The first College Football Playoff rankings of 2016 are live. And with that, the national title hunt is officially underway.
Remember when they said 2016 was a down year for the SEC? (‘They’ is referring to nobody in particular, mind you. But rest assured, there were murmurs).
Well, baloney. Texas A&M, ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll, came in at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings – much to the surprise of just about, well, everyone. The Aggies have been outstanding this season, compiling a 7-1 record (the lone loss was to No. 1 Alabama) and knocking off the likes of Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Still, undefeated Pac-12 power Washington has looked about as strong as anyone this season, so it’s a surprise to see the Huskies on the outside looking in. But the committee’s logic is clear. Before its thrilling win over Utah in Week 9, Washington’s two marquee W’s came against Stanford and Oregon.
Here’s the reality: the Cardinal and the Ducks have done Washington no favors this season. Stanford and Oregon are perennial Pac-12 juggernauts, but they’re each in the midst of their worst season in years. The Huskies rank 69th in the country in strength of schedule at the moment, which is obviously their Achilles’ heel.
Still, Tuesday night was significant. Thanks to Alabama, There’s a good chance that the Aggies will finish the season with one loss but fail to reach the SEC title game. If Texas A&M wins out, can anyone jump them? We’ll see. But as of now, it looks like the Aggies have an inside track at a Playoff spot, which was unexpected coming into the evening.
Scroll further down the first CFP rankings, and you don’t have to look too far to find Auburn. The Tigers come in at No. 9, and the Iron Bowl against Alabama nears. If they can knock off the Crimson Tide (which, by all accounts, is a major if), the Tigers will almost certainly be in the top four. Like, how? Gus Malzahn, you never cease to amaze the college football universe.
-Clemson is No. 2 and Michigan is No. 3, which means they switched places in comparison to their Week 10 AP Poll rankings. It makes sense. The Tigers have wins over Louisville, Auburn and Florida State. The Wolverines’ point differential is impressive, but their top win is against Wisconsin; after the Badgers, Jim Harbaugh’s team simply hasn’t had the opportunities to score the big triumphs Clemson has. Keep an eye on this in November and December, as the Wolverines have a huge date with Ohio State on Nov. 26.
-Speaking of Louisville and Ohio State, it was mildly surprising to see the Buckeyes ranked ahead of the Cardinals. The committee clearly thinks Penn State is legitimate – the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 12 in the CFP Poll and No. 20 in the AP Poll – so Ohio State wasn’t penalized much for its lone setback. Meanwhile, Louisville’s only loss came against Clemson on the road, though the Cardinals don’t have the wins that the Buckeyes do.
-Penn State at No. 12 is kind of a shock. James Franklin’s squad notched a huge upset against Ohio State, but beyond the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions’ best win is difficult to pinpoint. There seems to be a bit of a drop off after the first 11 teams.
We’ve got five more weeks of these rankings, folks. Embrace the roller-coaster.