Yes, the college football playoff selection committee released its inaugural set of rankings tonight. The problem is that the voters of Florida are about the release their ranking of the gubernatorial candidates, so I was on the road to cover a campaign swing, and am just now getting settled back in to break down the numbers. Let's do just that.
As always, a thanks to SB Nation for putting together the table that we cribbed from here.
If you're looking for some evidence that waiting until later in the season to produce rankings will produce different results if the panel is a better group than the Harris Poll -- well, there you have it. Whether this is better or worse is up to your interpretation, but it certainly is different in at least a few respects.
First (and we'll use the AP poll as the reference point here), you'll note that the order of the top SEC West teams for the playoff committee (No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Ole Miss and No. 6 Alabama) is a touch different from the rankings in the AP poll (No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Ole Miss). Full disclosure: I prefer the selection committee method. Ranking Alabama above Ole Miss reeks of "losing later is worse than losing earlier" syndrome among poll voters, given that Ole Miss beat Alabama a few weeks ago, the Rebels have not lost to a team Alabama played, and Ole Miss beat both of the teams that Alabama beat the last two weeks. If there's a compelling case for putting Alabama ahead of Ole Miss at this point, it eludes me.
TCU and Kansas State are also a few spots higher than in the AP poll, which can't possibly be because they were unranked or low-ranked in the preseason and thus are seen as having to gradually "climb" the rankings instead of being looked at anew in the middle of the season. No, it's just a simple matter of different strokes for different folks. (No, I'm not saying that voters should necessarily start out tabula rasa every week early in the season, but we ought not still be seeing effects from the preseason rankings by Week 10.)
Notre Dame and Georgia are bit lower, though neither having them about where the AP does or having them where the selection committee does gives me heartburn one way or the other. Ohio State is a bit lower -- because it had a preseason ranking to cushion it in the AP poll, I would guess -- as is LSU, probably for similar reasons.
The only really surprising and potentially noteworthy aspect of these rankings is that Marshall is nowhere to be found. That's important if East Carolina (American) and Marshall (C-USA) win out, because only the highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of 5 gets an automatic berth to one of the bowls seeded by the selection committee (what we used to call "BCS bowls," more or less).
Any concerns that the SEC West might be artificially restrained to preserve some semblance of what things will look like at the end of the season appear to have been ill-founded. That's all for the better as far as coming up with a midseason ranking (which is something that a selection committee shouldn't be doing, for the same reasons that the AP poll is different than the selection committee's effort, but they don't ask me about these things). No one honestly thinks that those three teams are all going to end up in the playoffs, given that Auburn and Ole Miss have yet to play, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have yet to play, and Auburn and Mississippi State haven't yet faced Alabama. Getting two SEC teams into the bracket seems moderately more likely than it did in the preseason, but it is by no means a slam dunk, and there is no reason to think that there will be three conference teams in the final four.
Trying to do any bowl pairings without any previous examples of how the selection committee is going to do so is an exercise fraught with peril and the likelihood that you'll look like an idiot. So let's get to it!
Sugar: Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss
Rose: Florida State vs. Auburn
Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama
Cotton: TCU vs. Notre Dame
Peach: East Carolina vs. Michigan State
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Oregon
Reasoning, to the extent that I have any: The Sugar and Rose are semifinals, so they're already spoken for. Don't think we didn't see what you did there with both of those pairings, selection committee. We still have to place the other champions, which I'm basing on rankings for now: Oregon (Pac-12), TCU (Big 12) and Michigan State (B1G). The highest-ranked champion from the Group of Five gets in -- again, that's ECU.
The Orange gets an ACC team to replace Florida State -- the highest remaining ranked team is Clemson -- and its contract calls for it to get the highest-ranked available team from the SEC, B1G and Notre Dame -- that's Alabama.
The rest? I'm just kind of winging it. TCU can't play Kansas State as a rematch, of a conference game even. The committee is going to avoid pairing Michigan State and Oregon (rematch), and East Carolina has to go somewhere. These are about the most geographically sensible combinations I could come up with. TCU is about a mortal lock for the Cotton Bowl, given that conference champs are supposed to get geographical preference, and Oregon will snag the Fiesta Bowl spot. The only conference champion still in play is Michigan State, so I'm guessing they get sent to the Peach Bowl.
I don't think that Michigan State-Notre Dame is that appealing a game, given that they played annually for a long time through 2013 and will play again in 2016, so I think the committee also avoids that. So Notre Dame is out of the Peach. Doing the rest by geography and avoiding the rematches we talked about above, what seems to make the most sense is sending East Carolina to the Peach Bowl for a contrasting styles game against Michigan State, then sending Notre Dame to the Cotton Bowl. There is the matter of Kansas State-Oregon being a rematch from a bowl game of two years ago, but I think that will be the least important consideration. These are all guesses based on a poll that's bound to change, so let's not get too nit-picky with them just yet.