The important thing to remember about early college football playoff standings is that they don’t make sense.
The deciding matchups that will define the race for the national championship are coming fast and furiously, starting with this Saturday’s must-see duo between No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 Georgia.
Later in November, the Big Ten will be decided between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan, a crowded race at the top of the Pac-12 will be reduced to one or two teams, and the Big 12 will submit either an undefeated champion for playoff inclusion or settle for a house in the slate of New Year’s Six Bowl games.
The history of the playoff format tells us that all the answers will be provided by the first Sunday in December.
So far, what we can glean from the early rankings for the 2022 season is that the committee loves the SEC — no big surprise there, of course. The committee is also low on No. 7 TCU and higher on No. 4 Clemson than voters in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches poll.
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These teams and conferences top the list of winners and losers in the first playoff standings:
OK, let’s count them. Tennessee is at No. 1, and no surprises there. The Volunteers have amassed a great resume and can place a No. 1 header with a victory Saturday against the Bulldogs, who land at No. 3. Alabama is No. 6, as the highest-ranked team to a loss coming into Saturday’s game against No. 10 LSU, the top-ranked team with two losses. Right behind the Tigers is No. 11 Mississippi. So, to summarize: of the top 11 teams in the rankings, five come from the SEC. The league has several possibilities to put two teams in the playoffs.
Clemson and the ACC
It wasn’t as bad for the ACC as believed before entering the standings, starting with Clemson coming in ahead of Michigan to round out the top four. With the easiest remaining schedule of any top playoff contender, the Tigers must be very positive about their chances of returning to the semifinals after a year-long absence. Clemson arriving at No. 4 is due to wins over three other ACC teams in the standings: No. 20 Syracuse, No. 21 Wake Forest and No. 22 North Carolina State. (North Carolina was the ACC’s fifth representative at No. 17.) The committee respects the conference’s top third and how Clemson rose to the top of the league.
Tulane comes in first among the Group of Five teams at No. 19, thanks in large part to a non-conference win over No. 13 Kansas State. The Green Wave are the only team still undefeated in American play ahead of two pivotal matchups in November against defending conference champions Cincinnati and No. 25 Central Florida, the only other five-man team in the standings. Being in the driver’s seat for the bowl offer could even give Tulane enough room for error or a loss in either of those two games, if avenged in the conference championship game. American, would not prevent the Green Wave from finishing at the front. of the pack.
Landing in 7th place in the first ranking illustrates the hurdles TCU must overcome to reach the national semifinals. Coming in behind several other undefeated Power Five teams is one thing, even if the Horned Frogs have good reason to edge out No. 5 Michigan and even No. 4 Clemson. Here’s what really hurts: TCU is one point behind the Crimson Tide. It shows the committee’s affection for the SEC and highlights how at least one and possibly two one-loss conference teams could stay ahead of even the undefeated Horned Frogs to the end. TCU will need help moving up the ranks and into the top four.
It’s hard to argue too much about the relative merits of the UCLA No. 12 and Southern California No. 9, as neither looks likely to win the Pac-12 with a single loss and finish in the top four. Still, having the Trojans ahead of the rival Bruins seems to ignore each team’s resume and schedule strength. USC has one win over a team with a winning record, No. 23 Oregon State. UCLA has three: South Alabama, Washington and No. 14 Utah. While the Bruins have only one road win, this victory against Utah is one of the best of any team to a loss.
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