But the 13-member playoff selection committee, which includes current athletic directors, former coaches and others, adjudged Georgia the superior team at this point in the season, at a time when the Bulldogs have played two ranked teams — including a win on the road at Notre Dame — while the Crimson Tide have played none. Alabama hosts No. 19 Louisiana State (6-2) on Saturday night.
Georgia’s next game is at home against South Carolina (6-2) on Saturday.
Notre Dame is coming off a dismal 4-8 season last year that made many suspect Coach Brian Kelly was not long for South Bend. But the Irish have fought back, and they have the genuine honor of the season’s best loss: a 20-19 defeat at home to Georgia in the season’s second weekend. Still on the docket are No. 10 Miami (7-0) and No. 21 Stanford (6-2).
An independent in football, Notre Dame’s lack of a conference championship game could prove an obstacle to its playoff hopes, as other contenders should have a 13th game to make a final statement to the committee.
Clemson, the defending national champion, lost the two-time Heisman finalist — and current Houston Texans quarterback — Deshaun Watson, but it still has managed wins over two ranked opponents, Virginia Tech (7-1) and Auburn (6-2).
Oklahoma edged Ohio State for the fifth spot, most likely by virtue of its early season win over the Buckeyes.
Led by the Heisman Trophy contender J.T. Barrett at quarterback, Ohio State has recovered from that to win six straight games, most notably last Saturday when it rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat No. 7 Penn State (7-1) in Columbus. Last season, Penn State beat Ohio State and won the Big Ten title, but, its record hurt by early-season losses, watched helplessly as the Buckeyes sailed into the playoff anyway.
It probably will take another Ohio State loss for Penn State to return the favor this season; the best candidate is the Buckeyes’ traditional regular-season-closer at Michigan (6-2).
Oklahoma has its own Heisman contender — and two-time Heisman finalist — under center in Baker Mayfield, and it sustained its only loss against an uncharacteristically frisky Iowa State (6-2), ranked 15th. The Sooners’ biggest remaining tests come Saturday at No. 11 Oklahoma State (7-1) and the following week against No. 8 Texas Christian (7-1).
With Oklahoma (Big 12), Ohio State (Big Ten) and No. 12 Washington (Pacific-12) outside the top four, the playoff — were it held today — would exclude three of the so-called Power 5 conferences.
The Huskies (7-1), who made last year’s playoff, still have the ranked opponents Stanford and No. 25 Washington State (7-2) on their schedule, and potentially a matchup against No. 17 Southern California (7-2) in the conference title game.
The three other undefeated playoff-eligible teams are No. 9 Wisconsin (8-0), No. 10 Miami 7-0) and No. 18 Central Florida (7-0). The former two have played softer schedules but, if they win out, will have the opportunity to play tough competition in a major-conference championship game, where a win may assure them a playoff slot. Central Florida, of the second-tier American Athletic Conference, has a narrower path to the bracket.
There is still time for seeming long shots to make it into the playoff, though. At this point in 2015, the eventual semifinalist Oklahoma was No. 15, while in the committee’s first rankings in 2014, Ohio State was 16th — and went on to win the title.