The selection committee has spoken, and as easy as it is to complain about any rankings, the first College Football Playoff top 25 of the 2017 season produced logical results that set the stage for what could be a wild November.
What should you know about Tuesday's top 25? Let's run through 10 points.
1. Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson are the first top four.
Alabama is No. 1 in the AP and coaches polls, but Georgia claiming the top spot in the selection committee's rankings was easy to predict. Alabama's win over Florida State, which is 2-5, is not nearly as strong as once thought. The Crimson Tide have blown out most opponents, but the best team that Bama has played according to Sports-Reference's Simple Rating System and Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings is … Fresno State.
Georgia beat No. 3 Notre Dame on the road and also blew out Mississippi State, which is No. 16 in the first top 25. The Bulldogs have been just as dominant as Alabama, and they also own more impressive wins. Keep in mind, however, that the committee does not look ahead and Alabama's toughest games are still to come: LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and, potentially, Georgia in the SEC title game. The Bama-Georgia debate is meaningless right now; if they run the table, they'll decide things on the field in Atlanta with the SEC championship on the line.
Notre Dame is No. 5 in the AP poll and No. 8 in the coaches poll. It was an easy choice for No. 3 in the committee's rankings. The Fighting Irish lost to No. 1 Georgia by a point, and they're the only team that has three wins over top-25 teams: No. 17 USC, No. 20 N.C. State and No. 24 Michigan State. (Georgia, Clemson and Iowa State have two top-25 wins each.) They won each of those games by 20-plus points and have dominated most opponents with their run game and improved defense.
Clemson's loss to Syracuse is worse than either Oklahoma's (Iowa State) or Ohio State's (Oklahoma), but the Tigers beat No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 14 Auburn, easily handled Lamar Jackson and Louisville and played much of that loss to Syracuse without starting QB Kelly Bryant. Arguments can be made against the Tigers -- I voted them No. 6 in my AP top 25 ballot -- but there's a thin margin between Nos. 4 and 6.
2. The committee got the Oklahoma vs. Ohio State debate right.
These two statements are not incompatible: 1) Ohio State has played better than Oklahoma since Sept. 9, and 2) Oklahoma should be ranked ahead of Ohio State. The committee agreed, placing Oklahoma fifth and Ohio State sixth.
Head-to-head results aren't everything. They only matter when resumes are comparable. If Oklahoma loses again and Ohio State runs the table, the Sooners' 31-16 win over the Buckeyes in Columbus won't come into play because Ohio State will clearly have a better resume and deserve to be ranked higher. For now, it's not the case. Both teams are 7-1 with a loss to a top-15 team -- yes, Oklahoma's loss to Iowa State is now a "top-15 loss." And aside from Oklahoma beating Ohio State and Ohio State beating Penn State, they both lack other quality wins. The Sooners' decisive road win needs to put them ahead of the Buckeyes right now.
If Oklahoma goes on to rack up quality wins against Oklahoma State and TCU the next two weeks, it will continue to belong above the Buckeyes. Ohio State shouldn't worry, though. If it wins out and wins the Big Ten, it's hard to imagine the playoff happening without the Buckeyes.
3. The committee is skeptical of Miami and Wisconsin.
There are four Power Five undefeated teams: No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama … and No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Miami. An argument can be made that Alabama's schedule hasn't been much stronger than either the Badgers' or Hurricanes', but it's been quite clear that the Crimson Tide have been the better, more dominant team.
Wisconsin got unlucky when BYU turned out be far worse than expected, damaging the Badgers' nonconference schedule. In the Big Ten, the Badgers' best wins so far are against Northwestern and Nebraska. With Michigan outside the top 25, the Badgers have zero ranked teams on their regular-season schedule, giving them no margin for error before the Big Ten championship game, which will likely be against Ohio State.
Miami has yet to play its best nonconference opponent (Notre Dame), and thanks to Florida State's demise, the only two teams with winning records it has played are Toledo and Georgia Tech. The Canes have also won their past four games by a total of 18 points. Beat No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame the next two weeks, and Miami can make a leap forward. For now, it's where it belongs.
The message to both Miami and Wisconsin remains simple, however: Win out, and win your conference.
4. Penn State lost to the team it couldn't lose to.
It's been a strange couple weeks for Penn State's resume. It beat Michigan so badly -- 42-13 -- that the Wolverines are no longer ranked in the top 25, so it has zero "top-25 wins." Then, it blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost by one point at Ohio State, a forgivable loss, if there is such a thing. The problem for Penn State? The Buckeyes are effectively two games ahead in the Big Ten East because they own the tiebreaker, and the Nittany Lions' remaining schedule includes No. 24 Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland. They've played well, and their No. 7 ranking reflects that, but they needed a resume-making win over Ohio State that would have put them in the driver's seat in the Big Ten. Now, the Lions need a ton of help, even though they're only three spots out of the top four.
