NCAAF

2017 Initial College Football Playoff (CFP) Rankings

(Via @CFBPlayoff on Twitter)

College football has been full of surprises and upsets this year. This week marked the first week that the College Football Playoff committee got together to decide the best college football programs. Some teams ended up where most would expect and others got snubbed. There’s still plenty of games left, along with conference championships. Any of the teams in the top 15 still have a real chance at earning a playoff berth. Expect the ranks to get shaken up within the next month.

*Any references to ranked teams are to be treated as the rank awarded on October 31, 2017, not one that they may have had previously in the season.

The CFP Committee’s Top 4

Georgia players and fans celebrating their win over Notre Dame (Via Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald)

#1 Georgia Bulldogs (8-0)

Georgia deserves the top spot in the initial CFP ranking. Throughout the season they have played extremely good football. Their strength of record is easily the best. The only close game was a 20-19 win at Notre Dame. They also have a win over the ranked Mississippi State. The defense has been stifling all season, having only given up more than 20 points just once. But that isn’t the only reason why this team has been winning. Running back Nick Chubb has 765 rushing yards so far this season. Freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, has settled in as the Bulldogs’ starter after taking over for the injured Jacob Eason. Their only ranked opponent left on the schedule is Auburn, an SEC West team. Expect to see Georgia in the SEC Championship representing the SEC East.

#2 Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)

This is the first time the 2016 CFP runner up has been ranked anything other than #1 this season. Although they have played exceptionally well all season, they haven’t had a real challenge yet. Nick Saban’s defense has allowed the fewest yards to opponents and his offense has scored the 5th most points per game. The Tide’s Achilles heel is that they haven’t faced a ranked opponent. Their toughest match-ups so far were an injured Florida State and a rebuilding Texas A&M. Their next few weeks are filled with ranked opponents, Mississippi State, LSU, and Auburn. Bama is ranked second only to an SEC rival whom they will meet in the SEC Championship if both stay undefeated. The winner of the SEC Championship will surely make it to the CFP, but the other may or may not depending on the weeks between now and then.

#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1)

There should be little argument regarding who should be ranked #3. Their loss was a close game to the team currently ranked #1. They have wins versus three ranked opponents as well, adding to the validity of their current rank. All of the wins, including ones against ranked opponents, have come by more than three touchdowns. Their schedule has been tougher than those ranked above them, but their loss to Georgia is the only reason they are not at the top of the list. They have two ranked opponents remaining on the schedule, Miami FL and Stanford. If they continue their dominance, they will remain in the top 3 and may move up based on their strength of record. No school has made the CFP without being a member of a Power 5 Conference. The Fighting Irish have a shot to change that trend.

#4 Clemson Tigers (7-1)

If the CFP started today, the one loss Clemson Tigers would be the last one in. Clemson is the 2016 CFP defending champions. Although they lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL draft, they started the season looking like they were destined to repeat. Two wins over highly ranked opponents has kept Clemson in the Top 4, but they have an ugly loss. Unlike Notre Dame, the Tigers’ loss was not to a ranked opponent. They lost a Friday night game 27-24 in Syracuse. Their loss gives some an argument to question why they are in the Top 4. Their saving grace might be that starting quarterback Kelly Bryant injured his ankle in the game prior and suffered a concussion in the Syracuse loss. He appears to be at full health now and hopes to get Clemson back on track to a chance for back-to-back titles.

First 2 Out

Baker Mayfield plants the Sooner flag in the Ohio State logo at midfield after beating the Buckeyes in Columbus (Via Kyle Robertson, Dispatch)

#5 Oklahoma (7-1) and #6 Ohio State (7-1)

These two teams have similar seasons so far. Both have a win and a loss to a ranked opponents. They are ranked #1 and #2 in total offense this season, but Ohio State’s defense has proven better than Oklahoma’s. The Sooners have played a few close games to opponents they should have blown out because of their poor defense. Meanwhile, Ohio State has ravaged teams all season long due to quarterback J.T. Barrett and freshman sensation running back J.K. Dobbins.

