Playoff rankings: Committee takes long view of quality wins and shies away from good losses
The first College Football Playoff rankings are in the books. The top four for now is Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi, three teams from the SEC West and the defending national champion Seminoles.
It is way too early and there are way too many games to be played to get worked up about where teams were ranked by the 12-member selection committee on Tuesday. There is a good chance as many as three of the first four won't play for the national championship, and that a team lurking in the teens might.
Scanning the rankings a few things jump out.
One of the big complaints about polls such as the AP Top 25 media rankings and the USA Today coaches' poll is the emphasis on whatever happened most recently. Teams fall into a pecking order about a month or so into the season and then move up or down depending upon most-recent results. For example, Alabama is currently No. 3 in the AP poll and Ole Miss fell to seventh after losing at LSU last week. But the Rebels victory over the Crimson Tide earlier this season in Oxford, Mississippi, carried weight with the committee, which has Alabama sixth, behind Oregon at No. 5.
"I will emphasize the clean slate," Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said Tuesday. "We will take the new information from this week's games ... and stay with our process looking and comparing teams against teams. I think there will be movement, maybe more so than there has been in the past."
TEAMS NOT CONFERENCES
SEC fans think the top teams in other leagues wouldn't have a chance in their favorite conference. Non-SEC fans think it is overrated, aided by a fawning media.
Both groups are mostly wrong, but the first playoff rankings certainly will feed into their personal narratives.
Long said the committee isn't concerned about conferences.
"We compared those teams against each other, teams within their conference and outside their conference," Long said. "There's a lot of talk about conference, we understand that, but again in the committee room, it's really not a conference debate, it's a team vs. who they played and won and lost."
All of those SEC West teams in the top six have games left against each other.
BEST OF THE REST
The committee isn't just picking the teams to play in the national semifinals on New Year's Day. It will also fill out the other big games on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 — the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl. That includes choosing the best team from the so-called Group of Five conferences — the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and American Athletic Conference.
After the first rankings East Carolina of the American is the best of the rest, No. 23 in the rankings and the only team from those conferences to make the committee's top 25. Unbeaten Marshall of C-USA could have a problem overcoming a weak schedule that isn't getting substantially better.
Oregon's one loss came at home against Arizona, which is ranked 12th. The Ducks played that game with an injury depleted offensive line that has improved since with the return of tackle Jake Fisher.
Long said Oregon's injury problems were discussed, but more important was the Ducks' quality victories against Michigan State, eighth in the rankings, and UCLA, 22nd.
The good loss the Fighting Irish had at Florida State, which included a much-debated offensive pass interference penalty on Notre Dame that wiped out a late potential winning TD, didn't do that much for the committee. Notre Dame is 10th in the rankings because it doesn't have enough high-quality wins.
"They have, if you look at their resume, they have a close loss at Florida State, then you look at their other opponents that they played against at this time, we think a 10 rank for them is good," Long said. "They certainly have quality opponents upcoming in their schedule, and they'll have a chance again, like many teams on this list, they'll have a chance to play themselves up the ladder or down the ladder."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Grapevine, Texas, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP