GRAPEVINE, Texas — Members of the College Football Playoff selection committee arrived at the Gaylord Texan resort early Monday morning, each of them making the most of the limited personal time they had before convening to determine their first top-25 ranking of the season.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had already logged 5 miles on the treadmill, and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens got his workout in, too. Former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer went to read the morning paper, and former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson was preparing for the group’s administrative meeting.
After gathering as a group for lunch, it was time to turn their cell phones off and get to business. The 13-member committee would remain in “Selection Central” until 9 p.m. as they had their first deliberations. They meet again Tuesday morning before revealing their top 25 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN and ESPN App).
Here are five questions we are most interested in seeing the committee answer:
1. Who’s No. 1?
It might not be as easy as it sounds. Picture the résumés of Alabama (8-0) and Georgia Bulldogs (8-0), side by side, as the committee surely will using the flat-screen monitors inside “Selection Central.”
Alabama has been dominant, but the Crimson Tide have not beaten an opponent currently ranked and have only one win over a Power 5 opponent currently with a winning record (Texas A&M). The value of their win over Florida State in the opener has diminished drastically, even considering the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Deondre Francois in that game.
Georgia has one of the best wins of the season, on the road against Notre Dame, and has beaten two ranked opponents, including No. 21 Mississippi State. Both teams have similar results against common opponents in wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The committee does not project and will not consider any future opportunities left on their respective schedules.
The committee is in no way beholden to the AP or Coaches’ polls, which have ranked Alabama No. 1 each week this season. It is looking for the best and most accomplished teams through the first 10 weeks of the season. How much will the “eye test” and the Tide’s sheer dominance play a role in where they are ranked?
2. What kind of controversy will the order of one-loss teams spark?
If Ohio State is in the top four and ranked ahead of Oklahoma, it would reveal a lot about how the committee values head-to-head results and how highly it regards the Buckeyes. Ohio State lost at home to Oklahoma in Week 2, 31-16, but is coming off what could be the most impressive win of the season — at home against Penn State. The committee uses head-to-head results as part of its criteria to distinguish between comparable teams. Think of it as a tiebreaker. If the committee believes the Sooners and the Buckeyes are comparable, then they will factor in their Sept. 9 meeting. Have the Buckeyes made enough progress since that loss that the committee no longer deems them even comparable to OU, even as both teams have one loss?
A similar situation played out last season with Ohio State and Penn State. Even though Penn State beat Ohio State, the one-loss Buckeyes were ranked higher than the two-loss Nittany Lions in each of the committee’s rankings, even after Penn State won the Big Ten championship. It simply viewed the Buckeyes as the better team.
Other one-loss teams to watch are Clemson, which lost to Syracuse but has an otherwise impressive résumé, and Notre Dame, whose only loss was to Georgia. If Clemson is in the top four, it will show that the committee can forgive a bad loss, even before a conference title has been won to compensate for it.
3. How will the committee regard undefeated teams with weaker schedules?
Undefeated Wisconsin (8-0) and Miami (7-0) are the leaders in the Big Ten West and ACC Coastal, respectively, but have been overshadowed by the front-runners in their opposing divisions because of strength of schedule. Wisconsin’s nonconference opponents are a combined 11-15. Of the Big Ten opponents they’ve played, only Northwestern (5-3) has a winning record. There’s currently not one ranked opponent on the Badgers’ schedule all season.
Miami’s nonconference schedule (Bethune-Cookman and Toledo) doesn’t compare to some one-loss teams’. The ACC opponents Miami has beaten have a combined record of 15-25, and some of those games have been nail-biters. Miami also has yet to play any ranked opponents, but unlike Wisconsin, there are still opportunities in the regular season to do so, starting Saturday against No. 13 Virginia Tech, followed by No. 5 Notre Dame on Nov. 11.
The committee isn’t looking ahead, though, so Miami will be judged only on what it has done to date. How far will these undefeated teams fall, or will the committee reward them in spite of their weaker schedules?
4. If Notre Dame is in the top four, which Power 5 conferences are out?
The easy answer is the Pac-12 and the Big 12, simply because they are the only two Power 5 conferences that don’t have any undefeated teams left. The Pac-12 has the most reason to be concerned. The South is guaranteed to have at least a two-loss winner. The North needs to hope Washington runs the table, because it’s the only one-loss team remaining in the league.
It’s more complicated in the Big 12. What if the committee gives Oklahoma more credit than it is currently being given in the polls? TCU’s loss hurt the league, no way around it, but with four one-loss teams sitting in the standings, the Big 12 also has more contenders still hanging on than the Pac-12 does. The problem is they all still have to play each other, starting with Oklahoma at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Pay attention to where the committee ranks Oklahoma and Washington. It will tell us a lot about who’s really on the outside and how far they have to climb to get back in.
5. What really constitutes a “good win?”
Selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt said he doesn’t pay attention to the AP poll. What matters now is the committee’s ranking, and how many wins contenders earned against teams ranked in the committee’s top 25.
So where does the committee rank USC and NC State? That’s important to Notre Dame’s résumé. Where does it rank Virginia Tech and Auburn? That matters to Clemson. And how about surging Iowa State? That’s important to the entire Big 12.
While the bulk of the attention is always drawn to the top four, it’s often teams 12-25 that are the most difficult to rank and can have the biggest impact on the contenders’ overall strength of schedule.