College Football Playoff’s first rankings of season coming Tuesday

Credit: Mickey Welsh

Credit: Mickey Welsh

The College Football Playoff selection committee will unveil its first rankings of the season Tuesday night after sorting through some unique complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some teams have played twice as many games as others. The lack of non-conference games makes it harder than usual to compare teams from different leagues. Cancellations and postponements of games have disrupted the normal flow of the season.

Nevertheless, the 13-member committee, which includes Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, will release its initial “Top 25” rankings of 2020 shortly after 7 p.m. live on ESPN.

“The selection committee obviously has a special challenge this year with all of the canceled games,” said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan, a close observer of the annual selection process, “but I think this is where the eye test pays dividends. To have a selection committee able to eyeball the teams makes a huge difference versus computer rankings when there are teams that don’t play a similar amount of games.”

The selection committee is scheduled to re-rank the teams each of the next four weeks, culminating Dec. 20 – the day after seven conference championship games – with the rankings that will set the field for the four-team playoff. At that point, the same committee also will assign teams to four other bowl games: the Peach, Orange, Cotton and Fiesta.

The committee has said it doesn’t use the Associated Press or coaches polls as a reference tool in compiling its rankings. Indeed, in five of the past six years, the committee’s initial rankings didn’t have the same top four teams as that week’s AP poll.

Still, it would be a surprise if Tuesday night’s rankings veer far from this week’s AP and coaches polls, both of which have Alabama (7-0) ranked No. 1, Notre Dame (8-0) No. 2, Ohio State (4-0) No. 3 and Clemson (7-1) No. 4.

Stokan expects to see those teams in the committee’s initial top four, but he declined to predict in what order.

Texas A&M (5-1) is No. 5 and Florida (6-1) No. 6 in this week’s AP poll, while those two teams are flip-flopped in the coaches poll.

Disparities in the number of games that teams have played could be a factor when, for example, the committee compares Ohio State, which has played four games, with Notre Dame, which has played twice as many. Oregon, ranked No. 9 by AP, has played only three games.

There is no minimum number of games required to be eligible for the playoff, and the committee’s mandate is simply to select what it perceives to be the top four teams.

“The number of games and wins by each team is certainly important in weighing its ranking, but it is not the only factor,” according to a document posted Sunday on the CFP website.

Other factors include quality of wins, measured by opponents’ rankings and other data, as well as by the eyeball test (what committee members see when they watch games in person, on TV or on film.)

As for how the process will be affected by a 2020 schedule mostly devoid of non-conference games as a differentiator among teams, the CFP said that the protocol for ranking teams “has not changed” and that committee members “will continue to use factors such as wins against top 25 teams, wins against teams with winning records and their expertise.”

The playoff, now in its seventh season, is scheduled to begin Jan. 1 with the semifinals in the Rose and Sugar bowls. The Nos. 1 and 4 teams in the Dec. 20 rankings will meet in one of the semis and the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the other. The winners will play in the national championship game, set for Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.


First rankings: 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

Subsequent rankings: Dec. 1, Dec. 8, Dec. 15 and Dec. 20, with the top four teams in the Dec. 20 rankings reaching the College Football Playoff.

Playoff schedule: Semifinals are Jan. 1 in the Rose and Sugar bowls. Championship game is Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Selection committee members: Iowa athletic director Gary Barta (chairman), Arizona State professor and former sportswriter Paola Boivin, Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, Colorado athletic director Rick George, former coach Ken Hatfield, former USC player Ronnie Lott, Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir, former U.S. Army chief of staff Ray Odierno, former coach R.C. Slocum, Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and former Penn State player John Urschel.