Preseason: Projecting the first College Football Playoff poll
If you’re like me, you’ve already cleared a space in the living room and put together a pre-game grocery list for Saturday after next.
Thankfully, football is back and talking season is almost over.
But projections drive interest and the second year of the College Football Playoff promises to be an exhilarating ride from start to finish if it’s anything like the first. There’s a reason why this is the best regular season in sports — every game matters.
We’re a little more than two months out from the initial Playoff rankings, but we’ve still glanced at the schedules for the elites and tried to determine each team’s direct path to the semifinals.
Like all rankings, the College Football Playoff Poll fluctuates week to week. Here’s a comparison at how the initial rankings last season looked compared to the final rankings before the inaugural semifinal contests were played:
First Playoff rankings (Oct. 28, 2014)
- Mississippi State 7-0
- Florida State 7-0
- Auburn 6-1
- Ole Miss 7-1
- Oregon 7-1
- Alabama 7-1
- TCU 6-1
- Michigan State 7-1
- Kansas State 6-1
- Notre Dame 6-1
Final regular-season Playoff rankings (Dec. 7, 2014)
- Alabama 12-1
- Oregon 12-1
- Florida State 13-0
- Ohio State 12-1
- Baylor 11-1
- TCU 11-1
- Mississippi State 10-2
- Michigan State 10-2
- Ole Miss 9-3
- Arizona 10-3
Mississippi State’s stay atop the country was short-lived following a loss to Alabama during the second half of the season. The Bulldogs finished 10-3 on the year after beating three top 10 teams during the first eight weeks of the season to impress the committee.
Strength of schedule and conference championship potential will be strong factors in how the initial 2015 rankings are determined, along with common opponent results. Most of the big head-to-head games, basically what amount to elimination matchups if you will, come later in the season including the Iron Bowl, TCU-Baylor and Clemson’s tussle with Florida State.
When projecting this year’s first poll, it’s important to put an emphasis on how teams will look early in the season. Many of the nation’s best will tackle back-loaded schedules that maybe aren’t as difficult prior to the first reveal.
Coinciding with how we see every SEC team’s season playing out using our Crystal Ball predictions, this is our early glimpse (and best projection) at the first 2015 CFP rankings in November:
Projecting the first College Football Playoff rankings (Nov. 3, 2015)
- Georgia 8-0
- Ohio State 8-0
- Oregon 8-0
- TCU 8-0
- Florida State 8-0
- Alabama 7-1
- Auburn 7-1
- Clemson 8-0
- Baylor 7-0
- USC 7-1
Highlighted by wins over Alabama, Tennessee and Mizzou in consecutive weeks, Georgia’s resume will be better than any team in the country when the first poll is revealed if the Bulldogs can escape their mine field without losing any limbs.
Alabama’s only regular-season loss, which we’re projecting will come at Georgia in October, will be a “quality” loss in the minds of committee members considering the Bulldogs will be No. 1 in the country at the first reveal.
Unbeaten Florida State comes in at No. 3 with one win over a ranked team — we’re guessing Miami or Louisville should be in the Top 25 at time of game. The Seminoles’ most important game of the year comes No. 7 at Clemson, another team and one of seven unbeatens ranked in our initial CFP poll projection.
Looking at the preseason AP Top 25, the team outside of the SEC with the toughest first-half schedule is Notre Dame, ranked 11th to start the season. the Irish take on Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson and USC all before their bye week on Oct. 24. If Brian Kelly’s team survives that stretch, they’ll be somewhere inside the Top 3 of the first CFP rankings in November.
A radio host asked me at SEC Media Days who I thought would make the final four this season, apparently impressed that I projected three of the final 2014 teams last July. In a sport defined by parity late in the season, I think there are two teams we should be selecting as heavy favorites to return — Ohio State and Alabama. TCU will be the third selection and the fourth may come from the ACC, either Florida State or Clemson.
I ask the same question to our readers. Who would be your final four selections in August?