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Oklahoma’s bad spot and more takeaways from first College Football Playoff rankings

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The College Football Playoff committee always comes up with one big surprise in the first set of rankings.

Tuesday’s unveiling did not disappoint — unless you’re an Oklahoma fan.

The Sooners are the only 9-0 team in the country, and that earned them the No. 8 ranking. Forget about the top four, which is where Sporting News had Oklahoma projected in its top four after Week 9. Our general belief was that the Sooners were one of four teams that controlled their destiny along with No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State. 

MORE: How much do initial rankings mean?

Is that still true? The committee clearly cares less about the Sooners’ 9-0 record, which does not include a victory against a team ranked in the current CFP Top 25. Oklahoma has five one-score victories against FBS teams and needed a second-half comeback to beat Kansas on Oct. 2. 

Still, the surprise here is Oklahoma is closer to No. 9 Wake Forest, the surprise lone unbeaten in the ACC, than No. 6 Cincinnati, the incoming Big 12 member from the Group of 5. 

Should Oklahoma be ranked that low? No. 

BENDER: Against the spread picks for Top 25 games | Heisman race | Bowl projections

They shouldn’t be ranked behind No. 7 Michigan, which just let a 16-point lead slip at Michigan State. They shouldn’t be ranked behind No. 5 Ohio State, which lost at home to No. 4 Oregon. In a sense, the committee gave credit for losing top-10 showdowns there. Maybe too much credit. Quite frankly, the Sooners deserve more credit for going unbeaten then the Ducks, which lost in overtime to Stanford, are getting right now. 

Will it matter in the end? Oklahoma has four CFP appearances. The Sooners have one of the best quarterbacks in the FBS in Caleb Williams, who took over the starting job in the dramatic 55-48 shootout win over Texas on Oct. 9. Oklahoma still has matchups with No. 11 Baylor and No. 12 Oklahoma State out of the bye week, and the Sooners likely will play one of those teams twice. 

There is a month to pad that resume in the Big 12 and move up the rankings based on the two of the three golden rules. 

– Be from a Power 5 conference. That could help leap-frog Cincinnati. 

– Don’t lose a game. No unbeaten Power 5 team has been left out of the CFP. Just don’t tell Wake Forest. 

– Don’t lose twice. Oklahoma can’t afford to lose once; not if they are being treated this way. 

The Sooners weren’t the only surprise from the first set of rankings. Here are three more takeaways: 

CFP Rankings Takeaways

‘Bama Rules’

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Say it like the O’Doyles in “Billy Madison.” The Crimson Tide have one loss but still took the No. 2 spot behind Georgia. This should surprise nobody, even if the Crimson Tide did lose 41-38 to Texas A&M on Oct. 9.

Alabama has opened in the top four in the first set of rankings each of the last seven seasons and missed the playoff only one time (2019). That season, the Crimson Tide suffered November losses to LSU and Auburn. The SEC had seven teams in the first set of rankings, and Alabama has beaten two of them in No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 17 Mississippi State. 

The message is one we already know: If Alabama wins out and beats Georgia in the SEC championship game, then both teams likely make the four-team field.  

Unless the Crimson Tide loses again, they are in. 

‘Big Ten bias?’

The Big Ten had six teams in the initial set of rankings, including three in the top seven from the East division.

So it’s clear that if Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State can survive their November round robin and win the Big Ten championship with one loss or less, then that team will get in. 

It doesn’t hurt that the committee overvalued the messy Big Ten West with No. 20 Minnesota, No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 22 Iowa. The Badgers are the only team in the rankings with three losses. Curiously, Penn State (5-3) was left out of the rankings despite wins over the Badgers and Auburn.

How will this shake out? Ohio State is 22-0 in Big Ten play under third-year coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes remain the clear favorite here, but they need help. The committee made the right decision by putting the Buckeyes behind Oregon, who won at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 11. Head-to-head matters here, at least for now. 

UC’s two-fronted problem

The Bearcats made history with the No. 6 spot, the highest initial ranking for a Group of 5 team in the history of the CFP. 

The good news is the committee valued the 24-13 victory at No. 10 Notre Dame on Oct. 2. It’s a mild surprise the Bearcats are ranked ahead of Oklahoma. 

The bad news? Cincinnati still needs help on both sides of the rankings. The Sooners could bypass the Bearcats with those victories against ranked Big 12 teams, and neither SMU nor Houston, two future UC opponents, made the first set of rankings. 

The Bearcats also need help on top. Oregon and Alabama need to lose, because the uncomfortable truth is still out there. Cincinnati will not get into the CFP ahead of a one-loss Big Ten champion.



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