College Football Playoff rankings: predicting 2017’s first top 25

The Playoff committee’s first top 25 of 2017 drops on Halloween night. Until then, let’s take a guess on how it’ll look right now and why. These won’t be totally right, and some are in small groups rather than broken out individually, but here’s what I can promise you: I’m explaining these rankings in at least 100 percent more detail than the actual committee will. Amateur rankings, somewhat justified!

The simple choice for No. 1 right now. There are five unbeaten teams, and UGA’s road win at Notre Dame and blowout of Mississippi State are easily the two best wins out of that entire group.

  • Not much on the resume yet, though a bit more than Wisconsin.
  • Has dominated a mediocre schedule to this point, unlike Miami.
  • Every other Power 5 team below has a loss.

Not the strongest No. 2 case ever, but Bama’s the safe choice.

If UGA’s No. 1, that means Notre Dame has the country’s most defensible one-point loss. ND’s dominated Michigan State, NC State, and USC. All three might be ranked, and it’s doubtful anybody else will be able to claim three ranked wins.

You can make a fine case for any of these at No. 4. Ohio State’s beaten Penn State, but Oklahoma’s blown out Ohio State, but Oklahoma’s had three close wins against weaker teams. Clemson’s had the harder schedule and has the best two-win pair (Auburn and Virginia Tech), but lost at 4-4 Syracuse.

Another wrinkle: advanced stats love the Buckeyes. The committee uses simple stats, but there tends to be at least a little correlation.

Or maybe a little lower, but all the numbers still like this team.

The lagging Power 5 unbeatens. This is hardly unprecedented; 2015 Oklahoma State debuted behind five one-loss teams despite being an ugly 8-0.

Miami’s struggled with several weaker teams, and Wisconsin’s best win is … by 17 at home over FAU? I’m guessing AP No. 4 Wisconsin is the team the team the AP’s furthest off on.

The rest of the Power 5 one-losses.

The Frogs could rank up around Penn State, with their comfortable win at Oklahoma State.

Washington might be lower than UCF or a two-loss team, with its lack of big wins and ugly loss at 4-4 Arizona State.

The mid-major New Year’s Six leader, by far. The only unbeaten team in that group has nice wins over Memphis and Navy and has yet to be in serious danger.

Iowa State has the best wins (Oklahoma and TCU), but two losses to teams that won’t be ranked.

USC’s probably had the hardest overall schedule in here.

The three SEC teams here have completed a perfect rock-paper-scissors cycle, so have fun ranking them! (Auburn has the best case from that group; the Tigers blew out MSU, only lost close on the road to Clemson and LSU, and have impressed the computers.)

There are cases for and against everybody in this group. Some haven’t beaten any especially good teams, some have gruesome losses, and some are winning in somewhat unsustainably close fashion. Not gonna try and sort this group, though I think NC State and Memphis have the best cases.

Based on three years, here are the schedule benchmarks for Playoff contention:

  • Finish with one or fewer losses (100 percent of Playoff teams have done this).
  • Beat at least three teams ranked in the committee’s Dec. 3 top 25 (100 percent).
  • Win a Power 5 conference (92 percent).
  • Beat at least six teams that have .500-plus records on Dec. 3 (100 percent).

Going above and beyond is advisable, though your schedule might not cooperate.

If you want a schedule math thing that correlates pretty well to committee rankings, I recommend the transparent CPI and ESPN’s more advanced Strength of Record.

What do a bunch of athletic directors know about quality football that the rest of us don’t? Who knows!

This is the stuff committee rep Kirby Hocutt (used to be Jeff Long) will get made fun of for trying to explain in 90 seconds on ESPN during the rankings show. Game control! Body clocks!

The committee does use stats during its deliberations. To try and grade team strength beyond just my own opinions, I first turn to Bill Connelly’s S&P+. Committee metrics are a bit cruder, such as an offense’s performance compared to what its opponents usually allow, but probably suggest similar teams. We have no way of knowing for sure, lol.

After Halloween’s rankings release, we’ll still have four full weekends and Conference Championship Week. If you’re a Power 5 team with only one loss, you’re not out yet.

  • In the first three years’ initial rankings, a non-Alabama SEC team started in the top four. 2014 Auburn, 2015 LSU, and 2016 Texas A&M finished in the teens or worse. Alabama was the only SEC team to make each Playoff.
  • However, each of those years had a team start in the teens and finish in the Playoff (2014 Ohio State, 2015 Oklahoma) or at No. 5 (2016 Penn State).

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