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Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama top first playoff ranking

Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama top first playoff ranking
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney reacts during the Tigers' 58-0 victory over Miami during a game at Sun Life Stadium on Oct. 24. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Meet your College Football Playoff if the postseason started today:

No.1 Clemson would play No. 4 Alabama in the Orange Bowl and No. 2 Louisiana State would face No. 3 Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

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Tuesday's first playoff ranking release was only the first taste of sugar. The selection committee had to start somewhere, and a top four of Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama shouldn't surprise anyone.

The big surprise was Notre Dame at No. 5. The Irish rank four spots higher than they do in this week's USA Today coaches' poll. There is nothing like a four-point win over Temple to impress the judges.

Alabama and LSU play Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Baylor did not make the top four despite being No. 2 in both the coaches and Associated Press media polls. The Bears debut at No. 6, paying the price for a weak schedule.

The committee's top 10 is rounded out by Michigan State at No. 7, followed by Texas Christian, Iowa and Florida.

Baylor and TCU, both of the Big 12 Conference, got left out of last season's playoffs and are facing that possibility again. However, the first ranking is only a snapshot, and both schools have yet to play their toughest games.

"We rank to this point in time," Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, chairman of the selection committee, said on ESPN just after the announcement.

Stanford is the first Pac-12 Conference team in the mix, at No.11, followed by Utah at No.12. UCLA is No. 23, sandwiched between Temple and Toledo.

The committee had a lot to hash out.

Last year's first ranking had only two undefeated teams to consider, Mississippi State and Florida State. This year there are 11, many with flaws and suspect schedules.

Think of Ohio State (8-0) as this year's Florida State, an unbeaten defending national champion with quarterback issues that can't truly be trusted.

The committee suspected Florida State wasn't for real but couldn't justify dumping a crowned champion riding the nation's longest winning streak. It might be harboring similar thoughts for Ohio State.

Baylor (7-0) is averaging 61 points a game but has one of the weakest schedules in major college football. The Bears are also, at mid-season, turning to a first-year freshman quarterback to lead them through November.

LSU (7-0) appears formidable but has had one game canceled and another moved to the Tigers' home stadium because of bad weather.

Iowa (8-0) is undefeated but may be getting dinged because it plays in the weak Big Ten West Division, even though the Hawkeyes have wins at Wisconsin and Northwestern.

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TCU (8-0) has won 16 straight games and boasts the nation's best quarterback in Trevone Boykin, but lacks a signature win.

Clemson (8-0) looks like the real deal but plays in a conference, the Atlantic Coast, that has only one other team in the AP top 20.

There are plenty of good reasons not to get carried away with any first ranking related to college football.

In October 1998, UCLA was the first No. 1 in the history of the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Bruins slipped to third the next week and, over the next 16 years, never again appeared at No.1.

In 2008, Georgia was No.1 in the preseason AP and coaches' polls, then went on to lose three games and finish No. 13.

In 2011, Oklahoma started No.1 in both polls and ended No. 16.

The next year, Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans, despite being scholarship-strapped by brutal NCAA sanctions, debuted at No. 1 in the AP poll. USC finished unranked at 7-6.

In other words, if you don't like these rankings, check back next week, and then the next.

In 2007, LSU was No. 7 in the BCS ranking on Saturday morning of the final regular-season weekend. By the next day, the Tigers had jumped to No. 2. They ended up winning the title.

If it was up to College Football Playoff leaders, there would be no weekly ranking — only one at the end of the season.

We are getting these rankings now to feed our insatiable appetites.

They come with an urging from ESPN, which paid big money for the rights to broadcast the playoffs. The E in "ESPN" stands for entertainment. The network wants to rile up the masses as it careens toward a dramatic conclusion.

While the BCS was largely considered a train wreck, its release of weekly standings starting in October was must-see TV.

Playoff organizers also knew they couldn't just drop the final ranking on the public on a Sunday in December and then run to a mountain retreat. So they settled on a middle ground by providing fewer rankings, starting in November.

The first four last year were Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi.

Of the four, only Florida State ended up in the playoff. Mississippi State, Auburn and Mississippi finished seventh, 19th and ninth.

Tuesday's first release was far from the end-all. It was only a tease.

Follow Chris Dufresne on Twitter @DufresneLATimes

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