Three SEC West teams in top four, UGA No. 11 in playoff rankings

Like the traditional polls, the new College Football Playoff selection committee thinks quite highly of the SEC West.

The committee unveiled its initial Top 25 rankings Tuesday night, installing three SEC West teams in the top four spots: Mississippi State at No. 1, Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4. Florida State, of the ACC, was No. 2.

The committee’s rankings, which will be updated weekly through the remainder of the regular season and the conference championship games, will be closely watched because the top four teams as of Dec. 7 will qualify for major-college football’s first national playoff.

Georgia was ranked lower by the committee than by either The Associated Press media poll or USA Today coaches’ poll this week. The committee ranked the Bulldogs No. 11, compared to No. 8 by the coaches and No. 9 by AP.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said earlier Tuesday that he would be interested in the committee’s initial rankings but wouldn’t put a lot of stock in where the Bulldogs stood.

“There’s just so much football to be played, we know things are going to change over time,” Richt said.

The committee agreed with the AP and coaches’ polls on Mississippi State and Florida State — both undefeated — as the top two teams. It made Auburn the highest-ranked one-loss team, putting the Tigers, who lost at Mississippi State on Oct. 11, one spot higher than in the other polls this week.

The committee took a noticeably different view than the other polls in evaluating Ole Miss vs. Alabama. While the others have Alabama No. 3 and Ole Miss No. 7 (AP) or No. 9 (coaches), the committee ranked Ole Miss two spots ahead of No. 6 Alabama — a nod to the Rebels’ victory over the Crimson Tide on Oct. 4.

The AP and coaches’ polls will have no bearing on which teams qualify for the playoff. Only the opinions of 12 selection-committee members will matter.

The committee’s rankings are expected to be fluid over the next six weeks. There likely will be at least one change in the top four next week because Auburn and Ole Miss meet Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

But for starters, the committee’s rankings are just as SEC West-heavy as the other polls. The Pac 12’s highest ranked team is No. 5 Oregon, the Big 12’s is No. 7 TCU, and the Big Ten’s is No. 8 Michigan State.

“We don’t analyze it by conference,” committee chairman Jeff Long, Arkansas’ athletic director, said on ESPN, which unveiled the rankings in a 30-minute show. “We look at those teams and evaluate the teams they played and the success they had or the failures they had.

Long said head-to-head results are “important” but “not the only factor, obviously.”

While honoring Ole Miss’ victory over Alabama, the committee ranked one-loss Oregon well ahead of one-loss Arizona, which was slotted No. 12 despite defeating the Ducks on Oct. 2. Long said Oregon had a better “body of work” than Arizona, citing the Ducks’ wins over Michigan State and at UCLA.

Committee members met Monday and Tuesday outside Dallas to form their initial rankings through a series of discussions and secret ballots. The committee includes current athletic directors, former coaches, a former sports writer, a former U.S. Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) and others.

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