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College Football Playoff Rankings: The Stage Is Set

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Northwestern is throwing a wrench into everything, indirectly.

Help us, Sparty-wan. You're our only hope.
Help us, Sparty-wan. You're our only hope.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, after a few weeks of carefully considering the impact of the events in the field week to week, the College Football Playoff committee has managed to only get two teams ridiculously wrong. Only two teams are more than three places removed from their location in the Massey Composite Ranking, a compilation of virtually every ranking system known to man which represents the largest possible consensus of computer systems.

Perhaps ore startling: in the computers, Alabama had already surpassed Clemson for the top spot. Now, Oklahoma has as well, moving into the number two position and pushing Clemson down to third. This is small potatoes, as this is the sort of thing which the subjective nature of the playoff committee is designed to deal with, one presumes, and the three teams aren't separated by that much.

Iowa and Ohio State are once again in the wrong places, as far as the computers are concerned. However, Ohio State is now only underrated by two spots, which is the point at which we sort of shrug our shoulders and say it's within the realm of reasonable argument. Given the relative positions of Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State... one could make the argument that the number four spot in the playoff selections should belong to Michigan State.

Then again, come Sunday maybe it will anyway.

The most grossly overrated squads this week are Northwestern and Temple. Northwestern is an absolutely ridiculous eight spots higher in the CFP rankings than they are in the computers, while Temple has a six-point inflation on their ledger. The former merely serves to inflate the resume of Iowa, in our opinion. If Iowa's best win were a win over the 22nd-ranked team in the CFP poll, well, it would be hard to keep them ahead of Michigan State -- which is ironically absurd insofar as it doesn't matter one bit where Iowa and Michigan State are ranked relative to one another.

The most galling thing about Northwestern's inflated ranking is that they are ahead of Houston -- whose computer ranking is higher than the Wildcats. This is important as a piece of data because computers are more willing to rank a team with X losses higher than a team with X-1. Here, Northwestern -- at 10-2 -- is ranked ahead of an 11-1 Houston team whose computer ranking is also higher. This isn't just confusing or inexplicable; it's an indictment of the process.

Temple's overrating, however, is an interesting thing. It appears to be deliberate, a way to ensure that when the committee meets next week they can simply declare the winner of the AAC championship game to be the top Group of Five champion without the potential awkwardness of Navy being ranked ahead of Temple. Again, this is stupid; Navy no longer matters, because they're not winning the American.

Other than Iowa, the teams missing the mark by three spots -- and therefore worthy of at least a dubious side-eye -- are Oregon on the overrated side and LSU, Oklahoma State, and Baylor make up the snubs. That's a situation which could ultimately cost the Big 12 a bid to, say, the Peach Bowl. Baylor's going to the Sugar regardless, assuming they don't stumble Saturday. But TCU is now sitting in 11th place in the CFP rankings, and that's partially because their wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor are presumably devalued ever so slightly by those two schools being undervalued themselves. The computers have the Frogs 10th, which would imply a move up to ninth if Clemson beats North Carolina as expected. Because Baylor is sitting in 12th and Houston will get a bid, TCU's on the outside looking in -- but they shouldn't be.

The important takeaway from this week's rankings is that it appears they've set things up so there really won't be any decisions to make on Sunday. Clemson is in, and is #1, assuming they win. The same with Alabama, and Oklahoma seems secure... but then again, so did TCU last year. The Iowa/Sparty winner is in. Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida State appear assured of New Year's SIx bowls; the other three spots will belong to Baylor and Stanford if they win this week and... well, who knows? North Carolina? TCU? Mississippi?

Those last two words are kinda fun to think about, aren't they?

As usual, the below table is color-coded with green indicating an overrating by the playoff committee in comparison to the computers and red indicating the opposite. The darker the shade, the larger the difference.

TEAM RECORD CFP RANK COMPUTER
Clemson (12-0) 1 3
Alabama (11-1) 2 1
Oklahoma (11-1) 3 2
Iowa (12-0) 4 7
Michigan State (11-1) 5 5
Ohio State (11-1) 6 4
Stanford (10-2) 7 6
Notre Dame (10-2) 8 8
Florida State (10-2) 9 11
North Carolina (11-1) 10 12
TCU (10-2) 11 10
Baylor (9-2) 12 9
Mississippi (9-3) 13 13
Northwestern (10-2) 14 22
Michigan (9-3) 15 15
Oregon (9-3) 16 19
Oklahoma State (10-2) 17 14
Florida (10-2) 18 16
Houston (11-1) 19 17
USC (8-4) 20 20
Louisiana State (8-3) 21 18
Temple (10-2) 22 28
Navy (9-2) 23 21
Utah (9-3) 24 24
Tennessee (8-4) 25 23