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Observations on the Initial College Football Playoff Rankings

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass against Miami (Ohio) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

By Dr. Ben Billman |

The initial College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday night.  There were no huge surprises from my point of view.  I would have put Clemson at #4 and Penn State at #5, but that will all be settled in the near future.  While a lot can, and will, change over the next couple of weeks, it is never too early to make some assumptions on what can occur from here on out.  Here are five observations I made from my analysis of this initial poll.

1. The LSU/Alabama game could be an elimination game…for Alabama

LSU has already beaten Texas, Florida, and Auburn.  As of right now, Alabama has no wins against the top tier of college football programs.  This LSU game is huge for Alabama.  A win against the Tigers gives them a signature win and almost certainly guarantees them a spot in the SEC championship game.  It is my opinion that an 11-1 Alabama squad that loses to LSU and does not make the SEC championship game is on very rocky ground to secure a playoff spot.  They could still get in, but if their best win is against Auburn, that may not be enough.

2. The Ohio State/Penn State game will be an elimination game…for Penn State

The Ohio State/Penn State game is still not for another few weeks, but Penn State now knows that they must win that game to secure a playoff spot.  A loss to Ohio State eliminates them from playoff contention, even if they finish 11-1.  The Nittany Lions desperately need to play in the Big Ten championship game to have a chance at a playoff spot.  They have wins over Iowa and Michigan, but those won’t sway the committee enough if the Ohio State game is a loss. 

3. A 12-1 Pac-12 champion will secure a playoff spot

A Pac-12 team hasn’t participated in the college football playoff since 2016-17.  It shouldn’t sway the committee, but if this is the third year in a row that a west coast team is not represented, that could affect broadcast ratings.  That shouldn’t matter if the committee is truly looking for the four most deserving teams, but there is some subjectivity that goes into this process.  Oregon and Utah enter the rankings at #7 and #8 respectively.  They both have reasonably easy schedules to get to be 11-1 entering the Pac-12 title game.  If this occurs, the Pac-12 champion will be 12-1 with an early season loss that they had to overcome.  That is enough to be locked into a playoff spot in my book.

4. The Big 12 is in trouble

Oklahoma comes in at #9, and Baylor is #12.  It is very possible that one of these teams could win out and still be left out of the playoff.  Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State really stings, and they don’t have many opportunities left to impress the committee enough to move them up.  Baylor could be 13-0 with a Big 12 title, but the committee seems to favor 1-loss or 2-loss teams from better conferences over them.  Baylor’s non-conference scheduling is the biggest issue.  They played Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio, and Rice.  That’s not going to cut it on the national stage.

5. Auburn has the opportunity to play spoiler in the SEC and across the country

The Tigers already have 2 losses, and their hopes of making the playoff are gone.  This doesn’t mean that they can’t muddy the waters significantly down the stretch.  Auburn has a bye week leading up to a home game against Georgia.  Georgia can’t afford a loss.  Auburn then plays at home against Alabama during the last week of the regular season.  A win against Alabama would potentially eliminate them as well.  Teams in the Pac-12 and Big 12 should be cheering for Auburn.  Utah, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Baylor will be directly affected by the way Auburn plays.

Dr. Ben Billman is the Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.  He graduated from the United States Sports Academy with a doctoral degree in sport management.  He is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, and has a passion for sports and how Christians can impact this segment of the business world.

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