While Saturday may be the 10th weekend of college football, it’s the first in which the top teams in the nation will play knowing where they stand in the one ranking that really matters, the College Football Playoff standings.
Alabama holds the top spot, and there’s simply no good argument against them being there. The Crimson Tide are then followed by a pair of undefeated teams in Clemson and Michigan, while one-loss Texas A&M has the final playoff spot with Washington (8-0) lurking behind them in fifth.
The CFP rankings aren’t too far off from where the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls had teams pegged in the buildup to Tuesday’s big reveal, but there’s still plenty of room and reason for debating this all-important list.
In any case, now that teams, fans and the media know exactly where each program stands, Saturday’s slate of action will be that much more intense, and closely scrutinized.
The biggest point of contention on the list is Texas A&M slipping into the top four ahead of unbeaten Washington. To some, this may scream of the so-called SEC bias, but the Aggies do have a case for being listed ahead of the Huskies. As FBSchedules.com’s Amy Daughters, the Aggies have had a tougher road thus far:
The big difference comes down to the quality of the set of opponents. Where the Huskies have played only two teams (Stanford and Utah) which currently have a record over .500, the Aggies have played four (Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama).
Similarly, where Washington has one past opponent currently ranked in the Top 25 (No. 16 Utah), Texas A&M has two (No. 9 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama). It also makes the Aggies the only one of the two who has faced a Top Ten opponent.
The strength-of-schedule argument was confirmed by committee chair Kirby Hocutt, per Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News:
Texas A&M’s signature win this season is a 29-16 victory over Auburn (now ranked No. 9) back on. The Aggies’ lone loss is to Alabama, unimpeachably the best team in the country, so it’s hardly a major blemish.
Kirby Hocutt on why A&M is at No. 4: "Simply stated, the committee believes Texas A&M has played a stronger schedule" than Washington.
— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) November 1, 2016
Washington’s best win came more recently in Week 9, a 31-24 win over No. 16 Utah. It was a close contest throughout, but quarterback Jake Browning and company persevered and preserved the undefeated record, which the Huskies will almost certainly need to keep if they want to make the playoffs.
The Huskies have but one ranked opponent on the remaining schedule in No. 25 Washington State, but an undefeated run and a win in the Pac-12 Championship should put them over the top of Texas A&M and would certainly allow them to usurp the likes of Clemson, Michigan and perhaps Alabama if any of those three stumble and lose a game (or two).
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Ohio State is sixth in the initial rankings, but some heavyweight opponents on their remaining schedule could see them shoot up the rankings in the final weeks. The Buckeyes can certainly help their own cause with a win over No. 10 Nebraska on Saturday, which would at the very least ensure they hold their spot in the rankings this week.
There’s also the showdown with Michigan looming on Nov. 26, a rivalry game that will almost certainly have CFP implications, as the Wolverines are unlikely to stumble against Maryland, Iowa or Indiana in the coming weeks.
The Buckeyes’ cause is also bolstered by the fact that the CFP committee took some of the sting away from their loss to Penn State by awarding the Nittany Lions a somewhat-surprising No. 12 ranking.
If the walking video-game cheat code that is Lamar Jackson wants to make the Playoff—and there’s a fair chance scores of fans all across the country would love to see him there—he’s going to have to continue to put up huge numbers for No. 7 Louisville and hope that a team or two ahead crashes and burns.
The Cardinals’ toughest remaining opponents are unranked Houston and Kentucky. The 7-2 Cougars have fallen off in recent weeks after a 5-0 start, though the Wildcats could make for a prestigious regular season-ending opponent if they can get past Georgia and Tennessee in the coming weeks.
Wisconsin and Auburn are the only two-loss teams in the top 10, which makes sense considering the Badgers losses came against Michigan and Ohio State, while Auburn has lost to Clemson and Texas A&M but have looked dominant for the most part.
The Cornhuskers can help their cause by upsetting the Buckeyes, but will likely still need help unless they can cobble together a blowout and then win out.
No. 11 Florida is a team to keep an eye on, as they only have one-loss so far and are currently atop the SEC East. Should the Gators somehow run the table and beat the SEC West representative (probably Alabama) in the SEC Championship, the committee would be hard-pressed to ignore them.
Much farther down the list is No. 20 West Virginia, whom CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli makes a case for as a CFP dark-horse contender (along with Florida, Colorado, LSU and Oklahoma):
What West Virginia does have going for it is that it still only has one loss, and if it can manage to win out, it will pick up wins against Oklahoma and Baylor. Those will boost its stock, and even if it doesn’t end the season with the most impressive strength of schedule, an 11-1 Big 12 champion would be hard to ignore. Having said that, the Mountaineers would still need somebody like Washington to drop a game, or for Clemson to lose the ACC Championship.
There’s still plenty of work to be done for the Mountaineers in that regard, but that’s why these initial rankings get so much attention. They set the table for a furious finish to the conference championships, and eventually, the bowl games and playoffs.