Analysis: First College Football Playoff Top 25 shows shifting subjectivity of process

With the release of the first set of College Football Playoff weekly rankings, it is finally time to cut through all of the noise.

In choosing the four-team bracket, what actually matters? What a team has done or how a team looks?

“It’s all of the above,” said Rob Mullens, the Oregon athletic director who is the selection committee’s new chairman.

Hang on to that. In all of the stuff we heard Tuesday, in all of the stuff we’ll hear over the next several weeks, that was the most important soundbite – and it’s one of the truest things we’ll hear – because it’s one of the few things that’s undoubtedly not spin:

For some teams, it’s about the resume. For others, it’s all about the eye test.

“This process,” Mullens said, “… is subjective by design.”

Which is why the committee’s apparent design varies from week to week. And why each week, it varies from team to team. And why there’s no consistency.

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First, because we must, the rankings. They were not terribly surprising:

Alabama followed by Clemson followed by LSU – again, not that surprising, read on – followed by Notre Dame. Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma and Washington State are the next up.

Got all those? OK, now the disclaimer: Stand down. None of what happened Tuesday night matters. It’s reality TV, designed solely to promote conversation about college football (never mind that no such additive is necessary). By the playoff’s own definition, it’s supposed to be meaningless.

Next week the committee will reconvene and re-rank the field. They’ll do it again and again, over and over, until the final rankings are released Dec. 2.

Only that last one, which sets the actual bracket, is supposed to have any meaning at all. The 13-member selection committee is supposed to rank teams each week as if the season was over then – and as if they had not ranked them the previous week.

Whether that’s actually what occurs, or even if it’s possible given human nature, who knows? But it’s the goal.

For the proper perspective, we go to a guy whose team sits where we all knew it would.

“The only playoff rankings that matter are the ones right before the playoff, right? Where they actually put people in,” Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams says. “I think there’s been a lot of teams that have been ranked in the first ranking on the playoff, then they go drop a game and they’re out of the playoff. So for us … it matters a lot more where we’re at in December.”

He’s exactly right. But all of that aside, we can glean some important things from this initial ranking, including this:

There are six new members this year. The significant turnover might eventually mean a discernible difference in the reasons teams are ranked from how it worked in past seasons. If the body of work outweighs the eye test. If defense matters more than offense. If strength of record is more important than actual record. If the fajitas are better than the burgers at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas.

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But not just yet.

Here’s what we can say for now:

—Like the others before it, this new version of the selection committee loves it some Alabama – and it certainly should. Anyone who has watched ‘Bama can see the talent. This year, the offense has taken the Crimson Tide to another level.

But let’s consider the defenses Alabama has played: Using the statistic of yards per play, the Tide’s best opponent ranks 90th nationally. The other seven follow, dropping all the way to No. 120.

Alabama had something – a lot – to do with some of those statistics. But it has not exactly run a gauntlet so far.

Neither has Clemson. But while the ACC is considered down this season, the Tigers do count wins against three teams (Texas A&M, Syracuse and North Carolina State) ranked in this first top 25. Alabama has one (Texas A&M).

When the rankings were unveiled, a colleague tweeted: “File this away. It’s obvious the committee this year likes defense over offense."

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