The NCAA investigation currently looming over Michigan adds an element of intrigue as the Wolverines compete for a national championship spot in the final month of the season. However, it does not seem to be impacting the assessment of Michigan by the College Football Playoff selection committee.
As the season’s first CFP rankings were unveiled on Tuesday night, Ohio State claimed the top spot, followed by Georgia, Michigan, and Florida State. Washington and Oregon, both from the Pac-12, were next in line.
The ongoing NCAA investigation focuses on allegations of sign-stealing involving impermissible in-person scouting by Michigan. However, the selection committee, led by chairman Boo Corrigan, clarified that these allegations were not considered during the rankings process. Corrigan emphasized that it is an NCAA issue rather than a CFP issue.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock echoed Corrigan’s comments, stating that the committee’s judgments are based solely on on-field performance. He pointed out that the NCAA is currently dealing with allegations only, and Michigan’s dominance as a team cannot be denied.
Notably, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel is also part of the 13-member selection committee. However, Hancock confirmed that there were no suggestions of altering Manuel’s position on the committee. Manuel actively participated in the discussions during the two-day meeting.
The committee has a recusal policy, which means Manuel cannot be involved in discussions about Michigan’s ranking. However, Hancock praised Manuel’s credibility and affirmed that he continues to bring valuable insights to the committee.
This year, the Buckeyes hold the No. 1 spot for the fourth time in the 10-year history of the CFP, but it is their first time since 2019. Corrigan highlighted Ohio State’s victories over Penn State and Notre Dame, both of which were ranked in the top 15 by the CFP.
Georgia and Michigan, who have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP Poll since the preseason, dropped to second and third place, respectively, due to their schedules lacking strong competition so far.
Florida State, with a perfect record, secured a spot in the top four for the first time since 2014.
Washington, who defeated Oregon earlier in the season, still has ranked USC and Oregon State remaining on their schedule. The Pac-12 conference hopes to break a six-year playoff drought.
Washington coach Kalen DeBoer emphasized the competitiveness of the Pac-12, stating that there are no easy games in the conference.
Texas claimed the seventh spot, ahead of Alabama. Although the Longhorns defeated the Crimson Tide, they lost to Oklahoma, which ranked ninth.
The release of the initial rankings sets the stage for a month of scrutiny on the top teams and their performances.
The final rankings will be announced on December 3, following the conference championship games. These rankings will determine the four-team playoff field, with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl hosting the semifinals, leading up to the national championship game in Houston on January 8.
This will be the last season with the current playoff format before it expands to include 12 teams.
For now, four teams remain the ultimate goal, and history shows that the initial CFP rankings have, on one occasion, correctly predicted the eventual playoff field. Last year, Tennessee held the top spot in the committee’s first rankings, followed by Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson. Only Georgia and Ohio State ultimately made it to the playoff.
Overall, 21 out of the 36 teams (58%) that appeared in the first CFP rankings of a season went on to make the playoff.
Among the 36 teams that have made the playoff in the past, 29 started the season ranked in the top six.
Ohio State’s climb to the CFP in 2014 is the longest in history, as they were initially ranked 16th by the committee. Similarly, Oklahoma started at No. 15 in 2015 and still made it to the playoff.
In terms of the highest-ranked Group of Five conference teams, Tulane and unbeaten Air Force claimed the 24th and 25th spots, respectively. The highest-ranked conference champion from outside the Power Five conferences will receive an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Unbeaten James Madison will not be considered by the committee due to their ongoing transition to the top tier of Division I, rendering them ineligible for the postseason.