With the first set of rankings of the College Football Playoff officially released, two things that we can glean from them are that head-to-head and the proverbial eye test mean a lot.
The No.1 Georgia Bulldogs, thanks to an exciting 20-19 win on the road vs. the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Bulldogs garnered enough votes from the committee to position themselves in the top spot.
The title-game runner up Alabama Crimson Tide came in at No.2 thanks to an always-tough SEC meat-grinder of a schedule and a quality non-conference win over Florida State. The aforementioned Fighting Irish—who lost to top-ranked Georgia—boast impressive wins over Michigan State, USC and North Carolina State appear to be peaking at the right time.
Since they do not play in a conference, the Irish are the ultimate wildcard who could bump a conference champion from the playoffs.
The defending national champion fourth-ranked Clemson Tigers boast perhaps college football’s closest version to an NFL type of defense in how they’ve swarmed and dominated opposing quarterbacks all season lone. While they have handled Louisville, Virginia Tech and Auburn, a 27-24 hiccup in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse was not enough to bump them out of the top four.
What all four teams have in common: They pass the eye test in terms of LOOKING great on tape and playing like a playoff team.
The three teams in No.5 Oklahoma, No.6 Ohio State and No.7 Penn State are also examples of the committee placing a greater emphasis on head-to-head than in year’s past. The Sooners beat the Buckeyes in Columbus 31-16, who in turn rallied from a 15-point forth-quarter deficit to stun the No.2 Nittany Lions, 39-38, in an instant classic.
The Buckeyes and Sooners both have legitimate arguments over why one of them could be a top-four team, but based on that Week 2 Oklahoma win, the Sooners would likely get in over the Buckeyes.
Both teams have big games coming up in the form of TCU, Oklahoma State for Oklahoma and Iowa, Michigan State and archrival Michigan for Ohio State, but clearly, this year’s college football rankings are going to be more about both style and winning head-to-head on the field, more now, than in year’s past.
Clearly, the committee learned from the error of their ways in putting the Buckeyes in over the conference champion Lions, only to see Ohio State get humiliated by the Tigers.
This year, that line of thinking does not appear to be in place.