There is an obvious reason why Oklahoma is ranked above the Buckeyes. Early in the season, Ohio State suffered their only loss to Oklahoma. Head-to-head matchups are hard to ignore when two teams have such similar resumes. Oklahoma has the tougher road to the CFP than Ohio State. It’s likely that no matter how the rest of the season plays out around the nation, only one of these teams will crack the Top 4.

The Disappointed

#7 Penn State (7-1) is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, their only loss of the season. They handily beat every team they faced prior to this past weekend. Fortunately, the current Heisman favorite, Saquon Barkley, continues to stun. Only one ranked opponent remains on their schedule. Unless Penn State wins every game (including the Big Ten Championship) and Ohio State loses at least one game, they don’t seem to have a chance to make the CFP.

#8 TCU (7-1) was stunned this weekend by Iowa State. The Horned Frogs have been dominant on both sides of the ball. Their defense is among the best and their offense doesn’t have a problem moving the ball. Strength of schedule may become a factor down the road. TCU only beat one ranked team so far. The other ranked opponent they faced they lost to. They still have to go to Oklahoma which will make or break their season. If they knock off the Sooners, something they might have to do twice, they have a chance to sneak back into the Top 4 for the first time since they were snubbed from the CFP in 2014.

Snubbed from the CFP

The two teams who should feel the most snubbed come in at #9 and #10, Wisconsin (8-0) and Miami FL (7-0). Both are undefeated and in Power 5 conferences, but neither have played a ranked opponent yet. Wisconsin has played better against their opponents so far, but doesn’t have a single ranked opponent on their schedule. On the other hand, Miami played their unranked opponents close all season. They have ranked teams left to play this season that should give their undefeated streak some problems. Both will face ranked opponents in their conference championship games, assuming they make it. Neither has a chance at getting in the CFP with a loss in the conference championship or the games leading up to it.

The Middle of the Pack

Marcel Spears Jr. celebrates his interception in the 4th quarter against TCU that helped complete the upset (Via CFBLights2 on YouTube)

These teams fall outside the top 10 but still have a decent shot at making the CFP. Teams outside the top 10 have made the CFP in the past, but the previous initial rankings were released earlier in the season. There are teams here with a good chance to move up.

#11 Oklahoma State (7-1) only lost to TCU and has a very powerful offense but has failed to beat anyone of relevance so far. The next two weeks against Oklahoma and Iowa State will prove whether or not they deserve to be ranked higher. A historic Bedlam game this weekend will be one of the best to watch.

#12 Washington (7-1) lost to unranked Arizona State. They are currently the highest ranked PAC-12 team, perhaps hinting at the poor quality of teams in the conference as a whole this year. They’ll need to bolster their resume with wins over Stanford and Wazzu if they want to get back to the CFP.

#13 Virginia Tech (7-1) only has one loss largely due to their relatively easy schedule. They blew out lesser teams all season long but struggled against better teams. Their tough defense has kept them in the race so far, but their make-or-break game is this weekend against undefeated Miami.

#14 Auburn (6-2) has the toughest road ahead of teams who are good enough to be in the Top 4. They still have to play Georgia and Alabama. Although they are a good team, their close losses to LSU and Clemson aren’t overlooked. Even if they win in Athens and the Iron Bowl, they still have a good chance at getting left out of the SEC Championship and the all-important CFP.

#15 Iowa State (6-2) is shocking the nation. They have big upsets over Oklahoma and TCU, but they also have losses to Texas and Iowa. The Cyclones’ defense has been decent against a very good offensive conference, but their offense is not very efficient against good defenses. They still have tests against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. A loss from here on out condemns them from the CFP, and perhaps the top 25 for the rest of the season.

The Long Shots

Adrian Killins Jr. outran the Memphis defense for a long score when UCF handed Memphis their only loss of the season (Via Aileen Perilla, Orlando Sentinel)

These are teams that are not mathematically ruled out. Their current rankings prevent them from having a good chance at cracking into the CFP unless those ahead of them lose. Although not impossible, don’t expect to see these teams near the top this season.

