Louisville's schedule, narrow wins prove costly in CFP rankings

Bobby Petrino, Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals have played a schedule that's ranked 74th per NCAA.org's rankings.

As expected, unbeaten Clemson finds itself in position to return to the College Football Playoff, sitting second in the selection committee's initial rankings.

But it's Louisville coming in seventh that was among Tuesday night's biggest surprises, and a message the ACC likely didn't want to hear in its bid to become the first league with two teams in the field of four.

Chairman Kirby Hocutt said the 7-1 Cardinals -- who boast a 43-point win over then-No. 2 Florida State were a hot topic among the selection committee, but their schedule ultimately kept them behind two other one-loss teams, with No. 4 Texas A&M and No. 6 Ohio State.

"The committee was impressed that Louisville continues to win," Hocutt said in the post-rankings teleconference. "The only loss is to our No. 2 ranked Clemson. Their schedule is not as strong as the two teams that you alluded to. Their only win against a team with a winning record was against Florida State.

"Obviously a very impressive win there, but when you look at Ohio State at 7-1 and Texas A&M at the four spot at 7-1, the committee just did not believe at this time that their schedule is as strong as those other two one-loss teams."

Defending national champ Alabama sat atop the rankings, followed by the Tigers and Michigan, while fellow unbeaten Washington was fifth. The ACC was also represented by No. 19 Virginia Tech, No. 21 North Carolina and No. 22 Florida State.

Louisville's schedule is 74th per NCAA.org rankings, and amid that slate it has struggled against Duke -- 10-point win -- and Virginia -- seven points -- in two of its last three games.

If that's the stance on the Cardinals, Bobby Petrino and Co.'s remaining dates won't do them any favors. They play Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston and Kentucky, which, based on future opponent winning percentage (.600) is 101st in FBS per those same NCAA.org rankings.

That sentiment, that "the committee just did not believe at this time that their schedule is as strong," may mean that the Cardinals have peaked as far as the CFP's decision makers are concerned.

Outside of chaos, or at the minimum an unbeaten taking a bad loss or bump from Ohio State and Texas A&M suffering a second loss, Louisville may not be able to climb any higher than fifth or sixth as it would need serious help to usurp Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division title. With conference titles weighing heavily, the Cardinals would also potentially be passed up by the Big 12, whose highest-ranked team is Oklahoma at 14th.

As Hocutt would later mention, the narrow wins vs. the Blue Devils and Cavaliers, when the Cardinals were in position to earn style points -- a la that 54-13 romp of NC State -- were a point of focus.

"We spent considerable time talking about the games, the eye test, and I would say that each week a team has a chance to strengthen their résumé or weaken their résumé, so we're watching," he said. "But as I said earlier, they continue to win, and there's a lot of football left to be played."

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' is out now, and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners' will be released Nov. 22, 2016.