The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken – and it likes the SEC.
At least for now.
Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year’s Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.
“It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before,” Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said. “There are 18 one-loss teams in FBS at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim.”
Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference’s West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday’s matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.
The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.
“Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks,” Long said. “I think that’s important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week’s rankings won’t influence the next week’s rankings.”
TCU was seventh, Michigan State was eighth, Kansas State ninth and Notre Dame was 10th.
Mississippi State and defending national champion Florida State are the only undefeated teams left among the Big Five conferences.
“It’s cool,” Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott said. “That’s something you can never take away from the university or this program. First-ever ranking, first team to be No. 1, so that’s pretty cool for the university.”
The Bulldogs and Seminoles also hold the first two spots in the AP Top 25. No. 3 was where the differences started between the playoff rankings and the media poll.
The AP voters had Alabama at No. 3 and Auburn at No. 4. Oregon was fifth, Notre Dame was sixth and Ole Miss was seventh after losing for the first time this season at LSU on Saturday. Ole Miss beat Alabama at home earlier this month.
This is the first year for the playoff format in college football, and the list is the first indication of how the committee is evaluating teams’ playoff potential.
While Ole Miss received a better ranking than Alabama, head-to-head victories weren’t always the deciding factor for the committee.
Arizona, which won at Oregon, is 12th. Baylor, which beat TCU, is 13th.
Long said in both cases the head-to-head loser had the better overall resume. Long said Oregon’s victories against Michigan State and UCLA stood out. And Baylor’s lack of quality opposition so far held back the Bears.
“They have not had a strong schedule outside of their win against TCU,” Long said.
The committee creates small groups of teams, debates their merits and ranks the teams using as many votes as needed to come up with a consensus. Members are given reams of data on each FBS team and each member is allowed to judge those numbers however they determine is best.
The committee members gathered Monday at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, and did most of their work on Day 1.
Long said the committee worked for about 10 hours total on the rankings. By the time the rankings were released on ESPN at 7:30 EDT, most of the committee members were already on their way home.