Just once have the initial College Football Playoff rankings matched the actual playoff field


The season’s first College Football Playoff rankings will be released Tuesday night and history suggests that it will be about as good as it gets for two of the teams in the top four.

The first of six rankings sets the table for a month of scrutiny on the top teams and their performances. The final rankings will be released Dec. 3, after the conference championship games, and those set the four-team playoff field, with semifinals at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl ahead of the national championship game Jan. 8 in Houston.

Next year, the CFP expands to 12 teams. Four is the magic number for now and rarely in the nine previous years of the playoff have all four teams in the initial rankings made it to the actual playoff.

Last year, Tennessee was the committee’s first No. 1, followed by Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson. Only the Bulldogs and Buckeyes made the playoff.

Just once have the initial CFP rankings revealed the eventual playoff field. That was 2020, the pandemic season, which was far from normal in so many ways.

The lesson: Don’t let the first rankings stress you out. Some things to keep an eye on.

WHO’S NO. 1?

It doesn’t matter all that much because there are plenty of games left to sort it out. However, two of the best teams in the country, Georgia and Michigan, haven’t played the toughest of schedules yet.

The Bulldogs and Wolverines have been Nos. 1 and 2 in the AP Top 25 poll since the preseason. The committee’s rankings don’t always match the AP poll but do tend to be pretty close.

Do resumes lacking impressive victories against other highly ranked teams steer the committee away from Georgia and Michigan and toward Ohio State, Florida State or Washington?


Oklahoma beat Texas, but in the latest AP Top 25, the Longhorns were ranked higher than the Sooners, despite both having 7-1 records. How does the committee sort that one out?

Washington’s win over Oregon (7-1) probably makes that one an easier call, though the Huskies (8-0) haven’t looked great the past two weeks against teams with losing records.

Louisville (7-1) had an emphatic win over Notre Dame (7-2), which might have a slightly better overall resume. The AP poll ranks Notre Dame three spots higher.


Seven times the Crimson Tide have been ranked in the committee’s initial top four. Six of those years, Alabama went on to make the playoff and it has three CFP titles.

The only time Alabama was not in the initial top four but still made the playoff was 2014, when it started sixth.

Nick Saban’s team won’t be in the initial top four this year, not with one loss and five Power Five conference teams still unbeaten. But the Tide have been showing steady growth since losing to Texas in September.

What the committee thinks of ‘Bama will also impact what it thinks of the Longhorns.

“We have the best win in the country right now,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said.


What the committee thinks of the teams outside the Power Five conferences is often more revealing early on than anything at the top of the rankings.

Conventional wisdom suggests unbeaten Air Force and Tulane will be in the committee’s top 25 — but where?

The highest-ranked Group of Five conference team at the end of the season isn’t going to contend for a playoff spot the way Cincinnati did in 2021, but it will get to play in a New Year’s Six game. This year, that’s the Fiesta Bowl.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to see unbeaten James Madison in the rankings. The Dukes are in Year 2 of their transition to the top tier of Division I and by NCAA rule are ineligible for the postseason.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 polls throughout the season. Sign up here.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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