If the college football season ended Tuesday night, we’d have a playoff that featured two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams.
Luckily for the squads on the outside looking in, we have a few more weeks of gridiron battles to help shape the final picture.
But the race for the playoff starts now. The College Football Playoff Committee unveiled its first rankings of the season Tuesday night on ESPN. Taking the top four spots were Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State, and rounding out the top 25 was SMU.
Of note: In the past two seasons, no team ranked worse than seventh has gone on to make the playoff. In 2014 though, No. 16 Ohio State went on to win it all.
LSU vs. Alabama could shake up the picture
The Tigers and Crimson Tide were the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the AP Poll this past week and land at Nos. 2 and 3 in the first playoff rankings, making their meeting this Saturday a crucial one for both team’s CFP hopes.
Both SEC sides will go into the matchup at Tiger Stadium in Tuscaloosa undefeated. LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2011, winning 9-6 in Tuscaloosa that season. With Heisman candidates on both offenses, this will likely be a higher-scoring affair.
While LSU has three wins this season over teams previously ranked in the AP top 10 — Texas, Florida and Auburn — Alabama does not. The only ranked team the mighty Crimson Tide have beaten this year is then-ranked No. 24 Texas A&M. So while LSU may have the resume to survive a loss and still get into the playoff, Alabama might not be so lucky — especially because a loss in this game would decrease its chances of appearing in the SEC title game. Alabama also still has to face Auburn, which was ranked No. 11 by the playoff committee.
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Undefeated Clemson on the outside
While Clemson is undefeated so far this season, the committee opted to leave the Tigers just outside of the top four, pegging them at fifth in the rankings.
The Tigers have the sixth best offense and the sixth best defense in the nation — scoring 44.2 points per-game while allowing just 11.7 — but their resume seems to lack impressive wins. The only top 25 team the Tigers have beaten was No. 12 Texas A&M back on Sept. 7. Since then, they’ve rolled through their ACC slate and over two non-conference opponents. In the midst of that run, they had a close call with North Carolina too, beating Mack Brown’s side by a single point.
Clemson will have the chance to add more quality wins to its resume though. It faces No. 19 Wake Forest on Nov. 16, plays at South Carolina on Nov. 30, and then seems to be heading toward a fifth straight appearance in the ACC title game.
Dabo Swinney’s side has been in the College Football Playoff in each of the last four seasons, winning a pair of national titles.
Cincinnati leads the Group of Five race
Cincinnati is the leader to get the Group of Five’s bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl, coming in at No. 20. The Bearcats have just one loss this season — to Ohio State — and have won six straight games, most recently taking a road win over East Carolina.
Rounding out the Group of Five teams are SMU, Navy, Boise State and Memphis, all ranked between 25th and 21st. Two games that could impact this race are Cincinnati at Memphis on Nov. 29 and SMU at Navy on Nov. 23. The Midshipmen also have an upcoming game against No. 15 Notre Dame.
In all, four teams from the American Athletic Conference were in the top 25 rankings from the College Football Playoff committee, two more than the ACC. Whoever wins the conference championship could very well be the one that grabs the Group of Five bid for a New Year’s Six Bowl.