Bulldogs’ top ranking might surprise some

Notes and observations following the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings:

A lot can change in the college football landscape over the next month, but Georgia and Alabama appear to be on a collision course toward the Southeast Conference championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 2.

It wasn’t surprising that the two current unbeatens were ranked as the top two collegiate football teams in the first installment of the playoff rankings.

What was a little bit surprising, at least from this viewpoint, is that Georgia flip-flopped Alabama and took over the top spot in the playoff rankings after the Crimson Tide have been accorded that spot all season long in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Georgia’s one-point road win over Notre Dame on Sept. 9 that gave the Fighting Irish its only loss to this point in the season obviously carried tons of weight with the playoff selection committee.

But the feeling here is that Alabama is still the top team in the land, and will prove it when/if the two teams settle the issue head-to-head in December.

n Unless the outcome of the SEC championship game winds up being a blowout, both Georgia and Alabama appear to be strong candidates for playoff berths — provided they both run the table on the way to the conference title matchup.

n Thanks to its arduous schedule, Notre Dame — accorded third place in the first playoff rankings — has a good chance at a playoff spot despite its lack of a conference affiliation and conference championship game. The Fighting Irish have one-sided home-field wins over USC and North Carolina State, as well as a road blowout of Michigan State, to their credit. If Notre Dame negotiates its two biggest remaining hurdles — at Miami on Nov. 11 and at Stanford on Nov. 25 — and winds up its regular season with just the loss to Georgia, the Irish are virtually a shoo-in for one of the four playoff berths.

n The committee is placing much more emphasis on “good wins” than “bad losses.” Clemson lost on the road to a mediocre Syracuse team in October, and still got fourth place in the playoff rankings. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant missed the second half of the Syracuse game due to an injury, but is fully healthy now. The Tigers are a different team with Bryant at the controls of their offense. Clemson also has three impressive victories — over Virginia Tech, Auburn and Louisville — on its resume.

n Because of its weak regular-season schedule, unbeaten Wisconsin is ranked ninth and will very likely have to win the rest of its games — including the Big Ten Conference championship game — in order to have a chance to make the playoffs.

n Overall, the Big Ten wasn’t highly-regarded in the committee’s first playoff rankings, with Ohio State ranked only sixth and Penn State seventh.

n Currently-unbeaten Miami may need to run the table in the Atlantic Coast Conference, although the Hurricanes can score a huge point in their favor by beating Notre Dame a week from Saturday.

n Of all the Power Five Conferences, the PAC-12 appears to have the least going for it as far as the playoff picture is concerned. Oklahoma could still make a strong statement out of the Big 12 by winning out, and TCU and Oklahoma State could do likewise. The PAC-12 is extraordinarily tepid this year, with frontrunner Washington already having a bad loss to Arizona State on its resume. Stanford and USC are both going through unremarkable years. Even if Washington wins out and captures its conference title, it may not be enough to get the Huskies into the playoffs.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

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