The first College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday night. Some schools will be ecstatic with them, others incensed. Over the course of the playoff era we’ve come to learn that these early rankings are terrific for driving conversation and intrigue. They are, however, quite literally subject to change and not entirely helpful in predicting which four teams will emerge in the final edition — the only one that matters.
What’s most important at this point of the season is identifying which teams control their own destinies and which are reliant on some outside help. This is obviously the most enviable position in terms of stress-reduction.
Looking at the landscape, though, it’s not an entirely common one. Alabama and Georgia figure to be No. 1 and No. 2 and are destined for clash in the SEC Championship Game. The winner will get the top overall seed should it be a battle of the unbeatens.
In the ACC, Miami remains perfect if not entirely dominant. Huge games against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech serve as chances to boost the body of work — as does a potential conference title game. A 13-0 Hurricanes team is in, no matter what.
Wisconsin also plugs along undefeated. The Badgers will face the winner of the Big Ten East in Indianapolis. If it’s a top-four Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes will be enough to get Paul Chryst’s team in. Ohio State is the one-loss team in complete control of its own destiny. They will be among the first four on Tuesday and have Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin left to play. There’s a fear the head-to-head with Oklahoma could come back to bite them, but not a large one.
So where does that leave us if those who control their own destiny keep winning (for this let’s suppose Ohio State goes 12-1 and beats Wisconsin while Alabama caps a perfect season by beating Georgia). We’d have Alabama as the top seed, Miami as No. 2, and Ohio State at No. 3. The field vying for that final spot could potentially include one-loss Georgia, a one-loss Big 12 champion (TCU, Oklahoma, or Oklahoma State), and a one-loss Washington. Oh, and toss in a one-loss Penn State for good measure. Good luck sorting all that out.
Plus, I haven’t even mentioned Notre Dame, who could be in the top four Tuesday night and gets one more shot against top-10 Miami. How will the selection committee judge them without a 13th data point?
All of this, of course, is subject to change. The best a team can hope for at this point is to control its own destiny. And only a select few do.