College Football Playoff: A Case for Number 1

The Great Debate Begins...

The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released next week on Tuesday, November 5th. With the exception of Clemson, the top 5 teams in the AP poll and Coaches poll are all on bye week this weekend, which means the committee will have each team’s resume up to this point. If history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen, and the rankings can change in a heart beat, so this first rankings will be a preview of how this years committee is viewing the teams, and how much emphasis they are quantifying metrics such as strength of schedule, ranked wins, and the popular eye test. Before going over the projections of how this first committee will rank the first 4 in, and next 2 out, here is a quick reminder when each of the rankings will be released and the criteria of how they are evaluating each team: 

Tuesday, November 59 – 9:30 p.m. ET*
Tuesday, November 127 – 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, November 197 – 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, November 267 – 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, December 37 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, December 8
(Selection Day)
Noon – 4 p.m. ET


Proposed Selection Process:

Establish a committee that will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head‐to‐head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie‐breaker; apply specific guidelines).

The criteria to be provided to the selection committee must be aligned with the ideals of the commissioners, Presidents, athletic directors and coaches to honor regular season success while at the same time providing enough flexibility and discretion to select a non‐champion or independent under circumstances where that particular non‐champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.

When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head‐to‐head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
For a complete breakdown of the selection protocol, click here, and for the voting process, click here

Who's Number 1?

So the question will be who is number 1? There are a handful of teams that are a power 5 team and still undefeated. The past few weekends, a top 10 team has last to an unranked opponent, starting with Georgia, who lost to South Carolina, and last week was Kansas State who defeated Oklahoma. Ohio State fans know from the first playoff that a loss does not necessarily count you out of the playoff, but the margin becomes much more thin. That is the beauty of college football that any team can be beat on any given moment.

Let’s use the current AP poll as the baseline to evaluate the top teams that have a valid argument to why they might get the number 1 ranking:

1. LSU – 17 first place votes

Best Wins – Florida (6), Auburn (11), Texas (was ranked 9th at time of game)
Losses – None

Pros: LSU took over the top spot this week after defeating Auburn at home 23-20. The Tigers has been one of the best offenses in the country, averaging 535 yards a game, which is ranked 3rd best in the country. Joe Burrow is listed in the top 2 of most Heisman polls, and he has the 2nd most passing yards in the country. LSU has the best on paper resume in terms of ranked wins, and challenged a once top 10 Texas on the road as their top non-conference game. They also have the best combined record of opponents against the undefeated teams.

Cons: Despite their highest ranked wins, they have one of the weaker overall strength of schedules with their other non conference games of Georgia Southern, Northwestern State, and Utah State. Their defense has also given up plays in the air, and giving up an average of 20 points a game.

2. Alabama – 21 first place votes

Best Win – Texas A&M
Losses – None

Pros: On paper, Alabama is one of the most talented teams in the country, and Tua Tagovailoa has picked up where he left off last year, with 27 passing touchdowns to 2 interceptions. Along with LSU, Alabama has one of the best receiving corps in the country. Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in the sport, and has led the Tide to be the only team to make it to every College Football Playoff to this point.

Cons: Tua was injured during the Tennessee game, and back up quarterback Mac Jones filled in for the next game against Arkansas. If Tua is healthy, Alabama is one of the best teams in the country, but if not, their quarterback position becomes a liability. They also do not have any wins agains teams in the top 25, and have one of the weaker strength of schedules. They have 7 starting freshman on their defense due to injuries. 

3. Ohio State – 17 first place votes

Best Wins – Wisconsin (18), Cincinnati (17)
Losses – None

Pros: Ohio State has looked like the most complete team this year in all phases of the game. They rank in the top 10 in both total offense, and total defense, the only team in the country to do so. They have the 2nd best defense in the country led by Chase Young, who is arguably the best player in the country. His 4 sack game against Wisconsin has propelled him into the Heisman discussion. Justin Fields, another Heisman candidate has not looked like a first time starter after transferring from Georgia, and JK Dobbins is the second leading rusher in the country. For those who like metrics and numbers, Ohio State ranks number 1 in the FPI, SP+, and most computer metrics. They also have the top scoring defense in the country and 3rd best scoring offense. 

Cons: Thanks to the game against TCU turning into a neutral site game instead of a home and home series, Ohio State did not play a Power 5 non-conference opponent this year. However, Cincinnati is ranked in the top 25, and has a chance to be the highest ranked Group of 5 team. They also played some of the weaker teams in the conference this year with Northwestern, Nebraska, and Michigan State, with their toughest conference games coming up the last two games of the year.

4. Clemson – 7 first place votes

Best Wins – Texas A&M
Losses – None

Pros: Clemson, like Alabama, is one of the most talented teams in the country, and are the defending national champions. This is where some of the human element has come in, where the committee wont forget that, and if the Tigers stay undefeated, they are in the playoff. Clemson has had only one close game, and every other game has been a blowout. They are the only team to play this week in the top 5, however they play Woffard, so there is a strong chance they will still be undefeated by the time the polls come out.

Cons: Also like Alabama, Clemson does not have a win against a top 25 team, and are playing in a conference that is the weakest Power 5 conference. Even if Clemson is undefeated going into the championship game, the opponent from the Coastal division will most likely be unranked with multiple losses. If Clemson were to lose a game, and even with being a conference champion, there is a good chance they could be left out. 

5. Penn State – 0 first place votes

Best Wins – Michigan (14), Iowa (19)
Losses – None

Pros: Penn State has been one of the surprise teams of the country this season, ranking as one of the top offenses and defenses in the country. They have two wins against ranked opponents, and have a chance to knock off an undefeated Minnesota team in 2 weeks. James Franklin has been able to replace some of the best players in recent Penn State history, and has the second best passer in yardage in the Big Ten with Sean Clifford.

Cons: Penn State happens to be in the same conference as Ohio State, and is working their way up after a low preseason ranking. They have a chance to compete as the Big Ten East champion if they can remain undefeated as they head into the showdown against the Buckeyes on November 23. The way their schedule works out, they have a chance to potentially make the playoff even with a loss to Ohio State.

6. Florida – 0 first place votes

Best Wins – Auburn (11)
Losses – LSU (1)

Pros: A loss is a loss, and they are the highest ranked team with 1 loss, which came at the hands to the current #1 team in the country in LSU, but you could make the argument they have the best loss. They also still control their own destiny with a big game against Georgia this week. You can make the argument that if they win this week, they stay current with their ranking, but if Georgia wins, then they have a valid chance to crack the top 6. Florida though has a win against Auburn, who is ranked 11 in the country. 

Cons: A loss amongst teams that are still undefeated is going to be hard to ignore. As we have seen with the playoff rankings, and undefeated team is in over a team with a loss. However, is Florida wins this week, and wins out, including a potential win against Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship game, they are in. 


In the history of the Playoff rankings, the committee has been inconsistent with their rankings, but with the way the teams are lined up at the moment, this is how I predict the teams to be ranked.

First Four In

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Alabama
4. Clemson


First Two Out

5. Penn State
6. Florida/Georgia*


I think the committee is going to favor the ranked wins for LSU, and the transformation of their offense. Last year, they valued Oklahoma’s offense over Ohio State, and it helps that LSU has a leading Heisman candidate.

Ohio State is the best team on paper, and has been the most complete team. With two wins against ranked opponents, they might get dinged for a lack of Power 5 non-conference opponent, but they lead the county in scoring margin, and game control.

Alabama is still being graded based on what they have done with Tua, and Mac Jones. They dont have ay ranked wins though, and I think this will be the reason why they will be below Ohio State.

Clemson also is without a current ranked win, but they have had a close game, while Alabama has been able to blow out their opponents. Plus, their lack of quality opponents will go against them, but I expect they will keep them in the top 4 as defending national champions.

Penn State does not have the same metrics as one of the top 4 teams, but their two ranked wins help their resume. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come in at 4, and Clemson at 5. 

I think the winner of the Florida/Georgia game will fill this spot. If Florida wins, that will give it two ranked wins, but a loss If Georgia wins, they might jump to 6th, however Oklahoma might still sneak in to the 6th spot. 


Thank you for reading, and please provide your thoughts on how you see this first set of rankings will play out!


Photo from College Football Playoff website

One comment

  • I think at this stage LSU, Ohio State, and Alabama all can make a case for the top three spots, but one will be eliminated next weekend. The Tide needs the win more than the Tigers

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