Released on Tuesday, the initial rankings from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee left some jaws on the floor.
Everyone expected #1 Ohio State (8-0), #2 LSU (8-0), and #3 Alabama (8-0) to comprise the top three, but most thought LSU would take the top spot thanks to three top-ten wins (Texas, Auburn, & Florida). Instead, Ohio State’s sheer domination (40.3 average margin of victory, compared to 26.8 for LSU) landed the Buckeyes at #1.
The bigger surprise, though, was that the undefeated reigning national champions from Clemson (9-0) found themselves on the outside looking it at #5, one spot behind #4 Penn State (8-0).
In the wake of the release, a couple interesting things happened in the college football futures at this site. Clemson’s national championship odds got worse (going from about +250 to +325), but their odds qualify for the four-team playoff actually improved (from about -370 to -450).
Did oddsmakers make a mistake?
The reality is that at least two of the teams in the top four are guaranteed to lose. LSU plays Alabama this Saturday (Nov. 9) and Penn State plays Ohio State on Nov. 23. As long as Clemson wins out, they will wind up in the top four.
That’s a guarantee.
Moreover, Clemson has a very good chance to win out. The toughest remaining game on their schedule is either at home versus Wake Forest in Week 12 (Nov. 16), or the ACC title game against, likely, Virginia in Charlotte (Dec. 7). Someone will have to pull off a massive upset to upend Clemson before the national semifinals.
Yet, their initial #5 ranking means that there’s a pretty good chance Clemson will be facing the #1 team in the nation when the playoff rolls around. It’s clear that the selection committee does not value the Tigers’ resume very highly right now, and there’s little Clemson can do in the coming weeks to change that. They simply don’t play good enough teams in the ACC to make mind-changing statements.
So if Clemson moves up to #4 – the most likely outcome at this stage – they will be facing whichever of Ohio State, LSU, or Alabama runs the table in the most-impressive fashion. In other words, they will be facing an absolute buzzsaw, which is why their national championship odds got worse, but their qualification odds improved.