Lots of predictability in first College Football Playoff ranking, but you can predict a lot of change

Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) and lineman Christin Wilkins celebrate Higgins' touchdown against Florida State in the first half on Saturday.
(Mark Wallheiser / Associated Press)

A wonderful kind of madness overtook college football last week.

Eleven ranked teams lost and seven new names popped up in the polls as the dust settled. Upsets and unpredictability are what make the game special.

So don’t get too comfortable with the first weekly ranking issued by College Football Playoff selection committee Tuesday, even if the names at the top of the list seem utterly familiar.

Defending champion Alabama started at No. 1, the Crimson Tide still seemingly a cut above everyone else this season. Below them, the likes of No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Louisiana State, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Michigan have all shown signs of making a championship run this fall.


It doesn’t mean the order won’t get shuffled, and re-shuffled, in the very near future, starting with a Southeastern Conference showdown between Alabama and LSU on Saturday night.

As Alabama coach Nick Saban said: “Our record or any other statistic that you guys want to sort of bring up … will not affect the outcome of this game at all.”

From now to selection day Dec. 2, when the four semifinalists for the national title are named, the CFP will drop a new list every Tuesday.

The 13 voters, including athletic directors, former coaches, a former player and a former journalist, follow a written protocol that weighs strength of schedule, head-to-head results and any outcomes against common opponents. As the regular season draws to an end, conference championships will also enter the equation.

Chairman Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, said he and his colleagues go a step further, employing what he called the “eye test.”

“Data is one part of it,” he said. “The committee watches a lot of games.”

The biggest surprises Tuesday emerged from lower down the rankings, which shouldn’t be a surprise at all, given what happened last week.


All but two of the teams ranked from No. 15 to No. 25 in the Associated Press poll suffered a loss. The seven previously unranked teams that jumped into the fray included Syracuse. On Tuesday, the Orange landed at No. 19 in the CFP rankings.

“Yes we’re here and it’s fabulous,” coach Dino Babers said. “And now we need to get ready to play another game on Saturday and, if we win, it’ll get better. If we don’t, it won’t.”

In a season with few bright spots, the Pac-12 Conference got some good news with Washington State sitting in the No. 8 spot.

The committee praised the Cougars’ offense and especially transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew. Their win over Utah factored into the ranking, as did a close loss on the road at USC.

One thing the committee did not consider from the latter game — the controversy surrounding a conference executive who persuaded replay officials not to call targeting on a Washington State linebacker who hit a kneeling Trojans quarterback JT Daniels.

The incident prompted an investigation by the Pac-12 and a change in replay protocol.

“We watched the games, we know what happens,” Mullens said. “But that was not part of the discussion in the room.”


Central Florida was a hotter topic if only because the undefeated Knights hold the nation’s longest winning streak (20 games) spanning two seasons. Strength of schedule kept them at No. 12, below teams that have lost one and even two games.

“They’re they only team in the country that has not played a team with a winning record thus far,” Mullens said.

His rationale might not satisfy fans in Orlando, who claimed an unofficial national champion last season. Still, UCF, Washington State and others hovering outside the top four are within striking range if the season continues to produce upsets.

And that could happen in the very near future.

Don’t forget that, in the CFP’s inaugural 2014-15 season, Ohio State stood at No. 16 the first week but ended up winning the national championship. There’s also the curse of No. 3 — no team starting from that position has ultimately made the playoffs.

This weekend’s Alabama-LSU matchup could reorder things right away, with the Tigers in the unusual position of being heavy underdogs despite playing at home in Baton Rouge.

“We’re not going to say it’s like every other game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We understand this is the game.”

A little further down the list, No. 5 Michigan needs to get past No. 14 Penn State to stay in contention. Same goes for No. 6 Georgia against surprising No. 9 Kentucky.


Even the game between No. 13 West Virginia and No. 17 Texas could be impactful given that the Big 12 Conference race remains wide open with no teams left undefeated.

“We have an opportunity to define our season by how we respond,” Texas coach Tom Herman said after his team stumbled against Oklahoma State. “Now we’re going to figure out what’s really inside of our guys.”

Mullens and his selection committee will be watching. The chairman did his best to leave room for future shifts and changes, a freedom to alter the landscape every time committee members sit down to cast their votes.

“That’s the beauty of this process,” he said. “We start with a clean slate every week.”

And there are still five weeks to go before they have to make a final decision.

Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter