Let the Chaos Begin: Previewing the College Football Playoff Rankings

The College Football Playoff committee had a relatively easy job for the first two installments of the rankings. Alabama, Clemson, Washington and Michigan were all undefeated, and the playoff committee did not have to do much when it came to separating teams. Then Week 11 happened.

No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Michigan lost surprise games to unranked teams and No. 4 Washington couldn’t get it done against USC. Now the committee has the tough task of sorting through the mess of one-loss teams after Alabama.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when the Crimson Tide are ranked first in Tuesday’s edition of the rankings, but there is a lot of speculation about how the committee will rank the teams from 2-10. What should we look for and what should we expect Tuesday night when the new rankings are revealed?

Will Louisville jump Clemson in the playoff rankings?

The Cardinals will likely jump Washington, and they could potentially also come in ahead of Michigan and Clemson. The wild card here is the head-to-head matchup with the Tigers back in October. Louisville lost that game on the road, so how will the committee view that? Clemson now has a worse loss to then 5-4 Pittsburgh, but the Tigers have more top-25 wins and a tougher strength of schedule. The Cardinals jumped to No. 3 in the AP Poll this week, so it will be interesting to see where they are placed on Tuesday.

Which previously undefeated team can recover?

This set of rankings will be important, because it will show us the teams that are most likely to recover from a loss. Washington fell to No. 7 in the AP Poll, so that could also be an indication of where the committee will have the Huskies. They don’t have the strength of schedule that the other two teams have, with Stanford and Utah serving as their best in that category. Michigan has a chance to stay about the same because of the other losses, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter where the Wolverines are ranked. Because of the showdown with Ohio State on deck, Michigan is likely safe if it wins out. Clemson’s loss came at home while Michigan fell on the road, so that could also be a factor. At this point it looks like Washington has the worst chance to recover, and Michigan probably has the best chance.

Does Buckeyes’ recent success make them a lock at No. 2?

The Buckeyes have won big the last two weeks, and they came in at No. 2 in the recent AP Poll. That doesn’t necessarily make them a lock for that spot in the playoff rankings, though. The committee now has five one-loss teams to consider, and it will be asked to rank those teams based on the entire season, not just by measures of recent success. That’s an advantage of this system over the BCS model; losing late in the season doesn’t have to be a deciding factor.

How will the two-loss teams affect the rankings?

There are three teams with two losses that could potentially sneak into the top-four when it’s all said and done: Wisconsin, Penn State and Oklahoma. A home blowout loss to Ohio State and the lack of a conference championship game will hurt the Sooners, but it will be interesting to see how the committee stacks them up against Wisconsin and Penn State. What’s interesting is that both of these teams still have a shot at the Big Ten title. If Penn State wins out and Ohio State beats Michigan, it will be the Nittany Lions in the championship game. Wisconsin can also secure a spot from the other side by winning the remainder of its games. We are going to find out which of these teams has the best shot on Tuesday, because it will show how the committee views them at this point, especially in comparison to some of the teams with one loss.

Biggest Winner: Louisville

The Cardinals have the resume to probably jump Washington, and if they keep winning they will jump the loser of the Ohio State/Michigan game later. Louisville needed just one team ahead of it lose to have a chance, but instead there were three.

Biggest Loser: Washington

The Huskies didn’t get much love in the initial rankings when the committee had them behind Texas A&M, and that was because of their schedule. With its best wins against Stanford and Utah, it’s going to be an uphill climb for Washington now.

How It Could Play Out:

  1. Alabama- Nothing to say here, it’s a no-brainer.
  2. Ohio State- I think the Buckeyes will indeed jump to No. 2 because of the wins they have.
  3. Michigan- Wins over No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 12 Colorado will separate Michigan from other one-loss teams. (Current AP Poll rankings)
  4. Clemson- I think the head-to-head win over Louisville will keep the Tigers ahead here. They also have one of the best strength of schedules, although the Auburn loss hurt that cause. The loss to Pitt stings, but head-to-head will matter to the committee.
  5. Louisville- Some are jumping the gun on the Cardinals. Lamar Jackson is the best player this year, but Louisville just doesn’t have the wins to stack up. The beatdown of Florida State is the only win the Cardinals can hang their hat on, and that could put them at No. 5. That’s okay though, because as long as they rank ahead of Washington, all is still good for their eventual chances to get in.
  6. Wisconsin- The Badgers have an impressive win over LSU, and the only two losses are to teams ranked very high (Ohio State, Michigan).
  7. Washington- Like Louisville, Washington doesn’t have the wins to hold up with one loss. 
  8. Oklahoma- The Sooners are playing as good as anyone right now, and I think the committee will use the “eye test” to put them ahead of Penn State and West Virginia.
  9. Penn State- After the Ohio State upset, it’s hard to find another great win. They have a chance though if things work out in front of them.
  10. West Virginia- The wins just aren’t there for West Virginia, but it will have a chance this Saturday as it plays host to Oklahoma.

About Zach Gilliland

Contributor for All Sports Talk, Bleacher Report, and Saturday Edge. Senior at the University of South Carolina-Upstate, where I hope to graduate with a degree in Education and a minor in Journalism in 2017. If it's Saturday, I'm 100 percent likely to be sitting in front of a television watching college football. Follow me on Twitter @ZachGilliland93