College Football Playoff Rankings: The defensively dominant Georgia Bulldogs draw first blood

Who are the initial top four teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings following Tuesday evening's Bowl Selection Committee announcement?

The 2021 college football season has been building to this. All previous rankings and polls become practically irrelevant when the Bowl Selection Committee releases their first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Between now and “Selection Sunday” on December 5, these rankings will be released weekly, revealing the four teams that will contend for a shot at the National Championship.

College Football Playoff Rankings

1. Georgia Bulldogs
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
3. Michigan State Spartans
4. Oregon Ducks

Outside looking in

5. Ohio State Buckeyes
6. Cincinnati Bearcats

Rest of the top 10

7. Michigan Wolverines
8. Oklahoma Sooners
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

College Football Playoff Rankings: Georgia is the No. 1 team in the nation

The initial College Football Playoff Rankings are out! As expected, Georgia is the No. 1 ranked team in the nation. Where does everyone else filter in, and what might have shaped the Bowl Selection Committee’s decisions in this initial ranking?

For each of the top 10 teams, you’ll find a series of stats. Those include their rankings by multiple outlets, including Pro Football Network, following Week 9 of the college season. SOS stands for strength of schedule and is from sports-reference.com. It attempts to quantify how easy a team’s schedule has been. The higher the number, the harder the schedule.

1) Georgia Bulldogs

AP Poll: 1st | Coaches Poll: 1st | PFN Ranking: 1st | Record: 8-0 | Offensive Rank: 14/130 | Defensive Rank: 1/130 | Points scored: 303 | Points allowed: 53 | SOS: 4.94 (14/130)

While the initial College Football Playoff Rankings can offer some surprises, there are absolutely none to be found at the top of the tree. The Bulldogs have been dominant all season, from their narrow win over Clemson in Week 1 to their near-shutout of the Florida Gators last weekend.

Georgia is breaking new ground defensively. In giving up just 6.6 points per game, and allowing just 3.76 yards per play, they’re putting themselves in elite defensive company.

What has been somewhat lost in the praise of the defense — and amidst a quarterback controversy — is that the offense is also a top-20 unit in the nation. Georgia is already the SEC East champion and should comfortably win out their remaining regular-season schedule.

Only a presumptive SEC Championship showdown with Alabama can stop them from heading into the postseason undefeated. Right now, the Bulldogs should be considered the favorite to emerge victorious from that clash too.

2) Alabama Crimson Tide

AP Poll: 3rd | Coaches Poll: 3rd | PFN Ranking: 3rd | Record: 7-1 | Offensive Rank: 2/130 | Defensive Rank: 31/130 | Points scored: 367 | Points allowed: 165 | SOS: 3.32 (29/130)

Besides the 2019 season, Alabama has been a constant presence in the College Football Playoff. Despite their defeat to Texas A&M, they appear to be on a collision course with the final four once again after the Bowl Selection Committee released their initial rankings. Number two is a little rich for my money, but the committee clearly values their wins over ranked opposition.

They will need to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to secure their place. However, it’s hard to deny their candidacy. Alabama has the No. 2 ranked offense in the nation and one of the harder strength of schedules of any team in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings. Furthermore, they have three ranked wins on their résumé with the potential for a fourth when they face Auburn. Only Georgia has more.

3) Michigan State Spartans

AP Poll: 5th | Coaches Poll: 6th | PFN Ranking: 5th | Record: 8-0 | Offensive Rank: 29/130 | Defensive Rank: 30/130 | Points scored: 277 | Points allowed: 164 | SOS: 3.24 (30/130)

Michigan State is the only remaining undefeated Big Ten team in college football. Historically, if the Big Ten champion is undefeated, they can punch their ticket to the College Football Playoffs. Furthermore, one-loss Big Ten champions made their way to the final four between 2014 and 2016. If the Spartans remain undefeated, they should be included in the playoffs.

Related | College Football Bowl Projections Week 10: Cincinnati hangs on to playoff berth

However, they have to face both Ohio State and Penn State in regular-season play before any of that can be decided. Although the Spartans have some dominant wins on their résumé, their inability to routinely crush lesser-ranked opponents (Nebraska and Indiana) may be held against them by the Bowl Selection Committee. They do, however, have the win over Michigan as an ace up their sleeve. That was clearly enough to convince the College Football Playoff committee that they deserve to be in the final four right now.

4) Oregon Ducks

AP Poll: 7th | Coaches Poll: 7th | PFN Ranking: 7th | Record: 7-1 | Offensive Rank: 23/130 | Defensive Rank: 51/130 | Points scored: 289 | Points allowed: 186 | SOS: -1.14 (81/130)

The Ducks were ranked as high as third by the AP Poll following their win over Ohio State in Columbus. Regardless, a loss to Stanford saw them slide as low as 10th by mid-October. While they crept back up to seventh in the final AP Poll before the initial College Football Playoff Rankings, can they really contend for a spot in the final four? Right now, the College Football Playoff committee seem to think so.

That win over then-ranked Ohio State is crucial to the Ducks’ chances of climbing the College Football Playoff Rankings. The higher the Buckeyes climb in the rankings, the more valuable that win becomes. However, Oregon has one of the worst strengths of schedule of any team in the initial top 10 of the playoff rankings. Furthermore, their schedule is bereft of ranked opposition down the stretch.

