6 takeaways from the first College Football Playoff rankings

The first College Football Playoff rankings of 2018 came out this week.

While much could — and likely will — change between now and the first weekend of December when the final four are chosen, here is what to know about the initial top 25, particularly from an Ohio State perspective:

1. CFP rankings have generally differed from the polls, but this year they have the same top four as the Associated Press writers. 

Alabama and Clemson are Nos. 1 and 2 in both polls while LSU and Notre Dame are flipped. The Tigers are third in the CFP rankings and fourth in the AP poll with the Fighting Irish vice versa.

Committee chairman Rob Mullens said after the rankings were released they look at win-loss records, strength of schedule, head-to-head match-ups, games played against common opponents. Conference championships are supposed to be considered in the end, too, though that has not prevented non-champs from making it each of the past two years.

“This process created by the commissioners is subjective by design,” Mullens said.

Shakeups shouldn’t take too long since Alabama and LSU play this weekend. So do No. 6 Georgia and No. 9 Kentucky, both of whom already have one loss.

2. Ohio State will almost certainly need some help. 

That the Buckeyes have to win out — and that will require playing better than they did in October — to have a shot to make the final four goes without saying.

They could still be on the outside looking in even if they do.

Clemson is undefeated and could probably lose a game and still get in, especially if that loss is not as decisive as Ohio State’s was at Purdue. (More on that later.)

Six one-loss teams are ahead of OSU in the initial CFP rankings, including Michigan.

Obviously if Ohio State wins the rest of its games, the Buckeyes will knock the Wolverines out along the way, but there is still potential trouble to the west.

Oklahoma and Washington State are both ahead of the Buckeyes and have multiple opportunities to add quality wins. Of course, that also means both have multiple real chances to lose.

3. In the SEC, the best-case scenario for the Buckeyes is almost certainly Alabama winning out.

That would mean not only knocking out LSU this weekend but also the winner of Georgia-Kentucky in the SEC championship game.

If a one-loss team upsets ‘Bama down in Atlanta, guess what? Both are going to the final four — just like last year.

Then of course there’s another issue: currently undefeated Notre Dame. However…

4. Winning out might not guarantee the Fighting Irish make it, either. 

We don’t know yet what the committee would do with an undefeated Notre Dame against a one-loss power conference champion.

We could find out this year, and it might not be good for the Fighting Irish, whose resume is shaping up to be the weakest of the top 10.

Lots of variables exist here, not the least of which is credit a team could get for winning its conference (if that really exists).

Notre Dame beat Michigan in the season-opener, but how would the Irish compare to a one-loss Ohio State that won the Big Ten?

The Buckeyes could have three quality wins (Penn State, Michigan and whoever wins the Big Ten West) to only two for Notre Dame (Michigan and Syracuse), but again we don’t know how likely the Purdue loss is to drag the Buckeyes down.

5. So, how likely is the Purdue loss to drag the Buckeyes down? 

That might be up to the Boilermakers.

They dropped their first game after beating Ohio State and have no guaranteed wins or losses left on their schedule (Iowa, at Minnesota, Wisconsin, at Indiana).

Lots of things are possible there, and the committee chairman said those results do figure to matter when all is said and done — so fans of the Scarlet and Gray would be wise to invest in some Old Gold and Black, too.

“That's the beauty of this process,” Mullens said. “We start with a clean slate every week, and we get a new set of results, and that blank sheet of paper is very helpful for just that, because things change throughout the year. Next week when we come in, we'll have a clean sheet of paper with another week's set of results.”

6. The committee does not seem to have consulted Football Outsiders when compiling their list. 

Advanced statistical rating S&P+, which is similar to on-base plus slugging percentage in baseball as it measures team success rate and big-play ability combined on each side of the ball, differs significantly from the CFP rankings.

The top six are nearly the same with a big exception: LSU is only 13th in the S&P+. The committee also likes Washington State a lot more, ranking the Cougars eighth while they are 23rd in S&P+, and Kentucky is No. 9 in the CFP and 29th in S&P+.

(Ohio State is No. 10 in the CFP and eighth in S&P+.)

The Wildcats are one of eight teams to make the CFP top 25 but rank 26th or worse in S&P+. That group also includes Texas (17th in CFP/42nd in S&P+), Syracuse (20/51), N.C. State (21/35), Boston College (22/38), Iowa State (24/37) and Virginia (25/48).

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