The College Football Playoff selection committee went with the eyeball test over the résumé when it came to this season’s initial rankings released Tuesday.
Ohio State is No. 1 and LSU is at No. 2, followed by Alabama at No. 3 and Penn State at No. 4. Reigning CFP national champion Clemson, which the USA Today coaches’ poll still stubbornly has at No. 1, is the first team looking for a chair at No. 5.
Apparently, Saturday’s showdown in Tuscaloosa isn’t the Game of the Century, Part Deux inside the CFP committee room in Grapevine, Texas.
LSU vs. Alabama is No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the AP poll, but the College Football Playoff rankings tell a different story.
The differential between the Tigers and Buckeyes? You can only figure that Ohio State looks better. But LSU’s schedule has the more impressive highlights to date, wins over CFP No. 10 Florida and CFP No. 11 Auburn, trumping Ohio State’s best two wins over No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 20 Cincinnati.
The differential that favored the Buckeyes? LSU beat Florida and Auburn by a combined score of 65-48. Ohio State won its best two games by a combined 80-7.
Still, if the LSU Tigers and their fans feel slighted, they have reason to according to ESPN’s Joey Galloway.
“LSU must be saying, ‘What more do we have to do?’ ” Galloway said as the rankings were revealed.
One win that looked bigger than any the first month of the season clearly does not carry as much weight for LSU now. That’s the Tigers’ 45-38 win over Texas. The Longhorns are now 5-3 and weren’t in the initial CFP top 25.
“Two outstanding teams,” CFP selection committee chairman Rob Mullens said of LSU and Ohio State. “We recognize LSU’s marquee wins over Florida and Auburn. But if you have watched Ohio State, they have performed at a very consistent level. And (Ohio State’s) Chase Young is as disruptive a defensive player as any in the country.”
When it comes to the hottest ticket in college football, one thing is certain: The waiting game is an expensive one.
Mullens said there was lengthy discussion in the CFP committee room when it came to ranking LSU and Ohio State. But twice, once on the ESPN selection show and again in a media teleconference afterward, Mullens mentioned LSU’s “marquee wins” over Florida and Auburn.
“We look at the whole schedule,” Mullens said. “We recognize LSU went on the road and beat Texas. We look at all the games. Both of these teams have strong schedules.
“But at the end of the day the committee felt Ohio State was 1 and LSU was 2.”
Ohio State had a better overall strength of schedule than LSU, drawing attention to the fact the Buckeyes haven’t played an FCS team while LSU played Northwestern State. But it must also be noted Ohio State didn’t put itself at risk with an early road game against a preseason top-10 team like Texas. It isn't the Tigers' fault that Texas has faltered more than expected, but obviously it was a drag on LSU’s ranking.
Being No. 2 potentially gives the Tigers some reason to carry a grudge into Tuscaloosa on Saturday. But on balance, starting at No. 2 isn’t shabby, and for several reasons it isn’t insignificant.
While some dismiss these early rankings as so much window dressing, there is some substance there. The past two years, three of the top four teams in the season’s initial CFP rankings made the playoffs.
LSU fans should be pleased about a couple of things: No team ranked No. 1 in the initial CFP rankings went on to win that year’s national championship. And the No. 3 team in the initial CFP rankings did not make the final four in the first five years of the playoffs, a potentially bad omen for Bama. The quirkiest of quirky stats, but a stat nonetheless.
Ultimately, you of course want to be as high as you can to start in case you have a loss (two losses and you are surely out). For LSU and Alabama, you have to hope you still have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs if you lose Saturday, though the path to the playoff looks more precarious for a one-loss Crimson Tide team that is so far lacking in the quality win department.
If LSU loses a tight one at Alabama and can win its remaining three regular season games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M, games the Tigers will be big favorites in, an 11-1 LSU team will be right in the mix for the program’s first-ever CFP semifinal berth.
In the end, that’s all that matters. And the glory of being No. 1 in the first CFP rankings won’t provide any comfort if you are out of the final top four.
Remaining CFP rankings schedule
• Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6 p.m.
• Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6 p.m.
• Tuesday, Nov. 26 , 6 p.m.
• Tuesday, Dec. 3, 6 p.m.
• Sunday, Dec. 8 (Selection Day), 11 a.m.
All rankings will be announced on ESPN
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