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Alabama deserves its high spot, and 4 other College Football Playoff rankings takeaways

Notre Dame at Clemson can now be looked back on as the biggest weird game of the year, the Big 12's got a ton of opportunity, and maybe Memphis has an actual shot?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

1. Why Alabama belongs in the top four

by Bill Connelly

If you're looking for a reason to back Alabama as a top-four team, you almost have to turn to the stats the Playoff committee has so openly shunned. The Crimson Tide are No. 1 in Sagarin, No. 2 in F/+ (No. 2 in S&P+, No. 3 in FEI), No. 4 in the Massey Composite, etc.

Computers looking at all sorts of different factors really like the Tide, and for reasons other than "Dynasty!" or "Recruiting rankings!" or "Roll Tide!"

So ... why? A high baseline, first of all. Alabama very much looked the part of a top-five team against Wisconsin, ULM, Texas A&M and Georgia (which, as committee chairman Jeff Long noted, still had a healthy Nick Chubb) and did enough to beat decent Arkansas and Tennessee teams.

I honestly don't care about the "quality wins" nonsense, because there are 58 different definitions you could use for that, but the Tide are elite on defense, good on offense and lost to a decent team because of crazy turnovers luck, and in a year when almost no one is great on both sides of the ball, that's enough for top-four.

Playoff committee ranking S&P+ ranking Best win, per S&P+ Worst loss, per S&P+ If the season ended today
1 Clemson (8-0) 1 Notre Dame
2 LSU (7-0) 6 Florida
3 Ohio State (8-0) 4 Penn State Cotton Bowl vs. LSU
4 Alabama (7-1) 2 Wisconsin Ole Miss Orange Bowl vs. Clemson
5 Notre Dame (7-1) 9 USC at Clemson Fiesta or Peach
6 Baylor (7-0) 5 West Virginia Sugar Bowl
7 Michigan State (8-0) 23 at Michigan New Year's bowl, potentially Rose*
8 TCU (8-0) 7 West Virginia New Year's bowl
9 Iowa (8-0) 16 at Wisconsin New Year's bowl, potentially Rose*
10 Florida (7-1) 10 Ole Miss at LSU Sugar Bowl
11 Stanford (7-1) 17 at USC at Northwestern
12 Utah (7-1) 24 Michigan at USC
13 Memphis (8-0) 34 Ole Miss Fiesta or Peach**
14 Oklahoma State (8-0) 35 at West Virginia
15 Oklahoma (7-1) 8 West Virginia Texas
16 Florida State (7-1) 14 Louisville at Georgia Tech
17 Michigan (6-2) 3 BYU at Utah
18 Ole Miss (7-2) 12 at Alabama at Memphis
19 Texas A&M (6-2) 37 Mississippi State at Ole Miss
20 Mississippi State (6-2) 21 Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M
21 Northwestern (6-2) 49 Stanford Iowa
22 Temple (7-1) 39 Penn State Notre Dame
23 UCLA (6-2) 19 BYU Arizona State
24 Toledo (7-0)*** 20 Arkansas
25 Houston (8-0) 31 at Louisville

* The Rose Bowl loses its Big Ten champ to the Playoff and thus gets to pick between eligible Big Ten teams.
** The highest-ranked non-power champ is guaranteed a spot.
*** Already lost, to NIU on Tuesday night.

2. The retroactive biggest game of the year was played in a hurricane.

by Steven Godfrey

You could argue the biggest determinant in the title race to this point is Hurricane Joaquin. That storm system poured on No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 1 Clemson during their Oct. 3 game, one the committee has ruled as the most impactful of the year to this point. Clemson withstood a 19-point Irish fourth quarter that ended on a failed two-point conversion for a 24-22 win, but neither team looked like it has in any other game this year.

Deshaun Watson had a season-low 10 completions, and after two first quarter touchdown passes, the Tigers' offense struggled to complete drives.

Notre Dame had four second-half turnovers, including two in the last seven minutes, and yet still ended the game a play away from a tie.

How much of this was adverse conditions and the emotion of a big setting? How much of this is over-examination in hindsight? Maybe the Irish turn the ball over one fewer time in a dry, noon game, though maybe Clemson's play calls aren't as conservative with a double-digit lead. The longer these teams keep winning, the more questions we can ask about this game.


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3. The Big 12's got plenty of opportunities to catch up

by Pete Volk

There are three undefeated teams in the Big 12, but none cracked the top four. That makes sense, but it's not necessarily going to stay that way. The good Big 12 teams simply haven't played enough quality opponents to earn noteworthy wins.

Last year, weak schedules hurt Baylor and TCU, passed by Ohio State after conference title week. But this year's different. There are four top-15 teams in the conference (slightly more than at this point last year, when the fourth was No. 18), and each has to play the others over the rest of the year.

"They have their strength of schedule in front of them," Long said. "Those teams just haven't played their strong teams yet. We will see how they stack up as we get closer to the end of the season."

The Big 12's backloaded schedule gives it plenty of chances to move a contender or two up, and it all starts this week.

  • Nov. 7: No. 8 TCU at No. 14 Oklahoma State
  • Nov. 14: No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor
  • Nov. 21: No. 8 TCU at No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 6 Baylor at No. 14 Oklahoma State
  • Nov. 27: No. 8 TCU at No. 6 Baylor,
  • Nov. 28: No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 14 Oklahoma State

4. Seriously, does Memphis have a Playoff prayer?

by Steven Godfrey

Memphis, the AAC and non-power contenders past, present and future have to pull for No. 18 Ole Miss now. The Tigers were unable to break into the top 10 with an 8-0 record and a home win over the Rebels, so even with upcoming games against No. 25 Houston and No. 22 Temple, they're going to need help to make any serious Playoff run.

Five one-loss teams are ahead of the Tigers, some without a win as convincing as a double-digit embarrassment of Ole Miss. And yet this is actually progress for non-power schools. Memphis is the highest-ranked Group of 5 school in the two-year history of committee rankings, a whopping seven spots ahead of the finish for Boise State last year.

That's great, but what does that say about a non-power's real shot at ever making the Playoff? The Tigers scheduled as well as they possibly could with Ole Miss, Bowling Green and Kansas (hey, it's a power school). Not to mention the fact that their own conference is in the midst of a renaissance.

The Tigers' No. 88 strength of schedule (per ESPN's ratings) could be the glass ceiling. The only other school in the top 15 with a worse SOS? Baylor. And what if No. 25 Houston ends up running the table in the AAC? UH's SOS is 124.

The SB Nation Selection Committee's No. 4 is Baylor. And Alabama. OK, we have a tie.

5. Why is UNC unranked? Or, why is Oklahoma so high?

by Jason Kirk

North Carolina's No. 2 in the country behind Baylor in yards-per-play margin vs. FBS teams. And the Tar Heels' only loss was a fluky, turnover-based slog early in the season at a neutral site against South Carolina, which sounds like the same reason Alabama's home loss to Ole Miss only counts as half a loss*.


  • North Carolina hasn't gotten dominated by the extremely 3-5 Texas, for instance, as No. 15 Oklahoma did.
  • The Heels score a lot of points, and Gene Chizik's defense has given up more than 19 only once. No. 19 Texas A&M has allowed that six times in eight games.
  • UNC's best win is at 6-2 Pitt, which seems to compare just fine with No. 20 Mississippi State's win at 4-4 Auburn.
  • Only having beaten two .500 or better teams is bad, but that's the same as several undefeated teams and only one behind Oklahoma, which as noted got dominated by Texas.
  • T E X A S

The Heels rank No. 43 in S&P+ (ahead of Playoff No. 21 Northwestern), so it's not like the committee excluded an elite. But I'm missing something about UNC that both the stats and the committee are seeing, because this looks like a top-25 resume.

* And if No. 4 Bama's best win is a blowout over Wisconsin at a neutral site, why's 8-0 Iowa No. 9 after a closer win in Madison?