The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings was released Tuesday night with undefeated Tennessee slotted at the No. 1 spot in the four-team field. Off to a dominant start to the 2022 season with a win over Alabama already on their resume, the Volunteers sit in the top slot while making their debut in the CFP Rankings as the playoff opens its ninth season of existence.
All but one team ranked No. 1 in a season’s initial CFP Rankings ultimately reached the four-team playoff (Mississippi State, 2014).
Unbeaten teams round out the rest of the top four with Ohio State, reigning national champion Georgia and Clemson filling the next three spots. The Bulldogs, who are seeking to become the first back-to-back champions in a decade, face the Vols in a No. 1 vs. No. 3 matchup at 3:30 pm ET on Saturday in the SEC on CBS Game of the Week.
CFP Selection Committee chairman Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at NC State, cited “the explosive nature of their offense” as the reason Ohio State slotted at No. 2 ahead of Georgia.
Just behind those four as the first two out of the playoff field are undefeated Michigan and one-loss Alabama.
The primary surprise to most atop the rankings is the Crimson Tide, whose signature win through eight games is a one-point victory over current No. 24 Texas. They are ahead of undefeated TCU, which has victories over No. 13 Kansas State and No. 18 Oklahoma State without a loss on its resume. The Tigers being ahead of the Wolverines was similarly unexpected, although Michigan’s weak nonconference slate is a likely reason for its position.
“We’re looking for a balanced team, offense and defense, and [TCU] has gotten behind in some games. They’ve been able to come back and win those games. But when you look at Alabama — in the wins against Mississippi State, at Arkansas, at Texas and obviously the three-point loss at Tennessee — as a committee, we decided to go Alabama No. 6 and TCU No. 7,” explained Corrigan.
Unlike last season when Cincinnati opened at No. 6 in the CFP Rankings and eventually became the first Group of Five team to reach the playoff, the highest Group of Five program in these rankings is Tulane at No. 19. That will not create a scenario in which the Green Wave can advance to the playoff, but in an expanded 12-team field set to be introduced soon, Tulane would be in pole position to earn a bid as the highest-ranked potential Group of Five champions.
Let’s take a look at the entire CFP Rankings top 25. Check out analysis by bowls expert Jerry Palm, which will be added below shortly.
College Football Playoff Rankings, Nov. 1
- Tennessee (8-0)
- Ohio State (8-0)
- Georgia (8-0)
- Clemson (8-0)
- Michigan (8-0)
- Alabama (7-1)
- TCU (8-0)
- Oregon (7-1)
- USC (7-1)
- LSU (6-2)
- Ole Miss (8-1)
- UCLA (7-1)
- Kansas State (6-2)
- Utah (6-2)
- Penn State (6-2)
- Illinois (7-1)
- North Carolina (7-1)
- Oklahoma State (6-2)
- Tulane (7-1)
- Syracuse (6-2)
- Wake Forest (6-2)
- NC State (6-2)
- Oregon State (6-2)
- Texas (5-3)
- UCF (6-2)
Analysis by bowls expert Jerry Palm
Despite not being in line with our prediction of the top seven teams in the CFP Rankings, it is tough to dispute the order in which the committee chose to slot those teams. I felt those seven teams were grouped into two tiers, the top three (Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia) and the next four (Clemson, Michigan, Alabama, TCU). Any ordering within those respective groups was justifiable.
Tennessee was rewarded for having more wins against teams in the rankings than either Ohio State or Georgia.
As such, I am not surprised to see Alabama ahead of an undefeated TCU, especially since Texas ended up in the rankings as well. That gave the Crimson Tide a win over a ranked team, and their loss is the best loss anyone can have right now.
One has to get further down the list before there’s a true surprise. LSU at No. 10 seems to be a stretch. The Tigers did beat Ole Miss soundly at home, but they got drilled by Tennessee (also at home) and lost to unranked Florida State. It’s not until No. 14 Utah before there are other teams with losses to opponents that are not in these rankings.
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Regardless of where teams are ranked this week, keep in mind that change is coming. These rankings do not act like the AP Top 25 or Coaches Poll. It is possible to win and move down or lose and move up (although the latter is less likely).
Take Illinois, for example. The Illini started at No. 16 but have a more clear path to the playoff than the four two-loss teams ahead of them. To get there, Illinois needs to win out, which would include a victory at Michigan on Nov. 19 and another likely against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. I didn’t say it was an easier path, but how could the committee deny a 12-1 Big Ten champion with those wins? They couldn’t and probably wouldn’t.
Everything I just said about Illinois would be just as true if it were unranked right now — and that is why it doesn’t pay to get too worked up about early CFP Rankings.