The initial College Football Playoff rankings will be released tonight (7 p.m., ET, ESPN). The chase for the national championship heats up, too.

Fortunately for the committee, this is a relatively easy job the first time around. There are four obvious choices at this juncture, all of them undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences. No other program has a strong case.

As far as the SEC is concerned, it’s not exactly breaking news to suggest that Alabama is in the driver’s seat. Unbeaten and a near-unanimous No. 1 in both major polls, the Crimson Tide will look to continue rolling this week — fresh off a bye, which helps — at LSU. They command the West and the conference as a whole.

The only other legitimate contenders in the league are Texas A&M and Florida. The Aggies need to win out and hope for chaos around them. The Gators most likely control their destiny in the watered-down East.

Here’s how the initial CFP rankings should look like. Any argument to the contrary is flimsy at best.

1. alabama

Aside from a sloppy start at Ole Miss in Week 3, the Crimson Tide have largely been unchallenged this season.

On the offensive side of the football, ‘Bama appears to be as dangerous as ever thanks to the dual-threat abilities of quarterback Jalen Hurts. Coordinator Lane Kiffin has done a masterful job with the true freshman, too.

Defensively, it’s more of the same for the Tide. They lead the nation in rushing defense, which gives them the ability to make almost any opponent — even the aforementioned Tigers with running back Leonard Fournette — completely one-dimensional. That means a deep rotation of pass rushers is all the more terrifying.

The injury report has been incredibly kind to coach Nick Saban and Co., although now they’ll have to do without the services of safety Eddie Jackson. On both defense and special teams, his contribution is difficult to replace.

The Bayou Bengals aren’t to be taken lightly. They have nothing to lose with interim coach Ed Orgeron patrolling the sideline.

2. michigan

Whether he’s crazy like a fox or just plain crazy, coach Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines contending in a stunningly short period of time.

Six times in eight games, UM has scored 41 points or more. Six times in eight games, Big Blue has surrendered 14 points or less. Aside from then-No. 8 Wisconsin and rival Michigan State, they’ve dominated opponents.

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) attempts a pass as Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) defends during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the most versatile player in America, Jabrill Peppers (above) is a dynamo on offense, defense and special teams. Whether down in the box or back in the secondary, he is an eraser defensively. And then when he gets his hands on the pigskin — offensively or on returns — he’s a threat to score.

Michigan’s two remaining home games should be cakewalks. Maryland and Indiana don’t have the horses to keep up for four quarters. However, at Iowa in Week 11 could be slippery, even if the Hawkeyes have disappointed in 2016.

In all likelihood, everything comes down to the Wolverines’ trip to Ohio State that closes out the regular season.

3. clemson

The Tigers have been asleep at the wheel a few times this season, although they’re yet to drive off the road.

This was supposed to be the most electric offense in the country. With presumed No. 1 pick Deshaun Watson in shotgun formation and an enviable cast of skill-position players around him, expecting 50 points per game seemed reasonable.

Nevertheless, Watson has turned the football over too often — 10 interceptions in eight games and multiple INTs three times — and battled inconsistency here and there. But like most ace signal callers, he delivers when his team needs him the most. Last weekend’s victory at Florida State is the latest example.

Clemson doesn’t have a ranked opponent remaining on its schedule. Losing to Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest or South Carolina would be a massive upset and surely knock coach Dabo Swinney’s ballclub out of the hunt.

The ACC Championship Game is probably the only real hurdle the Tigers have left. Virginia Tech is sneaky good, though.

4. washington

Beginning the campaign with a lot of hype, the Huskies had their fair share of doubters from sea to shining sea.

But Washington looks to be for real and has crushed six of its eight opponents. Despite the fact that Stanford is one of the most head-scratching clubs in the nation, nobody saw the Huskies winning that one 44-6.

While the Pac-12 might be down this season, anything can happen out West — particularly after dark, when most East Coasters are asleep. U-Dub finishes with Cal on the road, USC at home, Arizona State at home and then Washington State on the road. This is shaping up to be one of the better Apple Cups in recent memory.

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies cheerleaders and Harry the Husky mascot run onto the field before the start of a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans have all the makings of a potential spoiler. Following a 1-3 start, their offense has been totally transformed with Sam Darnold taking over for Max Browne at QB. Expect a lot of scoring in that matchup.

Everyone in the Pac-12 office is pulling for the Huskies. If they don’t get in the playoff, nobody from that conference will.


5. Louisville

While the Cardinals won’t win their own division, let alone the ACC, they pass the eye test with Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson at QB.

6. Ohio State

Getting upset at Penn State wasn’t a killer. If the Buckeyes can defeat Michigan at home on rivalry weekend, they’ll be in great shape.

7. Texas A&M

‘Bama won’t lose two SEC games, so the Aggies aren’t going to Atlanta. But a lone loss to the Tide would make for a strong résumé.

8. Florida

With a firm grasp on the East, a rematch with Alabama in the SEC title game seems likely. The Gators have work to do beforehand, though.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.