5) Ohio State Buckeyes

AP Poll: 6th | Coaches Poll: 5th | PFN Ranking: 4th | Record: 7-1 | Offensive Rank: 1/130 | Defensive Rank: 20/130 | Points scored: 378 | Points allowed: 154 | SOS: 2.58 (41/130)

This has the potential to be one of the more controversial selections in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings. The Ohio State Buckeyes looked to be a team in disarray after the first two weeks of the season. They struggled to overcome Minnesota in Week 1, then followed that performance with a defeat to Oregon. Right now, the committee appear to value the head-to-head, placing the Buckeyes behind the Ducks.

Yet, since the Oregon defeat, they’ve obliterated all opponents. The Buckeyes have one of the best offenses in the country and have improved defensively with every passing week. Although their win over ranked Penn State in Week 9 was the first quality “win” of their campaign, Ohio State has the opportunity to add more to their record down the stretch against Michigan and Michigan State.

6) Cincinnati Bearcats

AP Poll: 2nd | Coaches Poll: 2nd | PFN Ranking: 6th | Record: 8-0 | Offensive Rank: 9/130 | Defensive Rank: 2/130 | Points scored: 319 | Points allowed: 114 | SOS: -1.92 (90/130)

The Cincinnati Bearcats have done everything that has been asked of them. Before the season, most analysts said that if they could beat Indiana and Notre Dame on their way to an undefeated season, they would have earned a place in the College Football Playoff. Although Indiana wasn’t the same team we saw last year, they were still ranked when Cincinnati beat them. The Bearcats also despatched a ranked Notre Dame team.

Place secured, right? Well, not so fast. Regardless of being undefeated, the Bowl Selection Committee has never placed a Group of Five team any higher than eighth in the College Football Playoff Rankings. The Bearcats’ -1.92 strength of schedule is likely held against them. And there isn’t a “quality” win down the home stretch of the season. Moreover, several sub-standard performances have been masked by impressive box scores. Their dream of appearing in the final four appears to be over already with this initial ranking.

7) Michigan Wolverines

AP Poll: 9th | Coaches Poll: 10th | PFN Ranking: 8th | Record: 7-1 | Offensive Rank: 20/130 | Defensive Rank: 10/130 | Points scored: 297 | Points allowed: 137 | SOS: 5.90 (8/130)

Michigan’s defeat to Michigan State this last weekend may have felt like a death knell to their chances of making the College Football Playoff. Yet, the Wolverines only fell a short distance from sixth to ninth in the AP Poll. Furthermore, they’re even higher in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings than their AP and Coaches Poll ranking.

Having a top-20 offense and defense is a big feather in the cap for the Wolverines’ chances of making the College Football Playoff. Additionally, their only defeat has come at the hands of a highly-ranked opponent. Although they don’t have many “quality wins” on their résumé at present, if they can knock off Penn State and Ohio State down the stretch — and hope that Michigan State falls foul of one of the two — there is still a chance they could make the final four as the Big Ten champion.

8) Oklahoma Sooners

AP Poll: 4th | Coaches Poll: 4th | PFN Ranking: 2nd | Record: 9-0 | Offensive Rank: 1/130 | Defensive Rank: 56/130 | Points scored: 386 | Points allowed: 218 | SOS: -1.37 (84/130)

The Spencer Rattler-led Oklahoma Sooners that limped past Tulane, West Virginia, and Kansas State had no right being in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings. However, since Caleb Williams assumed the QB1 role in Norman, they’ve looked like a different team. Recency bias is a very real thing. By the end of the season, Oklahoma could be one of the most potent squads in the nation. They already have the No. 1 ranked offense.

However, when you dig into their strength of schedule, their initial ranking of eighth in the College Football Playoff Rankings makes perfect sense. Their strength of schedule of -1.37 is one of the weakest in the nation. You could also point out the dismal performance of their defense for large stretches of the season. If they want to ascend from here, they need to keep churning out performances like their Week 9 win over Texas Tech.

9) Wake Forest Demon Deacons

AP Poll: 10th | Coaches Poll: 9th | PFN Ranking: 9th | Record: 8-0 | Offensive Rank: 5/130 | Defensive Rank: 55/130 | Points scored: 347 | Points allowed: 191 | SOS: -0.48 (70/30)

It wouldn’t be unheard of for a team to jump from the lower reaches of the top 10 to make the final four. In 2018, Oklahoma was ranked seventh by the Bowl Selection Committee in the initial rankings before reaching the College Football Playoff as the fourth-ranked team. In 2015, Michigan State went one step further, ending the season third after ranking seventh in the initial rankings.

However, it feels like Wake Forest’s chances of making such a leap are slim. Although the Demon Deacons’ offense has been incredibly impressive in the hands of Sam Hartman, a poor ACC conference could be their downfall. Their -0.48 SOS is one of the weakest in the College Football Playoff top 10. Furthermore, their remaining schedule contains zero ranked teams to bolster their résumé. Coming in ahead of Notre Dame is unexpected.

10) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

AP Poll: 8th | Coaches Poll: 8th | PFN Ranking: 11th | Record: 7-1 | Offensive Rank: 38/130 | Defensive Rank: 59/130 | Points scored: 261 | Points allowed: 196 | SOS: 7.37 (4/130)

Although they have the loss to Cincinnati on their record, history has taught us never to rule out Notre Dame. Despite their dicey early season form, the Irish are still alive and fighting due to their inclusion in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings.

The Bowl Selection Committee famously holds strength of schedule in high regard when compiling the College Football Playoff Rankings. As a result of their fourth-ranked schedule difficulty, Notre Dame is still in contention for a spot in the final four. That said, there aren’t any statement wins on their remaining schedule unless you consider Stanford (wins over USC and Oregon) as a quality opponent.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.


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