Warren Report: The College Football Playoff Rankings Surprises and Tea Leaves

Tonight, the College Football Playoff Committee (POC) released their first weekly rankings. On Monday, I released my second Top 25 poll of the season. Sunday morning was the traditional release of the weekly Associated Press Top 25. As you can see, there are some notable differences.

College Football Playoff  (Last Week) Warren Report Associated Press
1.  Alabama Alabama (1) Alabama (1)
2. Clemson Clemson (3) Michigan (2)
3. Michigan Washington (5) Clemson (3)
4. Texas A&M Michigan (2) Washington (4)
5. Washington Louisville (4) Louisville (5)
6. Ohio State Texas A&M (6) Ohio State (6)
7. Louisville Wisconsin (8) Texas A&M (9)
8. Wisconsin Ohio State (7) Wisconsin (11)
9. Auburn Auburn (12) Nebraska (7)
10. Nebraska Florida State (10) Florida (14)
11. Florida Nebraska (9) Auburn (15)
12. Penn State Utah (14) Oklahoma (16)
13. LSU LSU (13) Baylor (8)
14. Oklahoma Florida (18) West Virginia (10)
15. Colorado Oklahoma (19) LSU (19)
16. Utah West Virginia (11) Utah (17)
17. Baylor Western Michigan (17) Western Michigan (20)
18. Oklahoma State Virginia Tech (21) North Carolina (21)
19. Virginia Tech North Carolina (24) Florida State (12)
20. West Virginia Penn State (23) Penn State (24)
21. North Carolina Colorado (25) Colorado (23)
22. Florida State USC (NR) Oklahoma State (NR)
23. Western Michigan Oklahoma State (NR) Virginia Tech (25)
24. Boise State Washington State (NR) Boise State (13)
25. Washington State San Diego State (NR) Washington State (NR)
Dropped Out: None Dropped Out: Tennessee, Boise State, Baylor, Navy Dropped Out: Tennessee, Navy

The biggest initial surprise is that the POC placed Texas A&M in the top 4. The 7-1 Aggies only loss to date is to Alabama, who they led 14-13 in the 3rd quarter back on Oct. 22. The strength of the SEC is further supplemented by the POC ranking Auburn, Florida and LSU in the Top 13. As Dave Bartoo of CFBMatrix points out, that is essentially so the POC can hedge their bet that an SEC team – or two – will be in the Football Four.

Further evidence of Bartoo’s point is that the POC has FIVE Big Ten teams in the Top 12, including 6-2 Penn State, whose two losses (to unranked Pittsburgh and POC #3 Michigan) are countered by their upset of POC #6 Ohio State. With Penn State’s remaining games are all winnable (Iowa, @Indiana, @Rutgers, MSU) the fact that Michigan (Maryland, @Iowa, Indiana, @Ohio State) and Ohio State’s (Nebraska, @Maryland, @MSU, Michigan) remaining slates are both tougher, gives the POC a chance to slide Penn State up in the rankings if Ohio State or the Wolverines stumble down the stretch in the Big Ten East. Likewise, Wisconsin and Nebraska in the top 10 with Michigan and Ohio State give the Big 10 juice to get 2 teams in the final four should Washington, Clemson and even Louisville stumble in the final month. But, Louisville chances are pretty slim right now because of another surprise in the first POC rankings.

The POC sliding Florida State all they way down to #22 is a bad sign for the ACC and POC #7 Louisville. Florida State’s losses (@Louisville, North Carolina and Clemson) are all to teams in the POC Top 22, but having the Tar Heels and Seminoles in the bottom 5 is a signal that the committee doesn’t think too much of the ACC overall. That the Tar Heels and Seminoles remaining schedules are trash doesn’t help the Cardinals’ cause either. I pity the team that has to play Louisville in their coming bowl game.

Considering they have Big XII teams Oklahoma (no defense), Baylor (bad schedule, no defense), Oklahoma State (little defense) and West Virginia (best defense) all ranked higher, when there is a slim to none chance the Big XII will sneak anyone into the Football Four, while having Florida State and North Carolina both lower makes no sense. Louisville is in a really bad spot, unless Alabama, Michigan and/or Washington stumble down the stretch.

Likewise, the POC putting Colorado and Utah in back-to-back slots at #15 and #16 give POC #5 Washington little margin for error. Keep winning and the Huskies will likely slide into the playoff by the end of the month, but lose any of their remaining games (@California, USC, Arizona State, @Washington State) and their fall could be fatal to them and the PAC 12’s chances of getting into the Football Four – unless there is plenty of carnage in the SEC and Big Ten. If that happens, then the Huskies could be OK, or Utah and Colorado could sneak into the mix if they win the PAC 12 Championship Game.

As you can see, the POC and AP both think much higher of Baylor than I do

As far as Alabama goes, they have POC #13 LSU (Saturday in Baton Rouge), a Nov. 26 Iron Bowl showdown with POC #9 Auburn and the SEC Championship Game (vs. POC #11 Florida?) standing in their way of a third-straight trip to the Football Four. That will not be a walk in the park.

In any case, there is a lot of football to be played. Of the eight teams who were in the first College Football Playoff Rankings in 2014 and 2015, only three – Florida State in 2014 and Clemson and Alabama last year – survived through the final rankings.

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