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Predicting 2018’s first Playoff top 25, where Clemson’s a No. 1 consideration

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(Update: the full top 25 is now out here, with minimal surprises.)

Clemson v Florida State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tuesday around 7:10 p.m. ET, we’ll finally know what the College Football Playoff committee makes of this season so far. If its first top 25 looks significantly different from what follows here, then we’ll have some fun surprises to figure out.

1. Bama is probably No. 1. But here’s why you shouldn’t be flabbergasted if it’s Clemson.

Alabama’s humiliated every team it’s faced, something no other FBS team can say. S&P+ would take the Tide to win on the road against any team in the country except one.

That one, Clemson, would still be an underdog against the Tide on a neutral field. But for anyone who’d like to compare schedules, consider that Clemson ranks No. 1 in CPI (a football version of RPI, pretty similar to the committee’s straightforward schedule strength math) and ESPN’s Strength of Record, a more advanced metric that tries to guess how a top-25 team would do against each schedule.

If you mash those three metrics, Resume S&P+, the AP Poll, and the Massey Composite into one, then Clemson has as many top-40 wins as anybody (NC State, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Georgia Southern) while Bama has just two (A&M, Missouri).

Clemson’s had close calls on the road at A&M and with a third-string QB against Cuse, and it’d be a surprise to see the committee downgrade Bama (so to speak) right before a marquee game against LSU. So the Tide are still the safe bet.

2. LSU might top Notre Dame at No. 3.

Notre Dame’s arguably beaten a better team (Michigan) than anybody else has, but has struggled with putting away a few weak teams. Resume S&P+ ranks Notre Dame No. 17, meaning it thinks 16 other teams could’ve looked as good against this schedule as the Irish have so far. That sounds extreme until you remember those scores against 3-6 Ball State, 4-5 Vanderbilt, and 4-4 Pitt.

LSU’s lost a game and has real weird stats (it’s the only team on this list that hasn’t since lost), but also has four top-40 wins, including a beatdown of Georgia, the most impressive result by anybody all year. CPI has LSU at No. 2.

Since the committee cares more about wins than losses, I’m guessing UGA comfortably beating Florida (the team that beat LSU) helped the Tigers more than it hurt. Also guessing that, with Bama-LSU on deck, the committee knows LSU’s placement will sort itself out one way or the other four days later.

3. Georgia or Michigan at No. 5?

The numbers like the Dawgs slightly more, and Michigan doesn’t have a win that compares to Florida. Michigan hasn’t been blown out, though.

I guess we’ll see how much more the committee cares about wins than losses. Going with Michigan would ease the annual SEC BIAS!! shouting a little.

4. Next, let’s go No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 8 Kentucky (!), No. 9 Florida, No. 10 Ohio State, No. 11 Washington State, No. 12 West Virginia, and No. 13 Penn State, but these could easily slide around.

The numbers love the Sooners. S&P+ has them No. 3. I think the committee’s smart enough to see how fluky that loss to Texas was.

However, there’s a case for Kentucky over Oklahoma, via a much better list of beaten opponents. And based on years past, the committee seems to prefer defense-heavy teams over offense-heavy teams. One-loss UK should rank ahead of a two-loss Florida it’s beaten, at least.

The Buckeyes are tricky. The power ratings love them, but they’ve been housed by a (good) 4-4 team, their defense isn’t good, and their only special win is a one-pointer over two-loss Penn State. The Gators have had to play three top-10 teams, while the Buckeyes haven’t faced any, and Florida’s win over LSU is likely the highest-ranked W by anybody right now.

5. Undefeated UCF will land in a group of multi-loss Power 5 teams that includes Utah, Iowa, NC State, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Texas.

That’s anywhere from No. 14 to No. 20, basically. Last year at this time, I optimistically predicted the Knights would debut at No. 14, but they showed up at No. 18 and never got past No. 12 in the CFP. And last year’s Knights were better than this year’s.

Prepare for a tumble from No. 10 in the AP to something more like No. 16, where UCF ranks in the Massey Composite.

6. Houston and Fresno State make the cut.

Some combo of Boston College, Stanford, Virginia, Syracuse, Auburn, Washington, and Utah State should take up the three other spots. I don’t expect other one-loss non-powers USF, Cincinnati, Buffalo, UAB, or Georgia Southern to make it this week.

7. Everyone will get mad, then enjoy a college football weekend, then get mad about new rankings.

It’s early. Relax. And then let’s do this again next week/year.