, Oregon has taken control of the Pac-12 thanks in part to a win at Washington last Saturday.  It will still take quite a bit of help to get the Ducks into playoff consideration, though.    
The Irish came up short in their biggest game so far, which was a 23-17 loss at Georgia.  They have one more chance to make an impression of any sort on the selection committee.  Notre Dame travels to Michigan this week.  For a potential 11-1 Irish, that would be their best win, and the Wolverines may end up no better than 8-4.    
Wisconsin was eviscerating its opposition at a level that rivaled Ohio State.  The Badgers had four shutouts in its first six games and had only given up three points all season when a game was still in doubt.  Then, Illinois happened.  Wisconsin lost to the Illini as a 31-point underdog, taking the shine off their much-anticipated trip to Ohio State this Saturday.    
The Bulldogs only have one loss, but it came at home to South Carolina, an upset only outdone by Wisconsin's loss to Illinois.  The Bulldogs' win over Notre Dame is its saving grace at the moment, but they still play Florida and Auburn.  If they run the table, they are in the playoff.    
Mark Rhule has done a great job at Baylor and will probably be near the top of the list of coaches rumored for bigger jobs this off season.  That is a problem for another day, though.  The Bears have wins over Iowa State and most recently at Oklahoma State.  They look like a team that is capable of giving Oklahoma and Texas trouble, and they get both of those opponents at home on back to back weekends.    
The Utes have dealt with nagging injury problems all season but have largely come through them pretty well.  Utah's only loss came at USC, which gives the Trojans the tiebreaker in the Pac-12 South, if it comes to that.    
The Longhorns losses are about as good as they come.  They lost by seven points each to LSU at home and Oklahoma in Dallas.  Unfortunately, the good wins are still lacking, and they narrowly avoided a disaster on Saturday when they beat Kansas on a last-second field goal.  Regardless, this is still the strongest two-loss team.    
The Wolverines are again failing to live up to expectation, but these rankings do not care about expectations.  They put up a good fight at Penn State but came up short.  They put up no fight at all at Wisconsin.    
The Hawkeyes lost grinders at Michigan and at home to Penn State but won at rival Iowa State.  Their strength of schedule has them up here … for now.    
SMU is playing at a level not seen since the days of the Pony Express.  However, it has yet to play most of the better teams in their league.  The Mustangs' best nonconference win came against Dallas-Fort Worth rival TCU.  The top of the AAC is good enough to push SMU higher if it keeps winning, but it won't get to playoff height.    
Ohio State destroyed Cincinnati in Columbus for the Bearcats' only loss.  Getting destroyed by the Buckeyes does not make Cincinnati unique.  The Bearcats ended UCF's long conference winning streak earlier this season.    
The Gophers are undefeated, but it is hard to find anything that resembles a quality win.  They have the worst schedule by far of any major undefeated team to this point of the season.  Minnesota's only win over a team with a winning record is the one over Nebraska, which was playing without quarterback Adrian Martinez.  Playing Maryland this week will not help.    
The Herm Edwards experiment seems to be going well.  The Sun Devils are winning with a strong defense and a freshman quarterback.  ASU won at Michigan State earlier, and the only bad loss came at home to Colorado the following week.    
The Tigers handed Navy its only loss of the season and beat SEC also-ran Mississippi in their opener.  Memphis has a favorable schedule with both SMU and Cincinnati at home.    
The Broncos were in a great position to be the top team in the Group of Five but took a loss at BYU in a battle of backup quarterbacks.  Despite the loss, Boise State still looks like the class of the Mountain West and still has a shot at the Cotton Bowl.    
The Cyclones are still looking for a good win but were competitive in losses to Iowa and Baylor.  They still get their shots at Oklahoma and Texas.    
This is the highest-rated ACC team behind Clemson.  The Cavaliers' win at Pitt to start the season is the difference between them and the Panthers at the moment.  I would not be surprised if no ACC team besides Clemson is in the final CFP Rankings on Dec. 8.     
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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