Trick or Treat: What to Expect From the College Football Playoff Rankings

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Getty After Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech are expected to be two of the top ACC teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Tonight, as you are easing into that 10th mini Snickers, you can tune into ESPN at 7 p.m. Eastern for the initial unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings. Whether your team is in for tricks or treats depends on how the committee approaches this year’s rankings. The committee sticks with similar guidelines each season, but each year takes on a life of its own as different scenarios pop up unique to the season.

What better way to spend your Halloween than scouring over the College Football Playoff protocol? Luckily, I have done it for you so you can grab your favorite candy, and read over a few key points.

Here’s is how the College Football Playoff defines the key criteria.

The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:
-Conference championships won
-Strength of schedule
-Head-to-head competition
-Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
-Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.

One key note, this is the criteria the committee uses to compare teams to each other that are viewed as similar. As we have seen in the past, “similar teams” is very subjective, and the group does not always pair teams up that fans may view as similar.

Let’s take a look at how this could impact the top teams this season as well as my predictions for the initial College Football Playoff rankings.

How Good Is Your Good?

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Clemson and Ohio State are very comparable so far this season.

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt often asks the question, “How good is your good?” It is a question used in assessing what the ceiling is of a particular team. It is also a question that accurately reflects how the committee looks at things. The committee wants to reward teams with quality wins. This year, the big question is whether the committee prefers quantity or quality.

Based on my projections, Ohio State and Clemson are going to be fighting for the No. 4 spot. If you prefer quantity, Clemson has more quality wins with victories over Auburn, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Ohio State has the best win of the two teams with their recent comeback victory over Penn State.

Both teams also have one loss to compare against each other. Clemson’s loss to Syracuse was a “worse loss” than Ohio State losing to Oklahoma. However, Clemson was also without starting quarterback Kelly Bryant for part of the game which gives the committee a bit of wiggle room based on the criteria we discussed earlier.

Overall, the committee has been willing to discount losses against bad or unranked teams as long as a team has enough quality wins to make up for it.

Strength of Schedule

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GettyOf the likely College Football Playoff teams, Notre Dame has the best strength of schedule.

The committee emphasizes an admirable strength of schedule, and, in particular, a team’s willingness to play a difficult out-of-conference schedule, even if the team does not have a 100 percent success rate. It is part of the reason Alabama is rewarded in the rankings every year, because they typically open up their season against another elite program then go on to play their SEC schedule.

Fans may be surprised to learn that based on the Sagarin rankings, the top SEC teams do not have the strongest strength of schedule this season. Alabama ranks 55th while Georgia comes in at 51st.

Here are some of the top teams with highly rated strength of schedules: Notre Dame (12th), Clemson (4th), Penn State (24th), Ohio State (37th), Michigan State (16th) and USC (8th).

College Football Playoff Predictions Week 10

After a few adjustments, here are my College Football Playoff projections for tonight’s initial rankings.

1 Alabama (8-0)
2 Georgia (8-0)
3 Notre Dame (7-1)
4 Clemson (7-1)
5 Ohio State (7-1)
6 Penn State (7-1)
7 Wisconsin (8-0)
8 Miami (7-0)
9 Oklahoma (6-1)
10 Washington (7-1)
11 TCU (7-1)
12 Oklahoma State (7-1)
13 Virginia Tech (7-1)
14 USC (6-2)
15 UCF (7-0)
16 Iowa State (6-2)
17 Arizona (6-2)
18 NC State (6-2)
19 Michigan State (6-2)
20 Stanford (6-2)
21 LSU (6-2)
22 Auburn (6-2)
23 Washington State (6-2)
24 Mississippi State (6-2)
25 Memphis (7-1)