College Football Playoff rankings: Ole Miss at No. 4 is great news
The first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings are here. Are you sufficiently outraged?
For having spent all those hundreds of hours watching games, and spending two full days in Dallas deliberating with each other, the committee’s initial top 25 is not dramatically different than the AP’s or coaches’. Committee chairman Jeff Long said it was “clear cut” that undefeated Mississippi State and Florida State were the Nos. 1 and 2 teams.
But the few teams they did rank noticeably higher or lower than the masses generally followed a common theme: The committee truly is sticking to its intention to reward strength of schedule.
Why is Auburn the highest-ranked one-loss team as opposed to AP No. 3 Alabama? As Long noted, the Tigers won at Kansas State and crushed LSU. As he also noted, Alabama’s best win was against West Virginia … and that’s about it.
Why is Notre Dame, No. 6 in the AP poll, all the way down at No. 10? Because the Irish’s best “win” at this point was a close loss at Florida State.
Why is the committee’s No. 7 team, TCU, six spots ahead of the Baylor team that beat the Horned Frogs 61-58? Keep in mind Long’s disclaimer that, “head-to-head is important, but there are other factors. It’s not head-to-head alone.” Executive director Bill Hancock told reporters: “The committee thought TCU and Baylor were not as comparable because TCU had three pretty strong wins. Baylor does not." In other words, Baylor, stop scheduling Northwestern State and Buffalo.
Why is Ohio State buried all the way down at No. 16? Considering the Buckeyes lost to 4-4 Virginia Tech and have yet to face a ranked team, you can probably guess where this is heading. “Based on the teams they've played to this point, this is where the committee felt they deserve to be ranked,” said Long.
And poor Marshall. The Herd, 8-0 but against Jeff Sagarin’s 147th-ranked schedule (meaning worse than that of 19 FCS teams), did not even crack the top 25. “We looked at their schedule relative to others, and did not think it was worthy of being placed in top 25 at this time,” Long said.
Agree or disagree with the placement of specific teams, the committee did exactly what officials around the sport have been hoping they would: Reward teams for playing and beating tough competition. If they stay consistent with that message come the all-important rankings Dec. 7, you’re going to see ADs rushing to beef up their schools’ future schedules. And that’s good for fans.
Similarly, while it would be nice to hear from the other 11 committee members, Long gave more direct explanations about specific teams Tuesday night than the NCAA basketball committee chairman ever does. You want to know why your favorite team sits where it does? Just ask him (@jefflongua).
However, Tuesday’s exercise also shows the inherent folly in releasing these rankings so early. Not everyone’s played the toughest parts of their schedules yet. Alabama may be on the outside looking in right now, but it has games remaining against the committee’s No. 1 (Mississippi State) and No. 3 (Auburn) teams. Win and it will surely move into the top four. Although, No. 7 TCU could leapfrog the Tide first if they win at No. 20 West Virginia this week.
“The bottom line is it’s early, it’s close and things are going to change,” said Long.
And that’s why it’s also silly to waste a breath on arguably the biggest surprise of the whole rankings, No. 4 Ole Miss. You may think no team with Bo Wallace as its quarterback could possibly merit such acclaim and that this is yet another byproduct of that ubiquitous “SEC bias,” but the Rebels play No. 3 Auburn this week. They host No. 1 Mississippi State in late November. They’ll work it out one way or the other.
If anything, the Rebels may signify the biggest difference between the BCS era and the committee era. Rather than take the typical knee-jerk reaction to a loss and send Ole Miss spiraling down the polls (as the coaches did this week in dropping the Rebel to No. 9), the committee, starting from scratch, looked at a resume that includes beating Alabama, blowing out Boise State and Texas A&M and committing the sole flaw of losing by three points at LSU and said, as of today, this is still one of the four best teams in the country.
In other words, it rewarded the Rebels for their schedule. And that’s a good thing.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.