What the College Football Playoff selection committee got right and wrong in its rankings

Outrage season has returned to college football. The debut College Football Playoff rankings had its share of rights and wrongs, as these rankings always do, and the hope is that the muddled postseason chase settles into clarity before the first Sunday of December.

Was Alabama a deserving No. 1? Does Clemson have a case for the top spot? And what about UCF? The Knights came in at No. 12 in the first rankings, six spots higher than the team’s debut rankings last season but a distance removed from the nearest fellow unbeaten.

Each week, USA TODAY Sports will take a crack at what the playoff selection committee got right and where it missed. Here are the takeaways from the first rankings of the 2018 season:


– LSU should be ahead of Notre Dame. There’s power in being unbeaten: Notre Dame is ranked fourth due to its undefeated record, not the way the Irish have looked beatable in single-possession wins against Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh. The Irish still own their path to a national semifinal — they’re in the field at 12-0.

For now, though, No. 3 LSU deserves to be ranked ahead. Playoff selection committee chairman Rob Mullens made the best point: LSU has six wins against opponents with a winning record, the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the Tigers’ only loss came by 8 points to No. 11 Florida. The résumé is impressive enough today to wonder: Would LSU leapfrog No. 2 Clemson with a win on Saturday against Alabama?

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– Iowa State deserved to be ranked. The No. 24 Cyclones might have the worst record of any team in the Top 25 — 4-3, a win behind No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 20 Texas A&M — but they remain a smart addition. Iowa State has quality losses: by 10 points to both No. 16 Iowa and No. 7 Oklahoma joining a three-point loss to TCU. Each of the Cyclones’ four wins have come against teams with a winning record, the most impressive a 30-14 handling of No. 13 West Virginia. It's worth noting, their current three-game win streak coincides with the decision to start freshman Brock Purdy at quarterback. Wisely, the committee looked past the Cyclones’ record to see what is one of the best teams in the country.


Clemson should be No. 1. Alabama has aced the eyeball test with flying colors, dominating at such a level through eight games that pundits are already wondering where the Tide might rank in college football’s pantheon of great teams. But the metrics aren’t on Alabama’s side. The Tide own just two wins against opponents with a winning record and one against team in the Top 25, Texas A&M at home. The Sagarin Ratings rank Alabama’s strength of schedule 60th in the FBS.

On the other hand, Clemson has three wins against teams in the Top 25: No. 19 Syracuse, No. 20 A&M and No. 21 North Carolina State. In recent weeks, at least, the Tigers have looked as dominant as Alabama — winning their last three by a combined score of 163-20. Clemson has the résumé and the production to be ranked ahead of the Tide.

For now, at least. Alabama would more than deserve the top spot once its strength of schedule improves. That’ll happen as soon as this weekend.

– UCF is ranked too high. The Knights are No. 12 in the debut rankings, matching their high-water mark from a year ago, but it’s difficult to see what the committee valued from a team that owns one of the weakest schedules in the country. Consider that UCF is the only team in the country without a victory against a team with a winning record, as Mullens highlighted on Tuesday night.

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– Three omissions. The committee missed on three teams worthy of being included in the Top 25. One is 7-1 Houston, No. 17 in the Amway Coaches Poll following last week’s win against South Florida. Another is Big Ten West leader Northwestern, now 5-3 with wins against Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin to go with a narrow loss to Michigan (and, admittedly, a bad one to Akron).

And the third is 7-1 Utah State, No. 20 in the Coaches Poll, which lost to Michigan State by a touchdown in the season opener but has since rolled off seven wins in a row. The Aggies have scored at least 42 points and won by at least 10 points in six of their seven wins, with the most impressive a 45-20 victory at in-state rival Brigham Young.

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