No one ever knows what to expect from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, but even the most optimistic Alabama fan had to be surprised when the Crimson Tide was fourth in the inaugural ranking by the committee revealed Tuesday night.
Alabama was the highest ranked team with one loss and was ahead of eight undefeated teams in the ranking.
Clemson was No. 1, LSU No. 2, and Ohio State No. 3. The top four teams will play in this year’s College Football Playoff in January. Bama and Ohio State were in last year’s inaugural playoff with the Buckeyes defeating the Tide and going on to win the national championship.
In the inaugural rankings last year, however, it was 1. Mississippi State, 2. FSU, 3. Auburn, and 4. Ole Miss. Only Florida State was in the final four (along with Oregon).
Nothing has changed for Bama, though. With one loss, the Crimson Tide is in the same position it has been since the Ole Miss game. Alabama must win all its remaining games to make the playoff.
There is guaranteed to be a shakeup at the top when the second ranking of 25 teams is announced next week. That’s because the Crimson Tide hosts LSU at 7 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.
Alabama is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference play, while the Tigers are 7-0 and 4-0.
Jeff Long, the athletics director at Arkansas and chair of the CFP Committee, was clear about the position of Alabama in the top four Tuesday night. The committee gave great weight to strength of schedule and how teams had done in games against good teams. Alabama got credit for its road wins over Wisconsin (ranked 18th at the time, and actually at neutral site Arlington, Texas), No. 8 Georgia, and No. 9 Texas A&M. The Tide’s one loss was to Ole Miss, ranked 15th at the time and No. 18 in the inaugural CFP poll.
Notre Dame is fifth in the CFP rankings and the Fighting Irish also have a loss, but it was to No. 1 Clemson on the road.
Baylor, which many believe to be the best team in the nation, was penalized by its weak schedule to date and was in sixth place. Long said the committee is aware that the Big 12 is back-loaded in its schedule with Baylor, No. 8 TCU, No. 14 Oklahoma State (all undefeated), and No. 15 Oklahoma (which has a loss to unranked Texas).
In addition to Alabama and LSU, Florida of the SEC was ranked 10th. The Big Ten also had three teams in the top 10 – Ohio State, Michigan State seventh, and Iowa ninth.
Clemson has not been No. 1 in any poll since winning the national championship in 1981 under Coach Danny Ford. Interestingly, both Ford and current Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney are former Alabama players and assistant coaches.
Swinney, incidentally, downplayed the inaugural ranking, but probably not for the right reason. He said it is a poll based on potential. Actually, it is a poll based on achievement to this point with no regard to what may happen later.
Nevertheless, almost all agree that the CFP committee might have been better served by waiting a week for its inaugural poll. There are some big games in the nation this year, led by the Alabama-LSU contest. But Clemson will be hosting Florida State and TCU will be at Oklahoma State.
The College Football Playoff will match the No. 1 seed vs. No. 4, and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in semifinal games that will rotate annually among the Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl. The 2015 semifinals will take place December 31, at the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. The national championship game will be January 11, 2016, in Glendale, Arizona.