The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has decided on its first rankings of the year. The annually controversial committee stuck with mostly blue blood programs in its top four, with the biggest surprise team of the year starting the top four: the Tennessee Volunteers.
Making their first appearance in the top four, the Volunteers were followed by No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Clemson. Just missing the cut, Michigan is ranked No. 5 after making the Orange Bowl last season, while Alabama -- which made the national championship last year -- sits at No. 6.
Here are the important takeaways from what the committee concluded Tuesday night.
Little has Changed in Selection Criteria
Not that they don't deserve the selections, but we can't be shocked that Ohio State or Georgia made the top four.
Ohio State has made the playoff four times and Georgia twice. It can be declared a strange year if Clemson doesn't make it to the playoff out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tigers made the final four six times in a row from 2016 to 2021, a streak longer than Alabama's, which made the playoff five times in a row from 2015 to 2019.
Three of the four schools already in a playoff spot as of Tuesday have been selected to 37.5% of all the available final playoff spots ever. While we don't know how the dominoes will fall moving forward, history could lead to a probable assumption that the final playoff teams will include some combination of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia.
Clemson, Tennessee Are Very Vulnerable
Though Clemson seems historically likely to make it in, context is important. This season, the Tigers have been lucky to play a weaker schedule, as they may be in the weakest conference, the ACC. With only the 36th strongest schedule in the nation, Clemson hasn't been asked to get uncomfortable too much. The team squeaked by with a road win at No. 20 Wake Forest in late September. And didn't exactly crush the two ranked opponents that visited Death Valley: Syracuse lost by only one possession on Oct. 22, while NC State lost by only 10 in early October.
The Tigers finish the year with three home games they will likely win (Louisville, Miami and South Carolina) but have a tough test when they visit Notre Dame this weekend. Since their only path to the playoff seems to be going undefeated through a soft schedule, an upset at Notre Dame would probably end Clemson's playoff hopes. As only a 4-point favorite this weekend, that scenario is certainly possible, too.
On the other hand, Tennessee has been dominant this season. The Volunteers just beat the brakes of a ranked Kentucky squad 44-6 and easily handled the No. 15 LSU Tigers 40-13 on Oct. 8. The signature win came at Rocky Top on Oct. 15 when the Volunteers took down the Crimson Tide.
With such a victory, you'd think Tennessee would be set up to dance into the playoff, but that is far from the case. The Vols take on fellow playoff member Georgia in Athens this weekend. They aren't favored and are likely to lose. Assuming they do, the Bulldogs would be set up to win the East and play Alabama in the SEC Championship. Even if Georgia loses that game, the Bulldogs could still have the edge to beat out Tennessee for a spot in the final four, as they would have the head-to-head victory.
There are a lot of ways the cookie could crumble, but Tennessee should be anything but comfortable sitting at No. 1.
TCU is Probably the Only Team that Could Be a Unique Selection in 2022
Schools such as USC, Utah or Ole Miss, to name a few, were looking to make their first playoff appearance. These non-traditional playoff powers have all lost games this season, however, and that virtually eliminates them from competing.
TCU has not lost, though, and if the Horned Frogs go undefeated through the rest of their schedule, they will have a strong case to make it in. With wins against Oklahoma, Kansas and Oklahoma State, TCU has put together quite a resume.
It won't be easy to win four more games with road trips to Texas and Baylor on deck. But if coach Sonny Dykes can somehow win out through the conference championship, the committee would be deluged with criticism to not include TCU.
After selection day Dec. 4, the top four teams will compete in two semi-final games on Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
The winners of the semi-final games will meet for the national championship game Jan. 9 in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST.
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