#16 Mississippi State (6-2) is a very good team with an argument to be ranked higher. They have blow out victories against everyone else, including LSU. Their only losses have come to Georgia and Auburn, but they got blown out in those. Their chances at significant wins are all in the past. The Bulldogs’ only ranked opponent left is Alabama.

#17 USC (6-2) has been inconsistent this season. One week they will play a close game to a worse opponent. Others they have blown teams out of the water. They have also been blown out. They are in a struggling conference this season. The Trojans have one win over a ranked team and two losses. Early in the season, they received a lot of national attention due to Sam Darnold’s Heisman aspirations, but lately he has been less than good. No ranked opponents remain on their schedule and you can bet they won’t make the CFP.

#18 UCF (7-0) is a lot like Western Michigan was last year, an amazing team in a bad conference. Their offense is ranked the best in the country, and their defense isn’t something at scoff at either. The Knights have a win over Memphis, the only ranked opponent on their schedule. Although they have a good chance at finishing undefeated, they won’t make the CFP. Their schedule isn’t tough enough to warrant a top 10 spot. Their best hope is for a good bowl game like the Broncos got last year.

#19 LSU (6-2) hit a rough patch in the middle of the season. They lost to Troy and Mississippi State, and nearly to Auburn and Florida. The season seemed to turn around for the Tigers in the second half against Auburn. They get Alabama this weekend in what will likely be the final ranked opponent of the season. They have 3 teams in the SEC West ranked ahead of them. LSU will have to hope for a bit of luck.

#20 North Carolina State (6-2) has no wins over ranked teams. Their losses came in the first and latest weeks against South Carolina and Notre Dame. They impressed by beating an overrated Louisville earlier this season, but haven’t done anything recently worthy of a spot near the top. The Wolfpack face Clemson this week which will no doubt decide the fate of both teams.

The Hopeless

Khalil Tate celebrates a score in the Wildcats’ win over Washington State (Via @ArizonaFBall on Twitter)

This group doesn’t have much of a chance at all. Their losses are not good to have on the record, and their wins are not worthy of too much praise. Many of these teams are likely to lose their ranking before the season ends.

#21 Stanford (6-2) has two losses that both came within the first three weeks of the season. They don’t have any wins over ranked opponents, but will have plenty opportunity. They still have to play Washington State, Washington, and Notre Dame. Winning out could propel the Cardinal into a high ranking, but don’t bet on it. The PAC-12 isn’t strong enough this year to increase a strength of record that much.

#22 Arizona (6-2) had their first convincing victory last weekend over Washington State. Their losses early in the season will haunt them, especially since neither were to a ranked opponent. They play USC this weekend. Since this is their last chance at a win over a ranked opponent and that opponent isn’t ranked very high, they don’t stand much of a chance at getting ranked much higher.

#23 Memphis (7-1) has a powerful offense. Their defense could be better, but the offense is scoring 43 points a game. Their only loss is to UCF. No other ranked opponents are on their schedule in the past or future. Their conference isn’t in the Power 5 and is relatively weak. They won’t be taken seriously as a contender in the CFP.

#24 Michigan State (6-2) has one of the best defenses in the country. Unfortunately, their offense doesn’t match up. They don’t have any wins over ranked teams. The wins they do have were not convincing in any way, mostly due to the lack in offensive production. The Spartan losses this season are to Notre Dame and Northwestern. They are likely to add a couple more in the following weeks when they face Ohio State and Penn State.

#25 Washington State (7-2) gained national attention when they beat USC in a thriller. This is the complete list of ranked opponents they have beaten though. Their defense and offense both rank among the top 25 in the country. Quarterback Luke Falk was on the Heisman watch for a while. A shaky October most likely cost him that award, dropped his draft stock, and cost his team a win. Even if he turns his season around against upcoming Stanford and Washington, the Cougars still don’t stand much of a chance at rising high in the rankings.

 

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