7 biggest takeaways from the opening College Football Playoff rankings

The first official College Football Playoff rankings were announced Tuesday night, and the Big Ten and SEC control the top four — at least for now.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Ohio State is No. 1 with an 8-0 record and an 85 percent chance to make the playoff, according to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor. The Buckeyes also have, by far, the best chance to win the national championship this year, so again, the top spot it not surprising.

If the playoff started today, Ohio State would be joined by LSU, Alabama and Penn State, and that’s where things start to get interesting. So after the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2019 season, here are our biggest takeaways.

1. Big Ten and SEC occupy the top-4 spots

Plenty of people assumed Clemson would be in one of the top-4 spots, and it probably will be at some point — maybe as early as next week — but not right now. And that’s still a surprise, even if it was a reasonable possibility.

As we’ve previously explained, the SEC or Big Ten could have two representatives in the College Football Playoff — though not both conferences — thanks to No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State. The latter is the obvious surprise here, but whether or not two teams from the same conference will actually make it to the playoff likely depends on how they handle their conference matchups against each other.

At least two of those four teams will have a loss by the end of the season — Alabama or LSU will lose its perfect record Saturday — but when the it’s over, the key question is: If a team that’s not a conference champion only has one loss to a playoff favorite, and it’s close, can that beat out a one-loss Power Five champion?

2. Clemson wouldn’t be in if the playoffs started today

The Tigers have no room for error. We generally knew this, but that’s especially true with them opening in the No. 5 spot. However, they could jump into the top-4 teams as early as next week if the loser of the Alabama-LSU game falls out. But they still can’t lose.

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A one-loss ACC champion shouldn’t stand up against other top teams, like a one-loss SEC or Big Ten team that isn’t a conference champ — or even lower-ranked teams like Oregon or Oklahoma. And even if Clemson does lose, it still can’t be to Wake Forest because that would keep it out of the conference title game and surely destroy its playoff hopes.

3. Georgia is still hanging in there

The No. 6 Bulldogs’ playoff hopes were basically assumed to be dead after their double-overtime loss to South Carolina in October. Perhaps it was because everyone thought it meant they weren’t as good as expected, but clearly the selection committee isn’t overlooking them — which is easy to do with all this talk about LSU and Alabama in Week 11.

As selection committee chairman and Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens explained to ESPN after the rankings were released, Georgia’s two wins over then-No. 6 Florida and then-No. 7 Notre Dame balance out the loss to South Carolina. Beat Missouri this weekend, and the Bulldogs are in control of the SEC East and headed toward the conference championship game.

4. Oklahoma’s loss hurt more than originally thought

The Sooners still have a path to the playoff, but they can’t do it alone and that loss to Kansas State dealt them a harder hit than expected — even though it bodes well to have the Wildcats in the top-25 teams. The selection committee clearly isn’t forgetting that Oklahoma strolled into Manhattan, Kansas as a 23.5-point favorite and got rolled by Kansas State. They made a comeback push late in the game to shrink the Wildcats’ lead significantly, but it wasn’t enough for a win.

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Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff in three of the last four seasons as one-loss teams, but perhaps the hole the Sooners dug themselves against Kansas State is more significant than close losses to Texas and Iowa State in past years without a stronger schedule this season to cancel it out.

5. The Pac-12 is actually being respected

Coming into the season, it appeared the conference was already being overlooked. And after Oregon lost by six points in its season opener to a then-underestimated Auburn team, we assumed the Pac-12’s playoff hopes had disappeared.

But both Oregon and Utah are through the toughest parts of their respective schedules and are looking pretty good. They’re on pace to win out and play each other in the conference championship game. If the Pac-12 champ only has one loss — the Ducks’ loss to Auburn is definitely more appealing than Utah’s loss to USC — it might be hard for the committee to ignore. But it’s nice to see Oregon and Utah sandwiched between Georgia and Oklahoma.

6. Minnesota is being disrespected, but Baylor is just right

Both teams are undefeated going into Week 11, but neither are projected to win out. This weekend, the Golden Gophers are expected to take their first hit of the season with just a 25.9 percent chance to beat Penn State on Saturday, according to ESPN’s FPI. So why not give them a little more credit for being undefeated with a mediocre schedule and then drop them if/when they lose to the Nittany Lions?

On the other side, the Bears only have a 25.4 percent chance to beat Oklahoma in a couple weeks, but they’re expected to win every other game, meaning they could get a rematch with the Sooners in the Big 12 title game.

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Now, if one or both of those teams pull off an upset in either of those marquee games — particularly Minnesota — the selection committee might not have a choice but to take them more seriously. But with Oklahoma fighting to be the Big 12’s representative and the Big Ten having two other realistic playoff teams, anything less than wild upsets will keep these two on a distant bubble.

Ahead of Week 11, Baylor has a two percent chance to make the playoff, and Minnesota is at less than one percent, according to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor.

7. The Group of Five conferences get no love

This isn’t really a surprise, considering undefeated UCF debuted at No. 18 in 2017 and No. 12 in 2018. But you could argue Cincinnati and/or Memphis deserve to be higher than Wake Forest. Either way, if it wasn’t the year for an undefeated Group of Five team to make it in the playoff, a one-loss team certainly isn’t cutting it this year.

Here’s the full list:

1. Ohio State (8-0)

2. LSU (8-0)

3. Alabama (8-0)

4. Penn State (8-0)

5. Clemson (9-0)

6. Georgia (7-1)

7. Oregon (8-1)

8. Utah (8-1)

9. Oklahoma (7-1)

10. Florida (7-2)

11. Auburn (7-2)

12. Baylor (8-0)

13. Wisconsin (6-2)

14. Michigan (7-2)

15. Notre Dame (6-2)

16. Kansas State (6-2)

17. Minnesota (8-0)

18. Iowa (6-2)

19. Wake Forest (7-1)

20. Cincinnati (7-1)

21. Memphis (8-1)

22. Boise State (7-1)

23. Oklahoma State

24. Navy (7-1)

25. SMU (8-1)

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