5. UCF is underrated.
After South Florida lost to Houston, UCF is the only Group of Five team that is still undefeated. The Knights' schedule certainly isn't strong, but they crushed Maryland by 28, beat Navy on the road and crushed No. 23 Memphis by 27. The committee views Memphis as a top-25 team, making UCF one of only 13 teams in the rankings that owns a top-25 win. Of course, the No. 18 ranking doesn't matter a whole lot: UCF has almost no chance to make the playoff. But if it keeps winning, it will be the obvious choice for the Group of Five's New Year's Six spot. Memphis is the only other Group of Five team in the top 25.
6. The Pac-12 is in huge trouble.
There are 13 Power Five teams with zero or no losses. Two are in the SEC (Georgia, Alabama). Three are in the ACC (Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech). Three are in the Big Ten (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin). Three are in the Big 12 (Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State). One is Notre Dame. And one is in the Pac-12 (Washington).
Four Power Five conferences have two teams with one or no losses. Although their numbers will go down when those teams play each other -- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State this week, for example -- the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 all have multiple teams in the conversation through nine weeks. The Pac-12 does not. It has Washington, which played a lousy nonconference schedule, lost to Arizona State and has only two teams on its regular-season schedule currently in the top 25: No. 21 Stanford and No. 25 Washington State. A win in the Pac-12 title game would help, but Washington both has to run the table and get help to be able to make up ground. Barring some sort of two-loss USC miracle, Washington is the only Pac-12 contender, and it has to be perfect the rest of the way.
7. What the major bowls might look like if the season ended today:
Sugar: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Ranked No. 1, Georgia would get geographic preference and go to New Orleans. The other three teams would fall into place based on the committee's rankings.
New Year's Six
Orange: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Miami
Fiesta: 8 TCU vs. No. 12 Washington
Cotton: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Penn State
Peach: No. 9 Wisconsin vs. No. 18 UCF
The Orange Bowl matches the top ACC team that's not in the playoff (Miami) against the top-ranked team remaining from the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame. Because the Rose Bowl is a semifinal this year, Ohio State, the top-ranked Big Ten team, goes to the Orange Bowl.
UCF gets a spot because it's the best Group of Five team. Washington gets a spot at No. 12 because it is the top Pac-12 team.
8. What I project the major bowls to look like at the end of the season:
Sugar: Alabama vs. Miami
Rose: Ohio State vs. Georgia
These projections look forward and assume that: 1) Alabama will beat Georgia close in the SEC title game, for Georgia's first loss; 2) Ohio State will run the table and win the Big Ten; 3) Miami will win the ACC with one or no losses; 4) Notre Dame, the Pac-12 champion and the Big 12 champion will finish with multiple losses. Two weeks after making my midseason bowl predictions, I'm sticking with these semifinals, even if I don't feel great about the Miami call.
New Year's Six
Orange: Clemson vs. Penn State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Washington
Cotton: TCU vs. Notre Dame
Peach: UCF vs. Wisconsin
9. The current top 25 is going to change significantly.
There are five weeks of games left before the final rankings are revealed on Dec. 3. Let's remember what happened in the first three years of the playoff system from the first rankings to the last:
- In 2014, the first top four was Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Only Florida State made the playoff, joined by Alabama (No. 6 in the first rankings), Oregon (No. 5) and Ohio State (No. 16).
- In 2015, the first top four was Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama. Clemson and Alabama made the playoff and were joined by Michigan State (No. 7) and Oklahoma (No. 15).
- In 2016, the first top four was Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M. Texas A&M finished unranked. Alabama and Clemson made the playoff again, and they were joined by Ohio State (No. 6) and Washington (No. 5).
In three years, only five of the 12 teams ranked in the first top four of the season have actually made the playoff, with no more than two doing so in any season. Given that only 13 Power Five teams have one or no losses, it's unlikely that somebody ranked as low as 2014 Ohio State or 2015 Oklahoma will make the playoff this year, but teams like No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Washington and No. 13 Virginia Tech would be in the mix if they win out and claim conference titles.
10. The rankings are far from complete.
No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama are 8-0. Assuming they play in the SEC title game, they're only 61.5 percent of the way done their season, with five games left out of 13. Sample sizes are small, the committee is working with incomplete data and some of the teams that have weak schedules to this point -- like Alabama and Miami -- have opportunities for resume-boosting wins coming up. There are seven matchups of ranked teams in Week 10 alone, including No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 10 Miami. There are another seven matchups of current top-25 teams in Week 11.
It's easy to panic about how many contenders are still left and the chaos they could create in the final rankings, but November can't help but eliminate a bunch of these teams. Resumes will change, the committee will adjust and at least one current top 10 ranking right now will sound ridiculous in a month.
Of course, new questions will emerge, too. The selection committee is off to a logical start, but the sport is sure to test that logic over the next month.